Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When Grinnell College Built a Foundry...

The 2014 announcement that Donaldson Company was closing its Grinnell plant provoked much unhappiness, and of course led to lost jobs. It also meant that, as the company moved to clear title so that it could sell the property, the Grinnell City Council had to pass several measures to clear up complications governing ownership. Reading the text of council resolutions, I had trouble figuring out exactly what had happened: why did city right-of-ways run through the factory property? And how had the city come to own any part of the big tract south of town? I had always assumed that Donaldson had built the factory and had owned the land from day one. It turns out, however, that the story is more complicated than that, and it began with a most unlikely scenario: it was Grinnell College that built the factory—and not for Donaldson. With financial support from townsfolk, the College purchased the land and built a foundry to lease to Marshalltown's Lennox Furnace Company, thereby making the College an industrial landlord. Only after Lennox gave up its lease in 1951 did Donaldson enter the narrative. The rest, as they say, is history!
Grinnell Herald-Register, August 27, 1945, p. 1
***
As background to this story, it bears remembering that World War II had deeply impacted the college. Recruitment for the armed forces had seriously diminished student enrollment, obliging the administration of President Samuel Stevens (1900-1966) to seek placement of an Officers Candidate School and an Army Specialized Training Program on campus, bringing lots of young men and government money with them. Moreover, in an era when the country was collecting tin cans to recycle for the war effort, philanthropic giving to the college had plummeted. As the war finally concluded in 1945, therefore, the college looked not only to restore enrollment to pre-war levels, but also to discover means to improve the institution's overall revenue stream. College treasurer Louis V. Phelps (1885-1969), along with President Stevens, played major roles in this effort.
Grinnell College President (1940-1954) Samuel Stevens (1947 Cyclone)
Sometime in the summer of 1945 Lennox Furnace Company approached the college with an idea that had first hatched in the brain of D. W. Norris (1876-1949), owner of the Marshalltown Times-Republican and Lennox Furnace Company (today's Lennox International). In a hand-written letter that survives in the archives, Norris proposed that Lennox donate money to the college; that the college solicit contributions from Grinnell townsfolk; and that the college erect in Grinnell a foundry that it would lease to Lennox on favorable terms. The proposal was unusual. Although over the years the college had owned various commercial and agricultural properties, largely a function of donations and bequests, building and owning a factory was something new. How did this idea get traction?
D. W. Norris (1876-1949)
(photo from undated brochure, Lennox: A History)
As Norris explained in a letter of August 11, 1945 to Phelps, the college should expect cooperation from Grinnell townsfolk who would be glad to see new jobs added to the city's work force because of the proposed foundry. Indeed, Norris pointed out, Lennox had successfully followed this plan elsewhere. "When we built a foundry in Washington Court House, Ohio," Norris wrote, "the citizens raised $20,000, which was to have been paid over to us at the rate of 4% of our annual pay roll [sic]. I think that Grinnell citizens would have done that much to get a pay roll [sic] because a small town of 1800 people at Galeton, Pa. has raised $15,000 to be turned over to us on the same terms as at Washington Court House, Ohio." With a population almost three times the size of the Pennsylvania hamlet's, Grinnell could be expected to raise at least that much, he figured. In Grinnell, however, rather than have Lennox collect the return, the company was willing to have "Grinnell [College] get the bonus from citizens...and I am hoping that the promise of a foundry pay roll [sic] in Grinnell [would assist] the college to add to its endowment funds."
Louis V. Phelps (1885-1969) (1947 Cyclone)
From this point, events moved quickly. In late August the Grinnell Herald-Register published a drawing of the proposed foundry (see above), and announced that the college trustees had approved the plan. A building of some 24,000 square feet (later increased to 36,000 square feet) was imagined, "up to the minute in all details of its construction." More to the point, the new industry was "expected to give employment to upward of 100 men." Grinnell's city fathers were sufficiently encouraged to donate some $30,000 to the effort, thereby justifying Norris's confidence in what the town could afford. An article in early September's Herald-Register confirmed previous speculation about the land chosen for the project—the old county fairgrounds south of the city and adjacent to the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad track. By month's end, the sale of 32 acres—about eight of which were allotted to the new foundry—was complete. Almost immediately the college announced that building design was done, and that the Weitz Company of Des Moines—Rudolph W. Weitz (1901-1974) had joined the college board of trustees in 1944—would erect the factory, commencing construction immediately.
plat of property acquired by Grinnell College for Lennox Foundry
Courtesy of Grinnell College Special Collections, RG-DEV, Ser. 5.1, box 6
An interesting sidelight to the plan was the attention that Norris and his officials gave to the layout of the property. Having the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad build a spur to connect to the factory was a perhaps obvious corollary of the plan, the better to assist installation of foundry equipment and shipping of foundry output. For the same reason, the building itself was to be set back from East Street, situated close to the railroad. But what to do with the rest of the property?

Norris and his secretary, Edward C. Booth, had plenty of suggestions, all written into a draft plat, a copy of which survives. The drawing imagined dividing the property into sixteen lots, the largest of which, lot 15—7.87 acres—was reserved for the foundry. Three other roughly equal lots—one north, one south, and one northeast of the foundry—together consumed 7.6 acres. Most surprising was the proposal of dividing the property to the east—between the foundry and East Street—into ten residential building lots, each measuring 100' x 160'. An 80-foot right-of-way for a proposed east-west street was also written into the plan, this street intersecting with another right-of-way for a 60-foot-wide proposed north-south street. Anticipating how to make the proposed residential zone suitably attractive, Booth, in behalf of the Lennox company, proposed a series of restricted covenants.
Proposed set of Restrictive Covenants Governing Property on Which Lennox Foundry Was Erected (1946)
Courtesy of Grinnell College Special Collections,  RG-DEV, Ser. 5.1, box 6
Most provoke no surprise: one provision excluded "trailer, basement, tent, shack, garage, barn or other out-building" on the lots; another stipulated that "no dwelling costing less than $5,000" shall be allowed; a third required that each lot could contain only "one detached single family dwelling not to exceed two stories in height and a one or two car garage." Lennox even demanded that houses built on the corner lots of the north row of the subdivision face south, and those built on the corner lots of the south row face north.

College officials offered no amendments to these plans, but another covenant did draw attention. Paragraph D specified that "All lots in the Tract are intended to be used solely by the Caucasian race and no race or nationality other than those for whom the premises are intended shall use or occupy any building on any lot," excepting only "domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by an owner or tenant." Sadly, covenants establishing racial exclusion were not unique to this time and place; today's news stories keep discovering more places where builders' covenants clearly aimed to guarantee white-only residents. To their credit, college officials declined to endorse this provision, a fact that Booth confirmed in a July 8, 1949 letter to Joe Rosenfield, the college trustee most directly involved in the project. Whether all the other covenants were filed is unclear; certainly no homes were ever built on the land east of the factory. Already in 1949, Booth could affirm that the "Foundry property is a beautiful place and a credit to both the College and the town."
***
Construction of the factory began hard on the heels of purchasing the property. The October 5, 1945 issue of the Scarlet and Black reported that ground had been broken the previous Monday. Two weeks later the campus newspaper confirmed that the College, as part of its deal with the Weitz Company, had provided the construction supervisor—Martin Erickson—with the "housemother's suite" in Gates Hall where he could reside and stay close to the project he was overseeing.

The following spring marked completion of the building, and Lennox began to move in its own equipment. As town boosters had hoped, the foundry did generate new jobs, and, as Lennox had hoped, its rent was tax deductible. The foundry began to pour iron in September, and was at full production before the year was out.
Des Moines Register, September 1, 1946.
The college remained owner of the land, and leased the building to Lennox. When the first lease expired in 1951, however, Lennox announced its intention of taking up the option to purchase the foundry and the land on which it stood at the price specified in the lease—$60,000. The lease required Lennox to exercise its option by July 31, but, when matters were delayed, Lennox requested—and received—an extension. Then, at the November 3, 1951 meeting of the College trustees, Joe Rosenfield announced that Lennox had sold the lease to the Donaldson Company of St. Paul, and that Donaldson would exercise the lease's purchase option. Accordingly, the trustees voted to authorize the sale.
Grinnell Herald-Register, November 26, 1951, p. 1
A November 26, 1951 article in the Herald-Register reported the news to the community—that the college would sell the property to Donaldson, who manufactured mufflers and air cleaners for trucks and farm equipment. The foundry would have to be re-fitted, but company officials were optimistic that by March, 1952 the plant would be operational, and employ 75-100 persons, no doubt provoking huge sighs of relief from Grinnell businesses. Lennox officials expressed gratitude to Grinnell and the College, and soon John Norris, son of D. W. Norris (who had died in 1949) and successor to his leadership of Lennox Industries (as the firm was renamed in the 1950s), took a seat on the Grinnell Board of Trustees, a tacit acknowledgment of the mutual gain that had resulted from this unusual deal.
Scarlet & Black, September 26, 1952
***
Meanwhile, the complex of lots platted at the time the College acquired the property gradually followed their own histories. Already in 1946 College trustees had approved the sale of Lots 1, 2, and 16 to W. J. Beeler, and in 1950 the College donated the southernmost section of the property to the Poweshiek County 4-H Fair, officials confirming appreciation in a letter to the College.

Ownership of the rest of the property found resolution in a series of decisions that began with Donaldson's acquisition of the Lennox Company lease. In a letter of November 21, 1951 from Richard Donaldson, Vice President for Engineering and Sales, Donaldson indicated that the company was exercising the option of purchase, and proceeded to include the legal description of what the plat identified as Lot 15. The College trustees, for their part, prepared a resolution, an undated copy of which survives, confirming the transfer: "The Trustees of Iowa College hereby sell and convey Lot 15 of the subdivision...to Richard H. Donaldson for the sum of Sixty Thousand and No/100 Dollars...."
Letter of Richard H. Donaldson to Iowa College Trustees,  November 21, 1951
Grinnell College Special Collections, RG-DEV, Ser. 5.1, Wills and Trusts, Box 7, "Foundry, 1944-51"
Since the whole Board of Trustees had approved the sale in a meeting earlier that month, events moved quickly, and Donaldson soon took possession of the former foundry and the lot on which it stood.

There remained in college hands, however, that part of the original plat intended for residential building—Lots 3-12 and the rights-of-way for the roads imagined to cut through this part of the property. For a few years nothing changed, but in 1958 trustees received word that the City of Grinnell would like to take ownership, intending to use the land for recreational purposes. Noting that the land now had an insignificant book value, trustees decided to donate it to the city. In a deed drafted in October (and again in November), 1958 the College deeded over to the City of Grinnell Lots 3-12, making specific reference to the 80-foot roadway that ran east-west from East Street. For reasons that remain unclear, the city did not formally act on the transfer until March, 1960, when the Grinnell City Council passed a resolution accepting the property. The College specified that the donation required the City to use the land for recreational purposes, although, despite the fact that the City resolution recognized this condition, no recreational use of this property was ever developed. Finally, as Donaldson's requirements expanded, the city transferred ownership of this last section of property to Donaldson, but neglected to vacate all the rights-of-way built into the original plan.
Resolution of Grinnell City Council, March 7, 1960 (2nd page, not reproduced here, provides signature and date)
Grinnell College Special Collections, RG-DEV, Ser. 5.1, box 6
***
When Donaldson opened its new plant in Grinnell in 1952, it was able to hire fewer than 75 men. Over the years, however, as the company's products prospered and the factory expanded, coming to encompass more than 200,000 square feet, employment soared, reaching a maximum of more than 200 employees in the first years of the twenty-first century.
Donaldson Factory in 1964 Before First Major Addition (Grinnell Herald-Register April 30, 1964, p. 1)
In the last decade of the company's existence in Grinnell, however, jobs at the plant gradually withered. Occasionally city officials visited Donaldson headquarters in St. Paul, seeking confirmation that all was well, that the company would continue to provide for Grinnell workers. But many of the economic forces working against Donaldson were beyond the reach of city officials, as new developments in air quality and automotive machinery bypassed Donaldson's main products. The 2014 announcement about closing the Grinnell factory, therefore, was not a surprise. And soon the St. Paul company was looking for a buyer for its soon-to-be abandoned plant in Grinnell. When a buyer was found—Langhals Enterprises LLC, Delphos, Ohio—attorneys discovered that the city had never fully cleared the rights-of-way from the original plat, and it was this difficulty that obliged the Grinnell City Council to make these amendments in its December 19, 2016 meeting.
Grinnell Herald-Register April 29, 2002 (special supplement)
Donaldson had prospered in Grinnell for more than half a century, and along the way had provided many more jobs than had Lennox in its brief, five-year history at the original foundry. Grinnell College, too, prospered. In a March, 1951 memo, college officials totaled the expenses for building the foundry and counted them off against total returns—gifts, rental income, and final sale price. When all the expenses were taken into account, the college calculated total cash receipts of just over $49,000; if the contributions of Grinnell businessmen were subtracted, the gain seemed much smaller—just over $19,000, which seemed modest in comparison to all the effort and expense involved.

But the worst days were behind the College; the war was now history, enrollment had recovered, and soon a new president would bring to campus a new vision and inspiration. The city of Grinnell was also looking forward. Among those contributing to a new economic vigor was Donaldson Company, whose Grinnell factory promised still greater job opportunities in future. All this success was the result of the surprising 1945 collaboration between Grinnell College, Lennox Furnace Company, and Grinnell businessmen that brought a college-owned foundry to Grinnell.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Japanese Americans Come to War-Time Grinnell...

Executive Orders are much in the news these days. The new administration in Washington has made surprisingly ample use of them, among other things barring immigrants from seven Muslim states. Executive orders do not enjoy an altogether illustrious past. Indeed, one of the most famous—Executive Order 9066—unfairly and arbitrarily ordered the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, among whom were many American-born citizens. Hastily uprooted from their homes and businesses in the western states, Japanese immigrants and their descendants were sent to ten "War Relocation Camps." Grinnell was not one of those destinations, and in the 1940s had no resident Japanese or Japanese Americans. But, through the efforts of a Grinnell College alumnus and his uncle, Professor of Botany and Dean of the faculty, Henry Conard, four young nisei (second generation, America-born Japanese) arrived in Grinnell in May, 1942 to study at the college and make Grinnell their temporary home. Over the next few years another ten or so Japanese Americans came to Grinnell on the same program, thereby continuing their educations and escaping the grim internment to which so many others were condemned. The stories of Grinnell's nisei shine especially brightly now as Americans wrestle anew with a president's executive order that stereotypes racial and religious difference.
Scarlet & Black May 5, 1943, p. 1
***
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, pulled the United States into World War II, and sped up the militarization of the American economy. With the threat of yet another Japanese attack, this time perhaps directed at California or Washington, Japanese and Japanese Americans resident in the western states found themselves under suspicion. If Japan did attack mainland USA, people wondered, how would Japanese immigrants and their American-born descendants respond?

Although the likelihood of Japan launching another attack on the United States after Pearl Harbor was tiny, the Federal government—unable to do much military damage to Japan immediately after the immense losses at Pearl Harbor—gave the appearance of defending the country by ordering the forced resettlement of some 120,000 Japanese Americans resident in the West. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt authorized the military to organize the abrupt collection of these people, most of whom were ultimately sent to one of ten internment camps. One of those camps (in Rohwer, Arkansas) took in the family of Grinnell's Dan Ogata, long-time pastor of Grinnell's First Presbyterian Church. Like many others in Grinnell, I first learned from Dan about the harsh conditions in the camps, whose closing was officially announced in December, 1944 (although the last camp did not close until 1946). After years of disgrace and the unfair expropriation of many of their possessions, victims of internment who were still alive in 1988 received an apology and some financial compensation from the Federal government.
Joseph Conard '35 (1911-1965) (1935 Cyclone)
A story less well-known concerns the young people among the affected communities who ended up escaping internment by enrolling at colleges and universities outside the zones outlined by the military. Thanks to the intervention of the American Friends Service Committee and one of its local officials in California, Joseph Conard (Grinnell College Class of '35), several Americans of Japanese descent—all born in the United States and therefore all American citizens—ended up at Grinnell College, where Conard's uncle, Professor Henry Conard, was able to engineer their admittance.
Barbara Takahashi (1926-1985) (1942 Roosevelt High School [Los Angeles] Yearbook)
In a letter of May 2, 1942 to his Uncle Henry, Joseph Conard reported that two young people had already secured government permits to travel to Grinnell: Barbara Takahashi and William Kiyasu. Young Conard waxed enthusiastic about Grinnell's generosity: "We cannot tell you how much we appreciate what you and Grinnell have done to help these students. We have had many good offers from [colleges in] the Middle West, but none equaling Grinnell's, with board, room and tuition for two students." As he pointed out, Grinnell's aid was crucial, because "the family of these people will not be in a position to earn additional money." Conard used the letter to advocate in behalf of a third student, Akiko Hosoi, and urged speed upon Grinnell so as to steal the march on evacuation of her family.
William Kiyasu (1923-2010) (1940 Lowell High School [San Francisco] Yearbook)
The College did respond promptly, with the result that Takahashi, Kiyasu, and Hosoi stepped off the Rocky Mountain Rocket at the Grinnell depot at 3:55 AM May 8. The college newspaper reported their arrival, and provided brief biographies of the newcomers: Takahashi had been a senior at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles where she "led her class of 531"; Kiyasu was a sophomore at University of California, Berkeley where he was an honor student; Hosoi was also a student at Roosevelt High in Los Angeles, where she was ranked fifth in her class. The newspaper added that a fourth student, Hisaji Sakai, a high school senior in San Francisco, was due soon.
Akiko Hosoi (1923-1988) (1942 Roosevelt High School [Los Angeles] Yearbook)
How might Grinnell receive these young people? Joseph Conard had warned his uncle that Kiyasu, at least, had heard "frightening rumors of racial prejudice in the Midwest," and therefore he and the young arrivals might "show undue nervousness because of the great uncertainties they face." To their credit, Grinnell students seem to have welcomed the newcomers. Indeed, when in 1943 Iowa State Senator C.V. Findlay proposed a resolution–the so-called Findlay Memorial–that would have barred "the privileges of higher education to a group of young people, citizens by virtue of their birth in this country, whose loyalty and patriotism are rendered doubtful because of their racial extraction...," the college newspaper responded vigorously. An elegant editorial ("The Foe Within," Scarlet and Black, March 19, 1943, p. 2) used the presence on campus of the Japanese Americans to reject Findlay's proposal.
Beginning of editorial, Scarlet & Black, March 19, 1943, p. 2
"You see, Mr. Findlay," the editorial says, "we happen to know whereof you speak. We've been living for a year with what you call 'a serious problem.' We have Japanese-American students on Grinnell campus.... To us they have been, are, and shall continue to be, kids we go to school with." They have been, the writer continued, "an integral, valuable, enjoyable part of our student body...They live in our dorms, and we like them. They are part of our social life, and we don't want to lose them."

Turning the whole project against Findlay, the editorial observed that "In Grinnell we have not been smitten by any differences. We've forgotten about them. They [the Japanese American students] have not made us conscious of race...[It is you who] have brought race consciousness into the field of necessary attention. We have been reminded. We don't like it. We think such reminding renders you a man who endangers this nation, this people, this ideal we are seeking, and which we call America."

The same issue of the college newspaper reported on resolutions approved by both students and faculty. "We believe," the student resolution began, "that Japanese-Americans of good reputation should have the same privileges afforded other American youth. Any attempt to return Japanese-American students to relocation centers constitutes a threat to the democratic principles for which we are fighting." As the newspaper editorial had, the resolution also leaned on the college's experience with the Japanese American students who "have contributed equally to the welfare of our college life." The faculty resolution took a similar line: "We protest against the assumption that citizens are disloyal because of their 'racial extraction' as contrary to the fundamental principles of our nation in which people of all races constitute the citizenship."

Evidently, therefore, Takahashi, Kiyasu, and Hosoi found a generally welcoming atmosphere on campus. Indeed, Hisaji Sakai later remembered that, when he arrived at the Grinnell train depot May 10, 1942 at 3 AM, the entire freshman class was there to welcome him!
Hisaji Sakai (1925- ) (1942 Lowell High School [San Francisco] Yearbook)
Some years later, responding to inquiries from Grinnell student George Carroll (who completed an ACM summer research project on Grinnell's nisei students), Sakai remembered that Iowa was "refreshingly free of the virulent anti-Japanese sentiment that pervade[d] California.'" At the same time, midwestern unfamiliarity with Japanese could prove awkward. At a meeting with College President Stevens soon after arriving in Grinnell, Sakai learned that, because Stevens could not pronounce his first name, Stevens gave Sakai a new, easier-to-pronounce name: "Al." Consequently, for the rest of his time at Grinnell, Sakai was known as Al. Since both Takahashi and Kiyasu already had westernized given names, Stevens's christening might not seem so strange. And it bears emphasizing that several other nisei at the college—for example, Akiko Hosoi and Taduko Inadomi '47—regularly used and were known by their Japanese given names.

But if the college campus was generally welcoming and shunned racial prejudice, what about townsfolk? With increasing numbers of their young men and women in uniform, with the news regularly filled with reports of battles, of the dead and wounded, and with little experience with ethnic or racial difference, how did ordinary men and women in town treat the Japanese Americans they saw on the streets or on campus?

In a 2001 telephone interview with George Carroll, Kiyasu recalled that the town was far less welcoming. In his recollection, farmers held "a more menacing view of the Japanese," and, since the farmers were often in Grinnell on the weekends, Kiyasu and others learned to stay out of town then. Another respondent to Carroll's inquiries—Alden Matthews who lived in Gates Hall with Kiyasu—recalled that Kiyasu had once been refused a haircut from a barber in town. Takahashi told Guy Montag in the 1980s that she'd had "some rocks thrown at her," although whether she was being literal or metaphoric is unclear; elsewhere she reported having little experience with prejudice.

Overall the nisei recollections collected by Carroll and earlier by Montag contain little evidence of townsfolk hostility. And Grinnell's newspaper provides no reason to dispute these remembrances. When the first group of nisei arrived in town, the Herald-Register reprinted the college newspaper article, complete with basic biographical information of the first arrivals. So far as news reports can confirm, no one registered any objection to the arrival of these young people.

Nevertheless, readers of the newspaper might have registered surprise, given the general tone of reportage in these years.
Grinnell Herald-Register, May 7, 1942, p. 1
For example, the same issue that announced the arrival of Takahashi, Kiyasu, and Hosoi also contained a photographic reproduction of a letter "To the People of Iowa" from Iowa Governor George Wilson (who himself had once attended Grinnell). Taking note of Mother's Day, Wilson wrote that "The Iowa mothers are giving the treasured gems of their households for a service to humanity...The sending of their sons to meet the challenge to our life and our homes imposes a debt we can never repay...." Wilson urged Iowans to "Remember Mother's Day, and especially remember the service mothers, and comfort them as they follow their sons into the far lands that we and our children may know the blessings of liberty always." Of course, several of those "far lands" to which Grinnell youth were sent were defended by Japanese.
Grinnell Herald-Register, May 21, 1942, p. 1
Week in and week out, the town's newspaper fairly burst with war-related news, inevitably keeping the war foremost in readers' minds. In addition to periodic calls for recycling tin cans or for collecting paper for the war effort, and the invitations to subscribe to war bonds, the Grinnell paper also reported—in bold headlines—special events, like "War Activity Day," scheduled for June 10, 1942. A regular column of the newspaper was titled "With the Boys in Service," a place to report on letters received from soldiers, on wartime promotions or movements to new bases, and on injuries sustained or fatalities recorded. Even New Years wishes received a wartime dressing. In the final issue of 1942, published right before a new group of nisei students arrived in Grinnell, the Herald-Register greeted the New Year with the traditional image of a child—but this time wearing an army cap and saluting the "boys in service."
Grinnell Herald-Register, December 28-31, 1942
In these circumstances, townsfolk might easily have allowed the frenzy and anxiety of war news to overcome their better natures, and encourage them to vent their frustrations upon the American Japanese who were studying at the college. And apparently they sometimes did. Grant Gale, who taught physics at the College in these years and who had a nisei live with his family for a time, told interviewers in the 1990s that "There was an element in town that felt that...'the Japs' didn't belong" in Grinnell.  Gale recalled a neighbor who used to give their nisei student a hard time. But then still another neighbor rebuked the man: "'You lay off that Japanese kid...He's a citizen of this country,'" the neighbor said. So townsfolk had to wrestle with and reconcile their emotions and their consciences.

No doubt Takahashi, Kiyasu, Hosoi and the others for the most part kept to the campus, and therefore gave townsfolk little chance to express any hostilities they might have nursed. And the campus by all accounts proved to be vigorously welcoming. Carroll, however, in concluding his research paper on Grinnell's nisei, asserted that the American Japanese students "were treated differently, and perhaps defended virulently, due in large part to their race." The College community, he continued, "did not react to their racialized treatment by treating them without regard to their race."
Taduko Inadomi (1947 Cyclone)
Given the war-time environment, it seems unrealistic to imagine that Grinnell could somehow have ignored race, if that's what Carroll meant. As the 1943 Scarlet and Black editorial observed, the actions of government—not least the War Relocation Project—brought race to the foreground. But Grinnell managed to look beyond that discourse, and worked hard to provide a peaceful environment in which these talented nisei could prosper. This is how Grinnell's Japanese American visitors themselves remember their time here, as Taduko Inadomi ('47) wrote so movingly to George Carroll:
I shall always remember with gratitude Grinnell, its administration, faculty, and students for the help and encouragement they gave me. Grinnell nurtured me, not only academically, but socially and spiritually, at a very difficult time in my life. It had the vision and foresight to see beyond the hysteria and fears of the moment to help its students prepare for the post-war world.
As Americans confront a new round of fear and hysteria, remembering how in the depths of World War II Grinnell warmly welcomed this handful of young Japanese Americans may help encourage us to do likewise. 

***
POSTSCRIPT
As often happens, my inspiration for pursuing this subject came from a friend's suggestion—in this case from Jen Jacobsen, who reminded me of the nisei and their mention in Al Jones's Pioneering. Thanks, Jen!

There is much to say about these students, many of whom compiled outstanding records at the college, but there is not space here for all that detail. I should say, however, that in addition to the handful I mention by name in the post, the College hosted at least another seven or eight Japanese American students. Surviving records are sometimes confusing, so the list is probably not complete. Six of the group graduated from Grinnell (indicated in bold); the others left early, usually for financial reasons.
Janie (Yuni) Kobukata (1948 Cyclone)

Kenneth Kobukata (1949 Cyclone)

John Hatakeda
Akiko Hosoi
Taduko Inadomi '47
William Kiyasu '44
Janie (Yuni) Kobokata '48
Kenneth Kobokata '49
Katsuro Murakami
Hisaji Sakai
Barbara Takahashi '46
Gertrude Takayama
John T. Ushijima
Toshio Uyeda
Coolidge Wakai '49
Coolidge Wakai (1949 Cyclone)

Peter Oshima '47 actually entered Grinnell in 1937, before the war, and returned later to finish his work. Similarly, Barton Nagata '42 also enrolled at Grinnell before the war (1938). Neither was part of the effort to place students caught up in the War Relocation Act.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

When 300 Mexicans Came to Grinnell...

All the present-day conversation about restricting immigration, about Mexican "rapists and criminals," and the building of walls has reminded me of a time when Mexicans came en masse to Grinnell. At a time when the total population of Grinnell barely exceeded 5,000, the local newspaper headline screamed that "300 Mexicans Are Coming," all young men recruited to help with detasseling when war-time labor was short. Almost simultaneously, a much smaller contingent of native Americans also reached Grinnell to detassel the smaller fields of Claude Ahrens's seed corn business. All these different-seeming young men descending upon small-town Grinnell must have provoked wonder.  But then, as now, large agricultural enterprises deemed immigrant workers crucial to their business success, which may explain why it is difficult to find much evidence of resentment against the newly-arrived Mexicans and native Americans, even though their numbers must have made the newcomers very visible in town. How did this all go down? And can we today learn anything from the experience?
Grinnell Herald-Register, July 10, 1944
***
The 1940 US Census had counted 5219 persons in Grinnell, but as World War II wore on, more and more Grinnell men put on their country's uniform and served in the Armed Forces, and these military demands put pressure on the local labor supply. In a community dominated by agriculture, this pressure was felt most acutely in businesses directly connected to farming, and therefore followed the seasonal flow of agriculture. The seed corn industry, only then beginning the exploitation of hybrid seeds, felt this pressure most in mid-summer when de-tasseling crews were needed to pass through the fields quickly and efficiently. How could the expanding needs of this young business adjust to the diminished labor market?
Women De-Tasselers near Grinnell (1944)
DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association
http://www.daaha.org/collections/vex2/B6BDD805-AFB8-4304-8112-788189305030.htm
At first local seed corn companies tried to make do, using women and anyone who volunteered. Although I found no specific mention in the records of Grinnell women doing de-tasseling, a photograph from the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association website clearly shows a group of women standing in front of a Grinnell field recently de-tasseled. Some extant reports do talk of downtown businessmen who rolled up their sleeves and gave their time to help de-tassel, presumably because the seed corn business was crucial to the town's economy.

As the war dragged on, however, the demand for farm labor—not only here in Grinnell, but across the country—accelerated, and overwhelmed earlier efforts to scrape by. The result was an August, 1942 intergovernmental agreement that was officially called "The Mexican Farm Labor Program," but was unofficially known as the Bracero Program. Thanks to this agreement, between 1942 and 1964 several million Mexican immigrants entered the United States to take low-paying, hard-labor jobs on American farms. Typically, large groups of braceros moved from one crop to another, in the process moving from one state to another.
DeKalb Seed Corn Building, 733 Main Street, Grinnell (ca. 1940) (former Grinnell Washing Machine Factory)
DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association
http://www.daaha.org/Collections/vex2/6537EDAE-B453-46E3-ACEF-483392052027.htm
In the universe of 1940s American agriculture, Grinnell occupied a very small planet. Nevertheless, in 1944 operators of the local DeKalb seed corn plant arranged for some 300 Mexicans to come to Grinnell to help with de-tasseling. The first detachments arrived in mid-July. A "special car" attached to a train out of Minneapolis-St. Paul brought 62 Mexicans to town Saturday, July 15; a "large truckload of Mexicans" arrived the next day from Freemont, Nebraska (where they had been working in the sugar beet industry) along with a school bus of workers from New Ulm, Minnesota. A much larger group of Mexicans (238) reached Grinnell by train on Saturday, July 22. According to news reports, DeKalb arranged "sleeping quarters and shower baths" for the Mexicans at the DeKalb site on south Main Street, and contracted with a Chicago commissary company to prepare meals for them there.
Some of the Mexican temporary workers detraining in Grinnell, Greeted by Stanley Jorgenson of DeKalb Seed Co.
Grinnell Herald-Register, July 27, 1944

Grinnell Police Chief Glenn Bell Greets Newly-Arrived Mexicans
Grinnell Herald-Register, July 27, 1944
In anticipation of the cultural collision, DeKalb arranged to have Professor Harold Clapp (1909-1961) of Grinnell College's Foreign Language Department serve as "interpreter and a sort of public relations counselor." Clapp seems to have flung himself into the job, writing the Mexican consulate in Chicago to promise to look out for the city's guests. Perhaps in an effort to introduce the Mexicans to Grinnell in as positive a light as possible, Clapp helped arrange for some of the newly-arrived Mexicans to present a program of songs one night in Central Park, following immediately the weekly city band concert. According to the newspaper, "vocal numbers with guitar and mandolin and banjo accompaniment" included "La feria de las flores," "Viva Mexico!"  "Jalisco," and "Que lejos estoy." From the very first, therefore, ordinary wartime-Grinnell made at least a superficial acquaintance with the Mexican visitors and their culture. Announcing these plans, Clapp told the newspaper that the detasselers, for their part, were "much pleased, so far, with their treatment in Grinnell," although in so short a time the Mexicans could hardly have seen much of Grinnell. Nevertheless, relations seemed to get off to a good start.
1957 Cyclone
Given their work schedule and the fact that the visitors slept and ate at the DeKalb site, the Mexicans might have lived a fairly insular life, separated from the ordinary rhythms of 1940s Grinnell. Apparently, however, when not at work in the fields or bedding down at the DeKalb's site, the Mexicans were often in Central Park. At least that's what Josephine Hartzell (1902-2004) recalled when she was interviewed in 1992 by Betty Moffett. Hartzell remembered that "on Wednesday night[s] there was a concert in the park and those [Mexican] boys would finish work and run home and clean up and have a nice clean face and be all dressed nice, you know, with ordinary clothes on. And half the people in the park were Mexican boys. They come up to listen to the concert." Asked if there was any conflict between Mexicans and Grinnell townsfolk, Hartzell thought not: "Well, the Grinnell people didn't seem to pay much attention to the Mexican boys. They were nice and polite, as nice as they could be. But that's the only ones I was in contact with, the ones in the park."

Virgil Jones (1912-1995), interviewed by Valerie Vetter in 1992, had a different recollection. He thought that the Mexicans had arrived in the 1930s (rather than the 1940s) and had worked on the railroad (rather than in the corn fields). In so saying, he may have confused the World War II Mexican workers with an earlier (and smaller) group of Mexicans who came to Grinnell in the 1920s.  All the same, Jones was sure that the Mexicans he remembered were a quarrelsome lot. "Every morning they'd go down," he told Vetter, "and I'm not spoofing you, pretty near every morning they'd go down and they'd get into fights...They'd get in a fight, and they'd find one dead quite often. And they didn't know their name...[or] where they came from. They didn't know whether there was a brother or a dad or what. They took them out in a box and buried  them in Potter's Field. How many, I don't know."

Jones, who served in the US Navy during World War II and therefore was probably not in Grinnell when the Mexicans detasseled corn in 1944, and must have missed the DeKalb workers entirely. But he was right to say that some of the World War II-era Mexicans who worked in Grinnell died here, and were buried without markers in Hazelwood's potter's field (although knife fights played no part in their deaths).
Arbor Lake, Grinnell (ca. 1950?)
Digital Grinnell
In fact, the first Mexican death occurred almost immediately after the first arrivals reached town. On a hot Thursday evening, July 20, 1944, Manuel Rodriquez Ramos and three fellow-Mexicans had come to Arbor lake to cool off and have some fun. Although originally designed as a water supply for Grinnell factories, by the 1940s Arbor Lake had become Grinnell's main site of summer recreation with facilities for both swimming and boating. So it was perfectly understandable why Ramos and friends had made their way to Arbor Lake.

While his friends relaxed on the "dock-runway" that extended into the lake from shore, Ramos himself went swimming. What diverted the friends' attention we do not know, but at some point they realized that Ramos was not visible in the water, and they sounded the alarm. A lifeguard appeared, and after three unsuccessful tries finally located and retrieved Ramos's body from water that was less than six feet deep. Despite concerted efforts to revive him, Ramos was declared dead on the scene, a victim of accidental drowning. The newspaper reported that Ramos had come from Mexico City "where his widowed mother is still said to reside," the newspaper uncertainly offered. What attempts were made to contact the man's mother the paper did not say, but did report that funeral services were held Saturday morning at St. Mary's, and that Ramos was buried immediately thereafter in Hazelwood's potter's field—on the same day that the trainload of 200 more Mexicans reached town.

Ramos was evidently the only fatality among the 1944 Mexican visitors, but the following year, when Mexicans returned to help with detasseling, another death was registered. Melchior Hernandez, who was said to have been under a doctor's care before he ever reached Grinnell, fell ill in August, 1945 and was admitted to the hospital on August 11th. Newspaper accounts did not identify what the trouble was, but evidently the illness was serious: by Wednesday morning, August 15th, Hernandez was dead. As with Ramos, the newspaper seemed unsure about the man's identity, reporting only that he came "from the state of Jalisco," but that, "so far as can be determined, his only relation is a sister." Again St. Mary's provided services, and Hernandez, too, was buried in Hazelwood's potter's field, his grave unmarked.
***
Claude W. Ahrens (1940)
Judith W. Hunter, Grinnell's Entrepreneurial and Philanthropic Pioneer: A Biography of Claude W. Ahrens (Grinnell: Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation, 2009), p. 58
While DeKalb employed Mexicans to accomplish de-tasseling, the smaller seed corn operation of Claude Ahrens (1912-2000) turned to a different group of temporary laborers. Already in 1943, as the shortage of farm help began to manifest itself in war-time Grinnell, Ahrens had hit upon the idea of recruiting workers from the Menominee tribe of northeastern Wisconsin. How Ahrens came up with this idea, and how he identified the Menominee, who live some 400 miles from Grinnell, are not known. But, having somehow found them, Ahrens made a pilgrimage to the tribe's reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin, and there made "personal calls upon the mothers of the young people before they would consent to their children coming to Iowa to work." How many Menominee tribesmen Ahrens hired that first year the records do not say. But apparently they fulfilled their duties in Grinnell without any complications. And the next year Menominee veterans of Ahrens's 1943 detasseling crew told their friends and neighbors of "the largest field of corn they had ever seen" and how hospitably they'd been received in Grinnell, which made the 1944 recruitment "a simple matter."

Menominee "Indians" Brought to Grinnell to Detassel Greeted by Laird Wray, Ahrens Hybrid Seed Company
Grinnell Herald-Register, July 27, 1944
Consequently, just as the first small groups of Mexicans reached Grinnell, some forty workers arrived from the Menominee reservation in Keshena to help detassel the 1400 acres from which Ahrens intended to collect seed. Like DeKalb, Ahrens provided the transportation—by truck—and housing (in this case, tents on the premises of Ahrens's plant on US 6, east of town). According to the newspaper, the young men finished their work within three weeks, so they did not have long to rub shoulders with the rest of Grinnell's population. And perhaps for that reason the Menominee visitors left little trace of their sojourn here: no newspaper articles reported any special performances; there was no news of accidents or deaths; and their departure home went without notice. None of the reminiscences recorded decades later from Grinnell's farmers or other long-timers make any mention of the brief visit of the Menominee to walk the corn rows around Grinnell.

Ahrens Hybrid Seed Corn Company, Highway 6 East
Hunter, Grinnell's Entrepreneurial Pioneer, p. 65
***
What can we make of this tale of outsiders briefly penetrating a quiet, conservative Iowa town in wartime? For one thing, we should emphasize the fact that all these Mexicans and Native Americans were here, and that they worked hard, contributing to the prosperity of the town and to Grinnell's part in the war. So far as I can ascertain, all these men—and apparently they were all men—left Grinnell when the work was done. In other words, they came here to work, and work they did. They left their homes and families, they slept in makeshift accommodations, and they ate from large-scale commissaries that were unlikely to match the cooking to which they were accustomed. And in an era before detasseling employed any machinery, they worked hard, the hot sun enveloping them in sweat that was then liberally sprinkled with the itchy tassels they worked on. Moreover, so far as the evidence can report, there were no rapists or criminals among them, a fact that may need special emphasis in the present political environment.

Another point that deserves to be made is that the Mexicans did work that, without them, could not have been done. The fact that Claude Ahrens was so desperate for labor that he had to find help in a reservation 400 miles from Grinnell demonstrates how dire the situation was. Then, as now, I suspect, Mexicans came to the United States not to steal jobs from American citizens, but to do work that American citizens could not or would not do.

Finally, it bears emphasizing that the sojourn of Mexicans and Menominee tribesmen in Grinnell passed peaceably. Of course, the visit of outsiders was not long, and had it been longer, things might have gotten tenser. But the fact that men and women of different languages, cultures, and religions got along, even in the country's conservative mid-section, is a lesson we need to be reminded of as we contemplate our own world today.





Friday, December 16, 2016

Centenarians in Early Grinnell

According to published data, more and more Americans are living longer. If life expectancy at birth in 1900 was 47 for white men and 49 for white women, a hundred years later the corresponding numbers were 75 for men and 80 for women. African Americans have enjoyed a similar increase—black men's life expectancy at birth in 1900 was 33 but 68 by 2000; black women's life expectancy rose from 34 in 1900 to 75 in 2000. A consequence of this growing longevity is that increasing numbers of Americans are living to age 100 and beyond. If this cadre of the super-annuated was once small, the growing numbers have led various public agencies to count and honor centenarians. The State of Iowa, for example, has created a Department on Aging that solicits information on and organizes public recognition of Iowa's centenarians. As of October 2012, the agency counted 587 Iowans aged 100 or more, and the 2010 census (which did not insist upon consistent reporting of birth dates) reported 846 Iowa centenarians. More than 80% of this group is female.

But what about early Grinnell? If most men and women could expect modestly long lives, were there centenarians in town in the early twentieth century? And, if there were, did the locals remark upon the long-lived, and perhaps celebrate their longevity? The answer to both questions appears to be "yes." Although I found no systematic effort to identify and publicize the long-lived, early Grinnell definitely had centenarians whose great age attracted public attention, perhaps especially because in their time they stood out even more than today's long-lived Iowans. Today's post will examine a few of these early centenarians and how Grinnell marked their long lives.
###
Undated photo of Mumpford Holland (1825?-1916)
When Mumpford Holland, former slave and long-time Grinnell resident, passed away in July, 1916, the Grinnell Herald reported that Holland was "believed to have been about 108 years old." The front-page obituary was long and affectionate, if also colored by the language of racial difference. Perhaps most telling, however, was the public perception: "It almost seemed that Mumpford couldn't die. The years passed by and seemed to leave little impression upon him," the newspaper remarked.
Headline from page 1 obituary of Mumpford Holland, Grinnell Herald August 1, 1916
However, for many of his vintage (especially former slaves like Holland), reliable records of birth were out of reach, so that over the years Holland provided census-takers with conflicting data on his age, date of birth, and even place of birth. The 1870 census, for example, reported that Holland had been born in Kentucky and was 30 years of age, which implied that he was born in 1839 or 1840. The 1880 census confirmed place of birth, but identified Holland as being 35, just five years older than reported ten years previously. The 1895 Iowa census, however, indicated that Holland had aged rapidly, describing him as 64 years of age (and therefore born in 1830 or 1831); instead of Kentucky, the 1895 record gave Mississippi as place of birth. The 1900 census reported that Holland was 75 years of age—eleven years older than claimed just five years earlier—and helpfully provided a month and year of birth (January, 1825), the specificity of which seemed to invite credibility. The 1905 Iowa census maintained the Mississippi place of birth, but counted Holland as 80, maintaining consistency with the previous census. Five years later, however, the 1910 census judged Holland to be 100, but omitted place of birth, acknowledging that he was "formerly a slave with no records." The next Iowa census (1915) and the last one to count Holland before his death, repeated his 1910 age—100—but asserted that he'd been born in Kentucky as some of the earliest censuses had claimed.
Record for Mumpford Holland from 1915 Iowa Census
This welter of conflicting information is not unusual where written birth or christening records are rare or non-existent. Nevertheless, the contradictory evidence makes it difficult to determine whether Mumpford Holland in fact reached the remarkable status of centenarian, despite the 1910 and 1915 censuses.  Clearly he seemed old to the people around him. F. W. Thackeray, who completed the 1915 census form for Holland in which he claimed an age of 100, noted parenthetically that Holland was "probably older." If one assumes that the date of birth reported in the 1900 census—January, 1825—is correct, then at his death in 1916 Mumpford Holland would have been 91; if he were 100 in 1910, as the census claimed, then Holland would have been 106 in 1916.
Mumpford Holland (ca. 1890) (Digital Grinnell)
In other words, we can't know his age for sure. Whatever Holland's actual age, it's clear that Grinnellians of the time thought he was very long-lived. His life, begun in slavery, was long and hard. His wife had been sold away when the couple were both slaves, and Holland never saw her again. Once out from under slavery, Holland picked up odd jobs—waiting on tables, working as a gardener, and later doing just about anything to earn a living. Even the complimentary obituary printed in the Grinnell Herald had to admit that Holland had had to put up with a lot from men in town who mocked him. Never rich, he managed to buy his own, modest home, and somehow he kept going, demonstrating a resilience that few could match and which might well have helped him live many years.

###
More reliable confirmation of having reached centenarian status comes from Susannah Law Kingdon, who was born in Peckham, England in July 2, 1829, and christened at Camberwell parish October 1, 1829—both dates having been entered in the parish register.
Cumberwell parish register of baptisms, 1829
(Susannah Law's christening is no. 15, 2nd from bottom)
In 1851, when she was just 22, she crossed the Atlantic in a sailing ship that encountered disaster just off Long Island. Susannah made it safely to New York where her brother resided, and where soon she made the acquaintance of William H. Kingdon. According to her obituary, when she and Kingdon decided to marry, Susannah returned to England in 1855 to acquire her trousseau, then crossed the ocean another time, culminating in her 1856 New York marriage. The union resulted in the birth of six children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1870 or 1871 (sources differ on the date) the family came to Iowa, first settling in Malcom, then later moving into Grinnell where William Kingdon operated a small shoemaker's business. Although William was five years Susannah's junior, he died first: William Kingdon was only sixty years of age at the time of his 1894 death. Thereafter, Susannah Law Kingdon lived with one or another of her children. For some years she lived with her daughter Harriet Goodrich, first at 633 Main, then a few blocks to the north at 1033 Main, and then finally at 1221 Broad. When Harriet died in 1928 (she, too, was only sixty years of age), her "aged mother" (as the obituary put it) moved to 1008 High Street to live with her son, Frederick S. Kingdon (1863-1953) (who, his own obituary later noted, had hoped to live as long as his mother).
William H. Kingdon (1834-1894), husband of Susannah Law Kingdon
Consequently, when Grinnell took notice of Susannah Kingdon's one-hundredth birthday, the Grinnell Herald allocated two columns of page one to what the newspaper called a "quiet" observance at her son's home. According to the newspaper, "Many cards and telegrams have been received from various points all over the land to commemorate the occasion"—and on her birthday "more than one hundred messages...were received before noon." Eighty-two people signed the guest book, and Kingdon's photograph was taken "with her birthday cake bearing 100 candles" (if it survives, I could not find this photo). Another photograph captured the centenarian with her five great-great grandchildren." Among the most enjoyable parts of the day, the newspaper observed, was the broadcast of birthday greetings from Des Moines radio station WHO and the next day from a radio station in Shenandoah—this in an age when radio was still in its infancy.
Photo of Susannah Law Kingdon (ca. 1923)
Grinnell Herald July 2, 1929
How much Susannah Kingdon enjoyed all the attention is impossible to know. Certainly her long life had included many sorrows, not least the early death of two infant children, her husband's death in 1894, and then the demise of adult children: Caroline Kingdon Bahrenfuse in 1906 (1865-1906); Charles Henry Kingdon in 1915 (1856-1915); and Harriett Kingdon Goodrich in 1928 (1867-1928). But the town's centenarian was clearly made of sterner stuff, these household crises seemingly unable to slow her march to exceptional life span. With passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920, Mrs. Kingdon—then already past 90—vigorously and regularly exercised her newly-won right, conceding nothing to age or to the trials thrown up before her. An Episcopalian all her life, Susannah was, her obituary affirmed, "a religious individual," perhaps the source of strength that helped her ford the rivers of adversity she had faced.  Like all other mortals, however, Susannah Law Kingdon did finally have to confront death, which came in relatively short order after her one-hundredth birthday.

When she died in February, 1930, at the age of 100 years, seven months and 19 days (as the obituary pointed out), she died in hospital, having suffered serious illness for most of the last two months of life. She was famous for her embroidery which she continued to produce until her final days, bestowing pieces of her handiwork upon all her numerous surviving descendants—only one son outlived her, but eight grandchildren, twenty-two great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren remained to carry the memory of their remarkable ancestor.
###
Born in Wayne County, Kentucky, Rachel (sometimes "Rachael") Williams was one of seven daughters to whom her mother gave birth. In 1853 Rachel married another Kentuckian, Benjamin Adkins, and to this couple were born nine children (four of whom died before she did). The Adkins family came to Iowa "a few years after their marriage," and as pioneers settled in the eastern portion of Jasper County, near Kellogg, where her husband farmed until his 1887 death. Rachel later lived in Grinnell with her daughter, Mrs. George Cooper, then with her son, Morris Adkins (1854-1922). She died in Grinnell March 31, 1924, her obituary announcing, "Mrs. Rachel Adkins Closes Long Life."

Gravestone for Rachel Williams Adkins, Antle Cemetery, Kellogg, Iowa
(http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=23116238&PIpi=26799546)
Certainly her life was long, but whether it totaled 100 years is unclear. Her gravestone in the Antle Cemetery in Kellogg reports her as having been born in 1823, adding that she had lived "100 YS 4 MS 20 DS" when she died March 31, 1924. Her obituary, composed, one must assume, at about the same time as the gravestone, presents a different birth date and therefore a different life span. Reporting that the woman had been born in 1824 (not 1823), the newspaper account therefore totaled her life as having lasted "99 years, four months and twenty days."
Undated photo of Rachel Williams Adkins (1824?-1924)
(http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=23116238&PIpi=22616086)
Apparently Adkins herself was uncertain about her year of birth. Like Mumpford Holland, in succeeding censuses Adkins reported her age inconsistently: the September, 1850 census described her as 26 years old (meaning that she would have been born in 1823 if her birth in fact occurred in November, as reported elsewhere); but the June, 1860 census lists her age as 32 (meaning she was born in 1827 or 1828); the July, 1870 count—almost exactly ten years later—counts her as twelve years older (44, and therefore born in 1826 or 1827), which corresponds well to the following census (July, 1880) in which Adkins is described as 54. Thirty years later (April, 1910), however, she told the census official that she was 87 years of age (and therefore born in 1823 or 1824). In 1915 she reported herself as being 90, an age that was at least consistent with the 1920 census, according to which Adkins was 95 years old. These last two reports would place her birth in 1825 or 1824.

A reliable birth or christening record could clear up this confusion, but I was unable to locate any documentation that reliably recorded her exact birth date, so the question of whether Rachel Adkins was in fact a centenarian remains open. All the same, it's clear that she was very old at the time of her March, 1924 death. Like Holland and Kingdon, Adkins had weathered some difficult moments. Her mother had died when Rachel was very young, and all her six siblings had preceded her in death. Of her own nine children, four died before their mother, including one who died in infancy. And when her husband succumbed in 1887, she began a widowhood that lasted 37 years. All these events played out against the inevitably difficult circumstances that attached to pioneering in central Iowa.

Like Susannah Kingdon, Rachel Adkins was religious, having been an active member of the Baptist church for almost 70 years, so perhaps her faith helped her deal with adversity. Nevertheless, her final years were apparently difficult; according to her obituary, when "her usual vigor" failed and "when the infirmities of old age caused her life to be a burden to herself," she "longed for her last rest," which came with pneumonia.
###
So far as I could learn, Rachel Adkins did not receive the sort of adulatory celebration that had attached to Susannah Kingdon's 100th birthday. But there can be little doubt that she, like Mumpford Holland, had enjoyed the attention implicit in very old age. Some other Grinnellians seem to have lived lives almost as long, but apparently none lived any longer than these folk. When Daniel Hays, age 95, attended the centenary celebrations of Susannah Kingdon, the newspaper described him as "the oldest person to call upon her" and "probably the oldest man in Grinnell." Hays's November, 1930 obituary categorically labeled the dead man, by then 96 years old, "Grinnell's oldest citizen." And when George Washington Cooper (d. 1941) passed away, the newspaper headline reported that "One of Grinnell's Oldest Men" had died; he was 92.
Grinnell Herald April 17, 1941
Consequently, whatever the exact age of Mumpford Holland and Rachel Adkins, they, like Susannah Kingdon, were among early Grinnell's most senior citizens. Elsewhere some others lived even longer lives. Delina Ecker Filkins, for example, was born, lived and died in Stark County, New York, reaching the "super-centenary" age of 113. By comparison, James Sinclair Hunnicutt, who died in nearby Tama in September, 1923, was practically a youngster, his life span having measured 101 years, five months, and one day. But in early Grinnell Susannah Kingdon, Rachel Adkins, and Mumpford Holland seem to have lived the longest.

Their advanced age understandably attracted the attention of townsfolk, most of whom could not expect to enjoy lives anywhere near as long. Having survived slavery, like Holland, or having ventured to sail across the Atlantic several times, like Kingdon, or having put down pioneer roots in Iowa's prairie, like Adkins, this trio had seen plenty of hardship. Yet they had lived long. If no office of state government sought to identify and celebrate them as today's Iowa centenarians can expect, fellow townsfolk nevertheless adorned their lives with respect and marked their passing with regret.