Sarah Gillespie Huftalen led an unconventional life for a rural midwestern woman of her time. Born in 1865 near Manchester, Iowa, she was a farm girl who became a highly regarded country school and college teacher; she married a man older than either of her parents, received a college degree later in life, and was committed to both family and career. A gifted writer, she crafted essays, teacher-training guides, and poetry while continuing to write lengthy, introspective entries in her diary, which spans the years from 1873 to 1952. In addition, she gathered extensive information about the quietly tragic life of her mother, Emily, and worked to preserve Emily's own detailed diary.
In more than 3,500 pages, Sarah writes about her multiple roles as daughter, sister, wife, teacher, family historian, and public figure. Her diary reflects the process by which she was socialized into these roles and her growing consciousness of the ways in which these roles intersected. Not only does her diary embody the diverse strategies used by one woman to chart her life's course and to preserve her life's story for future generations, it also offers ample evidence of the diary as a primary form of private autobiography for individuals whose lives do not lend themselves to traditional definitions of autobiography.
Taken together, Emily's and Sarah's extraordinary diaries span nearly a century and thus form a unique mother/daughter chronicle of daily work and thoughts, interactions with neighbors and friends and colleagues, and the destructive family dynamics that dominated the Gillespies. Sarah's consciousness of the abusive relationship between her mother and father haunts her diary, and this dramatic relationship is duplicated in Sarah's relationship with her brother, Henry, Suzanne Bunkers' skillful editing and analysis of Sarah's diary reveal the legacy of a caring, loving mother reflected in her daughter's work as family member, teacher, and citizen.
The rich entries in Sarah Gillespie Huftalen's diary offer us brilliant insights into the importance of female kinship networks in American life, the valued status of many women as family chroniclers, and the fine art of selecting, piecing, stitching, and quilting that characterizes the many shapes of women's autobiographies. Read Sarah's dairy to discover why "all will yet be well."
In 1949, Iowa farm wife Evelyn Birkby began to write a weekly column entitled “Up a Country Lane” for the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, now called the Valley News. Sixty-three years, one Royal typewriter, and five computers later, she is still creating a weekly record of the lives and interests of her family, friends, and neighbors. Her perceptive, closely observed columns provide a multigenerational biography of rural and small-town life in the Midwest over decades of change. Now she has sifted through thousands of columns to give us her favorites, guaranteed to delight her many longtime and newfound fans.
Evelyn begins with her very first column, whose focus on the Christmas box prepared by a companionable group of farm wives, the constant hard work of farming, and an encounter with an elderly stranger over a yard of red gingham sets the tone for future columns. Optimistic even in the wake of sorrow, generous-spirited but not smug, humorous but not folksy, wise but not preachy, Evelyn welcomes the adventures and connections that each new day brings, and she masterfully shares them with her readers.
Tales of separating cream on the back porch at Cottonwood Farm, raising a teddy bear of a puppy in addition to a menagerie of other animals, surviving an endless procession of Cub and Boy Scouts, appreciating a little boy’s need to take his toy tractor to church, blowing out eggs to make an Easter egg tree, shopping for bargains on the day before Christmas, camping in a converted Model T “house car,” and adjusting to the fact of one’s tenth decade of existence all merge to form a world composed of kindness and wisdom with just enough humor to keep it grounded. Recipes for such fare as Evelyn’s signature Hay Hand Rolls prove that the young woman who was daunted by her editor’s advice to “put in a recipe every week” became a talented cook. Each of the more than eighty columns in this warmhearted collection celebrates not a bygone era tinged with sentimentality but a continuing tradition of neighborliness, Midwest-nice and Midwest-sensible.
The Archaeological Guide to Iowa
William E. Whittaker, Lynn M. Alex, Mary De La Garza University of Iowa Press, 2015 Library of Congress F623.W55 2015 | Dewey Decimal 977.701
Iowa has the reputation of being one big corn field, so you may be surprised to learn it boasts a rich crop of recorded archaeological sites as well—approximately 27,000 at last count. Some are spectacular, such as the one hundred mounds at Sny Magill in Effigy Mounds National Monument, while others consist of old abandoned farmsteads or small scatters of prehistoric flakes and heated rocks. Untold numbers are completely gone or badly disturbed—destroyed by plowing, erosion, or development.
Fortunately, there are many sites open to the public where the remnants of the past are visible, either in their original location or in nearby museum exhibits. Few things are more inspiring than walking among the Malchow Mounds, packed so tightly it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Strolling around downtown Des Moines is a lot more interesting when you are aware of the mounds, Indian villages, and the fort that once stood there. And, although you can’t visit the Wanampito site, you can see the splendid seventeenth-century artifacts excavated from it at Heery Woods State Park.
For people who want to experience Iowa’s archaeological heritage first hand, this one-of-a-kind guidebook shows the way to sixty-eight important sites. Many are open to visitors or can be seen from a public location; others, on private land or no longer visible on the landscape, live on through artifact displays. The guide also includes a few important sites that are not open to visitors because these places have unique stories to tell. Sites of every type, from every time period, and in every corner of the state are featured. Whether you have a few hours to indulge your curiosity or are planning a road trip across the state, this guide will take you to places where Iowa’s deep history comes to life.
As Far as the Eye Can See
Stephen Pradarelli University of Iowa Press, 2019 Library of Congress LD2564.5+ | Dewey Decimal 370.72
The Attic: A Memoir
Harnack, Curtis University of Iowa Press, 2011 Library of Congress PS3558.A62474Z463 2011 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
In The Attic, his sequel to the classic We Have All Gone Away, Curtis Harnack returns to his rural Iowa homeplace to sift through an attic full of the trash and treasures left behind by the thirteen children in two generations who grew up in the big farmhouse.
The adult Harnack had been making pilgrimages to his past from various parts of the country for thirty-plus years; now the death of an uncle and the disposal of an estate bring him home once more. The resonant diaries, church bulletins, photos, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia in the attic allow him to rediscover both personal and universal truths as he explores the enduring legacies of home, family, and community.
Finally, discovering a cache of letters written home while he was in the Navy in the mid 1940s, he confronts a stranger—his younger self. Harnack’s “dream-pod journey . . . from who I am now to how it once was for me” tells the life story of a close-knit family and extends this story to our own journeys through our own memory-filled attics.