Rural Schools Overview

Mission Statement

The Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture (CHRIEC), of the University of Northern Iowa Museum (currently administered by Rod Library), is dedicated to the preservation, protection, and dissemination of unique and rare materials documenting America's rural school system and culture with particular emphasis on Iowa and the Mid-West. Through maintaining archival, historical, and research collections, oral histories, and programming, CHRIEC seeks to advance scholarship and support the educational, research, and service missions of the university. The Center encourages the use of its holdings by University of Northern Iowa students, faculty, staff, visiting scholars, and the wider public.

Statement of Purpose

  • To collect, preserve, organize, and make available to researchers, materials relating to the cultural and institutional history of Iowa's rural schools.
  • To facilitate access to collections and materials for students, faculty, independent scholars, and organizations, in as much as facilities, budget, staffing, time, and other constraints permit.
  • To continue to promote and connect with other rural education focused organizations to further develop the current network of rural cultural resources available.


At its height, Iowa's rural school system was comprised of over 12,000 one- and two-room schools stretching across the state. These schools provided much of the state's population with its educational training from 1850 to around 1960.

In May of 2007, with the help of a grant from the Iowa State Historical Society, Preserving the History of Iowa Rural Education, a UNI Museums project, was able to work with Iowa's Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to transfer the over 100 years' worth of official records to the University of Northern Iowa. At the time, the AEAs housed the gathered records of their constituent counties, a result of the statewide consolidation efforts of the mid-twentieth century.

While these records had been in the care and protection of the AEAs for decades, a point was reached at which they were unable to provide the professional attention to preservation and public access that the records warrant. The future and integrity of the records came into jeopardy as the instances of temperature and humidity control, pest infestations, dampness, acid storage materials, dust, and cramped conditions proliferated. Use of the records at that time was also made difficult by a lack of organization, finding aids, or staff trained in assisting researchers. This lack of consistency is a clear reflection of the early independence counties, boards of education, and schools maintained, and has left many of Iowa’s rural school records missing.

In 2011, with the support of an Institute of Museum and Library Services' Museums for America grant, the UNI Museum began organizing and arranging the rural school records of eighty-six Iowa's counties. The Center is working to catalogue these records into an online, searchable database of finding aids to increase researcher access and ease of use.

Visiting the Collection

Hours of operation are from 9am to 4pm Monday through Friday. In order to better serve our patrons we ask all researchers to set up appointments with the museum office at least 24 hours before your visit.

Reference Questions and Research Fees

Research Services and Duplication

  • Requests for research services may be made in writing via email to sends e-mail) or by phone at 319-273-2188.
  • Requests that involve simple searches for information, where specific information is provided (such as county, township, year, and teacher or student name), will incur a handling fee. Requests that involve more in-depth and sustained searching through documents will incur a research fee.
  • Digital reproductions and photocopies of materials held in the Rural School Records in the CHRIEC archive can be made, when copying will not damage materials. All digital reproductions and photocopies must be made by staff.
  • Generally, orders will be filled within 14 days after receipt of request.
  • When costs of reproduction have been determined, a cost figure will be sent to you.
  •  Total fees will include a handling or research fee, reproduction fees, and/or postage fee.


  • Handling fee, simple request – $5
  • Handling fee, microforms – $10
  • Research fee – $20/hour
  • Rush order – $20
  • Photocopies, 8.5x11 – $.25 per copy
  • Photocopies, 11 x 17 – $.40 per copy
  • Digital imaging – $5 per image
  • CD or DVD – $1 per disc
  • Photographic printout – $2 per sheet
  • Mailing fee, standard – $2.50 (up to 10 sheets or 1 disc)
  • Mailing fee, special – Actual cost for express mailing or large packages

Please make checks payable to UNI Museums.

Categories of Users

UNI Students – fees are waived for small orders
General public – fees above apply
Commercial users – additional fees will be applied for publication, broadcast, or exhibition



Information for Researchers

The Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture (CHRIEC), established in 2008 as a joint initiative of the UNI Museums, College of Education, and College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, is dedicated to the preservation, protection, and dissemination of materials and information relating to the rural school system and culture in Iowa. It maintains archival, historical, and research collections containing primary resources—such as the rural school records, photographs, and artifacts—as well as secondary materials including oral histories, reference works, and costumes.

Location and Hours

The Rural School Records, the largest component of the resources at the Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture, are physically located in Rod Library's Special Collections and Archives. It is open from 8am-4pm, Monday through Friday. Other materials in the collection of the CHRIEC are housed in the UNI Museums and are available by appointment or advance arrangements.


Researchers are required to fill out a Research Registration Form and provide information on the nature of their visit before being granted access to the collections. A valid identification is also required.


  • Coats, briefcases, parcels, and personal books are not permitted in the research area. Please leave them at the registration desk.
  • No ink of any kind may be used in the research area; use pencils only. Computers may be brought into the archives and used at the discretion of the archivist.
  • Smoking, eating, and drinking are prohibited in the archives.
  • All archival materials must be handled carefully: use only one folder at a time and keep the papers in their existing order.
  • Do not place books or volumes face down. Do not lean or press on archival materials. Do not trace maps or other records.
  • Do not write on any materials held by the CHRIEC.
  • All materials should be in the same order and state when the researcher leaves as when they arrived.
  • No material in the archives may be removed from the research area for any reason.
  • Persons requesting access to restricted materials must contact the person or agency imposing the restrictions. The archives cannot permit access to these materials without written permission from the proper authority.
  • Researchers are advised that it is their responsibility, not the archives, to obtain copyright clearance to publish or otherwise reproduce or distribute archival material. Whenever possible, the archivist will provide the names and addresses of copyright holders.
  • Any published work using the CHRIEC collections must make proper acknowledgement of the fact using the preferred citation template: [Name of Collection, Item], Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture, University of Northern Iowa. “Published work”, as used here, refers to theses, dissertations, term papers, journal articles, monographs, books, electronic or other other forms of publication prepared for public audience, limited or general.

Duplication of Materials

  • Unless restricted or protected by copyright conditions, photocopies of material will be supplied for research purposes at the rate of 25 cents per page. No more than 20% (or 200 pages, whichever is less) can be reproduced in any form for any individual or organization. [See Fees and Services for further information.]
  • Copies made of CHRIEC’s holdings are only to be used for research or private study purposes and are not to be made commercially available, reproduced, shared, or exhibited in print or online.
  • Since it may not be possible to fill some orders on the day requested, the Center reserves the right to carry out the work over a reasonable period of time.
  • Researchers requiring copies of photographs, maps, sound recordings, or moving image materials, or those wishing to copy archival materials using their own cameras or other equipment, are requested to consult the archivist about conditions and charges.
  • Hand-held scanners or any type of equipment that is moved or rubbed across the face of documents is not allowed at CHRIEC; these methods cause friction and abrasion and are potential detriments to the integrity of archival resources.

Personal Camera Use

This policy is designed to assist researchers using the Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture’s collections by encouraging the use of personal cameras for note-taking activities. The use of personal cameras is subject, but not limited, to the following conditions:

  • Researchers wishing to take photographs using their own cameras or other equipment must first obtain permission from the archivist for each photograph desired. Materials may have copyright or other restrictions which limit the use of their image.
  • All photographs are to be used for research purposes only and may not be reproduced, shared, exhibited, or published in print or online.
  • Manuscripts, records, or collections may not be reproduced in their entirety. Photographs are meant to help supplement note taking and allay the amount of scanning and photocopying necessary. Researchers should limit the number of photographs taken to a reasonable amount.
  • All materials are to be handled carefully and properly. Do not fold, flatten, or remove any fasteners from any of the records. Do not remove items from their encapsulated environments (e.g., mylar sleeves). Researchers found mishandling or abusing materials will be denied further access to CHRIEC’s holdings.
  • Digital cameras and mobile phone cameras must be set to ‘silent’ and to ‘still photography’ mode. Mobile phones cannot be used to take calls in the reading room but can be used for text messaging, in silent mode. Flashes, tripods, scanners, or other specialized equipment are not permitted.
  • Researchers wishing to take photographs of the reading room, the staff, or other researchers are asked to see and abide by Rod Library’s policy.
  • The CHRIEC reserves the right to examine and/or request copies of all photographs taken.


Why can’t I access the Records online?

Several factors preclude the proper and thorough digitization and indexing of CHRIEC’s holdings. The Center maintains over 600 linear feet of paper records and over 1,000 reels of microfilmed records relating to rural schooling; in many cases the records are brittle, fragile, moldy, or contaminated in some other way. These factors, coupled with the shear bulk of the material (as well as the shortness of CHRIEC staff), make online access impracticable at this time. However, a finding aid for each collection is available for online viewing.

Do you have a photograph of my school?

We may.
Rural schools and classes were usually only photographed one time per year. The resulting photographs were normally given or sold to the students and their families. This means the number of photographs of each school varied with the number of students, which was rather low in most cases. Since the Rural School Records are comprised of the official records kept by the rural school administration, there are very few of these photographs (which were kept by the students and their families). The majority of photographs CHRIEC does have are found in the History of Education Collections.

Why don’t you have records from my County/school/year?

There are countless reasons for gaps and holes in the Rural School Records. CHRIEC holds records from 88 of Iowa’s 99 counties. These records were transferred to UNI from their Area Education Agencies in 2007. Two AEAs were unable to transfer any records: AEA 9, (Mississippi Bend – Clinton, Jackson, Scott, and Muscatine) had previously transferred their records to the Davenport Public Library; AEA 14 (Green Valley – Adair, Adams, Clarke, Taylor, Montgomery, Ringgold, Decatur, and Union) lost a majority of their records in a fire at the AEA building, and, as far as we know, are no longer available.

Due to the nature of the rural school system, a good number of records never reached the AEA offices. Many of these were kept with the schoolhouse or were taken home by rural teachers or administrators and thus remain in private hands. CHRIEC is happy to see these collections of rural school material make their way into the archives through donations made by likeminded community members who may own or happen across them. We are always looking for and accepting donations of such material.

Can I get copies of the records that I’m researching?

Yes, most likely. Please see our Policies page and our Fees and Services page for a complete listing of services offered by the CHRIEC staff.

Can I come in and see the records?

Yes, please do! CHRIEC and the Rural School Collections are stored in Rod Library's Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Northern Iowa. Hours of operation are 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. See Contact Us for more information.