We Are ISU: Snapshots of Student Life


Introduction       1869-1898       1899-1928       1929-1958       1959-1988       1989-2018       2019      

Aerial view of Old Main with Morrill Hall off to the right


The Early Years (1869-1898)

The location of the Iowa Agricultural College was selected for its remoteness in order to protect students from what some saw as the corrupting influences of city life. The Main building was completed in 1868 just in time for the first batch of preparatory students to arrive on campus in October of that year. These 70 students, both male and female, and all from Iowa, needed to complete additional studies in order to become eligible to enter the first freshman class the following spring. In the earliest years, all students were required to room and board on campus, perform two hours of paid manual labor each day, and attend daily chapel.Some of these practices were ended before the turn of the century, but other policies, such as the rules governing female students, were in place for many decades more.

Student Spotlight: Thomas L. Rice, B.S. (1895)

Thomas Rice photograph portrait


Thomas L. Rice of Canton, Minnesota, and later Decorah, Iowa, enrolled at the Iowa Agricultural College in 1892 originally to study mechanical engineering. He graduated in 1895 with a degree in veterinary medicine.  As a student, Rice was a manager of the 1895 football team that earned the nickname Cyclones. Little else is known about Rice during his time at Iowa State, but we can speculate that he lived and boarded in Old Main at least part of his college career. However, it is possible that he found other housing on campus or commuted to campus from Ames via the campus railway referred to as the Dinkey. After graduation, Rice served in the military as a veterinarian with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, attended dental school at Northwestern University, and returned to Ames to open up a dental office. He served as mayor of Ames in the 1920s.







Snapshot of Campus in 1895:

  • President: William Miller Beardshear
  • Student Population: 480 students (380 men and 100 women)
  • New buildings: Morrill Hall, The Hub, Catt Hall, and Margaret Hall

Campus Development

Aerial photo Old Main


Old Main


The building in the center of this image is Old Main. For many years, this building served as the center of campus life and was classroom, library, dormitory, dining hall, and faculty residence. During Rice’s time, this would have been the only building on campus with a significant number of student dorm rooms.2






Black Hawk


The Dinkey


The Dinkey was constructed in 1891 in an effort to better connect the Iowa State campus with the growing city of Ames, almost two miles away. The small steam engine would operate daily until 1907 when it was replaced by an electric streetcar and, for the first time, allowed students and staff to easily commute from downtown Ames.3










Hand-drawn map of college grounds


Map of College Grounds, Exclusive of Farm, 1891


This campus map appeared in the 1891 course catalog and shows which campus structures were present when Rice arrived on campus his first year. 









Academics – Veterinary Medicine

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University is the oldest school of veterinary medicine at a public institution in the nation. The curriculum was developed in the 1870s with the School of Veterinary Medicine formally established in 1879. Originally a two-year program, the veterinary medical program was extended to three years in 1887.


Students workin in vet operating room


Veterinary Medicine


This scene shows several students learning how to perform an operation on a horse in the operating room of the Veterinary Hospital. This building, built in 1895, was used by the College until it was demolished in 1926.











Entrance Exams


Before standardized entrance exams became the norm, colleges and universities developed their own entrance examinations. These pages from the 1877 Board of Trustees Biennial Report give some insight into what knowledge entering students were expected to have. See if you could enroll as a freshman at Iowa State in 1876!













football team




Iowa State football was first organized as a team sport in 1891. The team pictured here was the 1895 team coached by the legendary Glen “Pop” Warner. The game against Northwestern University in October of that year was a surprising and resounding victory for the Iowa State squad. A Chicago sportswriter lamenting the loss, likened the Iowa State team to a cyclone that came out of the west and the name stuck.









Aerial view of athletic field


Athletics fields


By 1893, athletics fields were developed on campus in the space where Durham Center, Atanasoff Hall, Snedecor Hall, and part of the Library now stand. This image is from around 1909, by which time the field had been enclosed by a fence.