During her lifetime, botanist Ada Hayden fought to preserve the remaining fragments of the once expansive Iowa prairies. Iowa’s prairies were still flourishing when Iowa became a state in 1846, but the significant rise in farming soon made native prairie increasingly scarce. Less than 70 years later, most of Iowa’s native prairie had disappeared. After receiving her Bachelor of Science (1908) and Doctor of Philosophy (1918) degrees in botany at Iowa State College (now University), Hayden taught at Iowa State for over thirty years. Louis Pammel served as Hayden’s mentor while a student at Iowa State, and they continued to work together after Hayden joined Iowa State's faculty.
Throughout her professional life, Hayden fought for the preservation of native prairie, and assisted with the state park movement in Iowa. Hayden served on state and national conservation committees, including the Conservation Committee of the Iowa Academy of Science. Hayden wrote numerous articles advocating for prairie preserves and the establishment of a state parks system for Iowa. Although state park land was, and still is, primarily of woods and wetlands, a number of parks contain prairie remnants. As Hayden stated in a 1946 WOI program, "Martha's Afternoon Program," parks containing large acres of prairie included Stone State Park, Gitchie Manitou State Preserve (links to PDF listing of all State Preserves,) and Waubonsie State Park.
In 1945 Hayden authored the report, “The selection of prairie areas in Iowa which should be preserved,” in which Hayden advocated for the need to establish state parks and preserves, stressing the necessity for scientific preserves. In 1944, Hayden worked with Iowa State faculty member John M. Aikman to assess the status of conservation within Iowa, particularly focusing on prairie preserves. This 1944 report, published in the Iowa Academy of Science Proceedings, "Present Status and Outlook of Conservation in Iowa," led to a subsequent study. Referred to as the Prairie Project, the study looked at prairie remnants throughout the state as a step towards their acquisition. Hayden carried out most of the fieldwork for the Prairie Project. Hayden's work eventually led to the establishment of a large, 240 acre prairie preserve in Howard County near Lime Springs. This first tract of prairie purchased by the State Conservation Committee was later renamed Hayden Prairie State Preserve in her honor. Hayden continued advocating for prairie preservation up until her death in 1950.
Ada Hayden finding aid.