The University of Iowa has a long and distinguished list of ‘firsts’: It was the first public university in the U.S. to admit women and men on an equal basis, the first to admit students regardless of race, and the first to confer the Master of Fine Arts degree.
Since 1936 Iowa has been the home of the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is a pioneer in such diverse fields as speech pathology, space exploration, and educational development.
Read below to learn more about Iowa ‘firsts.’ Also go to the University Histories and Timelines page and check out the University chronology.
ACADEMIA and SERVICE
1868: The first college of law west of the Mississippi River was founded at the University of Iowa.
1870: Founded at Iowa, the nation’s first coeducational medical school opened its doors for classes.
1872: The first permanent college-level department of education in the United States was founded at the University of Iowa. In 1907 it became the School of Education, and, in 1913, the College of Education.
1882: The first school of dentistry west of the Mississippi River held its first classes.
1897: Carl E. Seashore’s pioneering work led to the development of speech pathology as a discipline. Later, Wendell Johnson’s significant research on stuttering contributed to the program’s growing stature.
1920s: Tests and testing procedures developed at the University of Iowa for elementary and high school students statewide pioneered the field of educational testing. Tests are now processed electronically using software envisioned by E. F. Lindquist, developer of the tests. University faculty and staff helped develop the Measurement Research Center (sold to Westinghouse Learning Corporation in 1968), the Iowa Measurement Research Foundation, the American College Testing program, and the Iowa Testing Program, which includes the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Iowa Tests of Educational Development.
1922: The University of Iowa began to accept creative work in lieu of theses for graduate degrees in the fine and performing arts. Later, in 1940, the University awarded the first Master of Fine Arts degrees in the U.S.
1927: The School of Religion was established by M. Willard Lampe, becoming the first program in the nation to teach the academic discipline of religion at a tax-supported university. The University of Iowa was also the first public university to offer a Ph.D. degree in religion.
1932: The world’s first educational television station began broadcasting from a basement room in the Engineering Building. For seven years, W9XK transmitted the video signal of programs on a regular basis, with the audio portion of the broadcasts provided by University radio station WSUI. Station officials received letters from viewers as far as 500 miles away. The broadcasts were discontinued prior to the outbreak of World War II.
1936: The Department of English began to offer two-year seminars in fiction and poetry writing. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop would become one of the world’s most distinguished creative writing programs, with such faculty and alumni as Kurt Vonnegut, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, John Irving and Joy Williams.
1939: The University of Iowa established the nation’s first blood bank to use preservative agents for long-term storage.
1958: America’s entry into the space race was propelled by the launching of the Explorer satellites, whose data-gathering equipment was designed and constructed by an Iowa research team headed by James A. Van Allen, a professor of physics. The two magnetic radiation belts that surround the Earth, discovered during the Explorer missions, were later named for Van Allen.
1847: Since its founding, the University of Iowa has admitted women as well as men, the first public university in the U.S. to do so. Beginning in 1860, women were admitted on an equal basis with men. Since its founding the University has also accepted qualified students regardless of race.
1873: Mary Hickey Wilkinson, one of the first women in the U.S. to receive a law degree, graduated from the College of Law.
1879: Alexander G. Clark, Jr., one of the first African-Americans in the nation to receive a law degree, graduated from the College of Law. He was the first African-American student to graduate from the University.
1886: The University’s first bachelor’s thesis, “A Brief Description of Nine Species of Hepaticae Found in the Vicinity of Iowa City,” was written by a woman, Mary F. Linder. One year later, Iowa’s first master’s thesis, “The History of the Common Frog,” was also written by a woman, Rose B. Ankeny Edgar.
Among the nation’s first black All-American college football players were Hawkeyes Fred ‘Duke’ Slater, tackle during the 1919-21 seasons, and Ozzie Simmons, halfback during the 1934-36 seasons.
1912: The first African American women to graduate from the State University of Iowa were Letta (Cary) Bledsoe and Adah (Hyde) Johnson. Both were from Des Moines and received their degrees from the College of Liberal Arts on July 26.
1924: Eve Drewelow earned Iowa’s first Master of Arts degree in painting, following the University’s decision two years earlier to accept creative work in lieu of theses for graduate degrees.
1935: Hawkeye swimming coach David Armbruster originated the butterfly stroke and the flip turn. Armbruster coached the UI swimming team for 42 years, from 1916 until his retirement in 1958. During Armbruster’s long career, 75 Hawkeye swimmers and divers were named All-Americans. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966.
1940: The nation’s first Master of Fine Arts degrees were awarded to three students: (Alice) Elizabeth Catlett Mora, Jewel Peterson, and Harry Edward Stinson. Catlett Mora, a sculptor, was also the first African-American woman to receive the M.F.A.
1941: Lulu Merle Johnson became the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. from an Iowa institution and among about a dozen black women in the nation to achieve such status at that time.
1944: Richard Culberson was the first African-American to play basketball in the Big Ten.
1954: Jewel Limar Prestage became the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in political science from an American university.
1970: Gay Liberation Front was the first LGBT student organization in the U.S. to receive official university recognition.
1971: Lilia A. Abron became the first African-American woman in the nation and third woman at the University of Iowa to receive a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.
1971: Philip G. Hubbard became the first African-American to be named a vice president at a Big Ten university when he was named Vice President for Student Services.
1983: C. Vivian Stringer became the first African-American to coach a Big Ten women’s basketball team.
To learn more about University of Iowa ‘firsts,’ go to the University Histories and Timelines page and check out the University chronology.
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