Harry L. Eells Collection, 1895-1933

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Life and Education (1878-1933)

Iowa native Harry L. Eells developed a passion for education that would positively impact his life and his many students. Born February 5, 1878, in Waukon, Iowa, a city in Allamakee County, Harry likely attended rural schools in the area before embarking on his post-secondary educational journey. From 1895-1897, he attended Waukon Business College, where he received a First Grade County Certificate. His first experience with teaching occurred at New Hartford Public Schools in Butler County, Iowa, from 1897-1899. During his tenure at New Hartford Public Schools, he enlisted in the United States Army and served his country in the Spanish-American War (1898-1899). Upon his return, he entered the Iowa State Normal School where he received both his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Didactics by 1904.

Obtaining higher education allowed Harry to become a High School Superintendent for New Hartford Public Schools (1904-1908), Schaller, Iowa (1908-1911), and Rolfe, Iowa (1911-1913). Satisfied with his contributions to these schools, he returned in 1914 to the Iowa State Teachers College, this time as a professor. In the Department of Rural Education, he was able to strengthen his passion for teaching and share it with his students. He taught many classes including: Didactics I, Consolidated School Administration, Consolidated School and County Life, and Rural High School. In 1918, he obtained his Bachelor’s from the Iowa State Teachers College and continued teaching while working on his Master’s at Iowa State College (1922) and his Ph.D. from the State University of Iowa, which he did not complete. He took a brief reprieve from the ISTC while serving as an instructor for the American Expeditionary Force Army Educational Corps during World War I.

From 1920-1921, he was named acting head of the Department of Rural Education and became the assistant head of the Department in 1923. In 1927, he became Head of the Department of Education in his own right. Throughout his tenure at the Iowa State Teachers College, he created a number of publications including: Rural School Social Survey: Hudson, Jesup, and Orange Township Consolidated Schools (1922), Rural School Management (1924), and Seat Work and Helps for Busy Teachers (1928). Until his death on June 8, 1933, Harry L. Eells worked vigorously to promote educational reforms that would benefit not only Iowa, but the entire nation.

Spanish-American War Service (1898-1899)

Harry L. Eells enlisted into the 49th Iowa Volunteer Regiment on April 26, 1898 in Waukon, Iowa. Stationed at Camp McKinley in Des Moines until June 24, 1898, he was transferred to Camp Cuba Libre in Jacksonville, Florida. Here, his unit joined the Second Division Hospital Corps of the Seventh Army Corps commanded by Major General Fitzhugh Lee (nephew of General Robert E. Lee). The Second Division was sent to Cuba, where Eels served until being mustered out of service on May 13, 1898. He was awarded the Army of Cuba Occupation Service Medal.

YMCA and World War I Service (1910-1919)

Inspired to improve the prospects for the young men of London, store worker George Williams founded the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in 1844. Since its founding, the YMCA has worked to establish itself as one of the most well-known welfare organizations in the world. In the United States, camping became a central component of YMCA activities. One of the first American summer camps, Camp Dudley at Orange Lake, New York, was created by the YMCA in 1885. Inspired by Camp Dudley’s success, YMCA camps began popping up throughout the nation.

It was through YMCA summer camps that Harry L. Eells became affiliated with the YMCA. The earliest mention of the YMCA in the Harry L. Eells Collection can be found in a postcard marked July 13, 1910. Sent from the YMCA camp located in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the postcard informs his wife, Pearl that he was to, “Begin work tomorrow morning.” From this statement, it can be surmised that Harry worked in some capacity at the camp, perhaps as a counsellor or educator. In 1911, Harry received a postcard from his friend Leo, referencing Leo’s employment as a tutor at “the same old place” – the Lake Geneva YMCA – indicating their familiarity with the camp. Harry’s passion for education was perfectly in line with the YMCA emphasis on the development of a healthy mind, body, and spirit. The match would prove to work to the benefit of both parties.

Following the outbreak of World War I and U.S. entry into the conflict, Harry’s involvement in YMCA affairs would expand. To assist the Allied war efforts, President Woodrow Wilson organized the United War Work Campaign. Formed in 1918 with the intent of raising over $170,500,000, the Campaign hinged on the involvement of prominent welfare organizations including: the YMCA, American Library Association, War Camp Community Service, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board, and Salvation Army. The funding drive was extremely successful as a sense of patriotism motivated Americans to donate to the cause. In addition to fundraising efforts, the YMCA operated canteens in France and the United States and created many centers for recreation and religious services.

As the cessation of hostilities loomed, the YMCA began making plans to prepare soldiers for their return home and reentry into the American workforce. Up until this point, the Army had been too preoccupied with fighting to establish demobilization protocol. The YMCA educational plans were approved by army personnel and made official with General Order No. 192 approved on October 31, 1918 by General John J. Pershing, leader of the American Expeditionary Forces. In order to find the appropriate personnel for the job, the National War Work Council of the YMCA issued a call for applicants. Those encouraged to apply included college, university, and normal school presidents; deans or faculty members with administrative committee appointments; heads of normal schools, business colleges; county and city superintendents and supervisors; leaders of trade schools and agricultural colleges; and principals of high schools.

Harry’s vast practical and theoretical experience in education made him the perfect man for the job. He was recommended for appointment on October 1, 1918 and soon after was called to Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa. At Camp Dodge he became the educational director of the YMCA unit number 93. Harry’s work at Camp Dodge primarily concerned Development Battalion Schools which were utilized by soldiers that would normally not be accepted into service for reasons including: illiteracy, insufficient knowledge of English, and mental and physical health problems.

In December 1918, Harry was assigned to the American Expeditionary Force University in Beaune, France. He would remain at this post until receiving Special Order No. 70, which required Harry and several other civilian members of the Army Educational Corps to proceed to Dijon and Is-Sur-Tille, France on April 27, 1919. Following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, Harry and his colleagues would continue to run the Overseas Education Program until they received orders to return home the same year.