In order to help minimize spread of the coronavirus and protect our campus community, Cowles Library is adjusting our services, hours, and building access. Read more…


Celebrating Congressman Neal Smith’s 100th Birthday!

Congressman Neal Smith
Congressman Neal Smith

Congressman Neal Smith is celebrating his 100th Birthday on March 23! Earlier this month, University & Political Papers Archivist Hope Bibens spoke at the Des Moines Rotary Club about the congressman in celebration of his birthday. A portion of her remarks are published here:

I came to Drake and Des Moines in 2014 to be the archivist for the papers of Senator Tom Harkin, but little did I know that when I arrived, I would have another congressional collection to work with.  Before I started working on the Harkin Papers – before they even arrived – I started to dig in to the Neal Smith Congressional Papers at Drake with the hopes of making them more accessible to researchers. Now, I’m not a native Iowan, but I felt like I truly knew Iowa after working with the Smith Papers.

I study Congress for a living – and so naturally when I come to a new place, I want to learn about their members of Congress.  So the first thing I did when I started working with the Smith papers was to read the Congressman’s book, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  And I have never been more impressed by a member of Congress – his temperament, his humility, his work ethic.  His ability to balance competing interests to make the system work.  He let his work speak for itself – there was no need for self-promotion. He embodies everything a constituent would want in their member of Congress.  I know that the residents of every state think that their state is the best or special – but Neal Smith is the perfect of example of what is so special and so good about Iowa.

So an archivist’s job isn’t to just keep all of this knowledge to themselves – we work with researchers who come in to the view the materials so they can write their own articles or books – and so I just wanted to tell you a little bit about some of the research projects people have done by studying Congressman Smith’s papers.  We have researchers from all across the country who contact us for information or come to visit to pour through the over 100 boxes of materials and their projects have varied from a PhD candidate researching the beef industry, to an author working on a book project on the Vietnam War.  From a student writing about Saylorville Dam to others researching anti-nepotism and anti-trust legislation.  Most recently, we have seen a lot of interest in agriculture files – specifically the farm crisis of the 1980s and how members of Congress responded to their constituents.  Congressman Smith worked on so many different issues throughout his career and that makes working on these reference questions so rewarding.  And I know that researchers have only just begun to scratch the surface of this incredible collection that we are so grateful to house at Drake.    

When it came time to start thinking about how the Archives at Drake could commemorate Congressman Smith’s 100th birthday, I wanted to get the students who work on the description of his collection involved.  And so I asked one of the students if she would like to curate a display for our case outside the Archives in Cowles Library.  I thought she would put some photographs, awards, and memorabilia in the case like we normally do, but she did something that surprised me – and is so reflective of the career of Congressman Smith.  She went through all of the bills – all of the thousands of pieces of legislation that he sponsored or co-sponsored – and picked out 100 bills from across all topics to put in the display case.  Now, of course, she also included some fun awards like one with a giant pig attached to it from the Iowa Pork Industry, a gavel signed by Tip O’Neill, and photographs with Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson, but what is most impressive – and most striking are the bills.  The Wholesome Meat Act, the Farmer-Held Grain Reserve Act, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act of 1974, the Small Business Development Center Act of 1976, student loan programs, emergency health services, public works, recreation, and conservation projects in Iowa.  It’s so incredible to see them all in the display case side by side – and to think that this was just a small portion of his legislative work and his impact on Iowa and the country is almost overwhelming.

All of this is to say that it’s an honor to be tasked with preserving someone’s legacy, but especially someone like Congressman Smith.   I know I speak for everyone at Drake University and The Harkin Institute, when I say Happy Birthday and we are so proud that you are part of our family!  

For more on the Neal Smith Congressional Papers visit:

Call for Volunteers: Archive Your Story

We are currently living through a historic moment. Historians of the future will want to know what our experiences were like. In the spirit of documenting this time, Drake University Archives & Special Collections is asking you to keep a journal of your experience during the COVID-19 epidemic. Feel free to type, write by hand, collect news stories, write poetry, draw, etc.

This is a rapidly changing situation and everyone is experience these events in a different way. Start writing now! We welcome journals of students, faculty, staff, and alumni in digital or analog form. For questions on how to submit a journal, email Hope Bibens (

The University Archives celebrates with new displays!

A case just outside the Archives is now displaying bills and awards from Congressman Neal Smith’s collection, in celebration of his 100th birthday this month. The exhibit was curated by Archives Assistant, Ashley Wildman. And just outside the library’s after-hours area, the round tower case is honoring one of Drake’s most notable women – Mary Carpenter – in celebration of Women’s History month.

First Christian Church Donates to the Drake University Archives

The First Christian Church at 25th and University Avenue was founded in 1888, under the name University Place Church of Christ, and historically had numerous ties with Drake. As the church closes in 2020, the University Archives has accepted documents, correspondence, photographs, and artifacts for preservation. Some of Drake’s Founding Fathers, as well as faculty were preachers and held various notable capacities in the church. Drake’s first campus building, the Student’s Home, hosted early Sunday School sessions, and Sunday evening religious services were held in Old Main’s chapel. Over the years, the First Christian Church shared its sanctuary spaces with Drake for lectures, musical performances, commencements and convocations. Drake Bible College Professor, Charles Medbury preached there for 28 years, and at the peak of his ministry, collapsed and died at the conclusion of Sunday services on April 24, 1932. It remains one of the church’s most dramatic, historical events.

Drake’s Presidents’ Papers collection is now open

The President of a University is the chief executive officer, responsible for being the educational and administrative head of the University. Many different kinds of papers, documents, photos, and people pass through the office of the University President.   Now, for the first time, public researchers, Drake faculty, students, alumni, and staff, can explore the history of Drake University in an exclusive way through its’ Presidents’ Papers.

Over 3000 folders of newly arranged and preserved documents offer a unique understanding of events, as well as reflect how the University was shaped by its top leaders through times of growing pains and prosperity. The Presidents’ Papers are closed for 30 years from the last inclusive date of each term, so those through Wilbur Miller (1985) are now open.  For more information, please visit the Collection’s online Finding Aid, or visit the University Archives, inside Cowles Library.

Drake’s School of Journalism celebrates 100!

From now until the end of summer, the James M. Collier Room will exhibit historical photographs, awards, and other artifacts celebrating the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s centennial. Themes include “Our People,” “Places and Spaces,” “Technology,” and “Student Organizations.”

The Exhibit is free and open to the public, and can be viewed during regular library hours. The Collier Room is located on Cowles’ second floor.

Tinker v. Des Moines celebrates 50!

The University Archives celebrates the 50th anniversary of Tinker v. Des Moines with a display about student free speech and the Tinkers, just outside the library’s 2nd floor Reading Room.  The display is free & open to the public now until March 8th.

Mayan Pottery Display

There are now some pieces of Mayan Pottery on display right outside the University Archives.  The collection was gifted by Mr. and Mrs. Cedric Marks of New York City to the Drake Art Department.   Dates are unknown, as well as any further information about the donors.   The pieces have not been authenticated.   Also on the Library’s second floor, located in the atrium case outside the Reading Room, are some very interesting Ding Darling artifacts!

Archives celebrates Veteran’s Day

The Drake University Archives pays tribute to it’s many soldiers who have served our country in a new Veteran’s Day exhibit.   The display, located in the small glass case just outside the Archives, was curated by Drake senior and Archives Assistant, Alexis Cruz.   With 2018 being the 100th anniversary of WWI, Alexis gave special attention to that era – highlighting Charles Preston Howard (later a Drake Law graduate) who flew over France in 1918.   The exhibit is free and open to the public, during regular Library hours, from now through the end of the semester.

Morehouse Comet and more!

In the smaller display case, right outside the Archives, is an exhibit celebrating the 110th anniversary of the discovery of the Morehouse Comet.   Alumnus, astronomy professor, and Drake President (1922-1941) Daniel Walter Morehouse, discovered the comet that bears his name, in 1908 at Yerkes Observatory.   He was awarded the Donahue Comet Medal for his discovery.

And during September, a book display by Professor Eduardo Garcia Villada will spotlight Hispanic Heritage Month.   This display is in the Library’s Reading Room atrium.

The public is welcome to view both exhibits during regular Cowles Library hours.

Scroll to Top