University of Northern Iowa School Records

The Rural School Collections at the University of Northern Iowa

Mission Statement

The Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture (CHRIEC), of the University of Northern Iowa’s Museums (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.

Contact Us

The Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture is stored on the third floor of the University of Northern Iowa’s Rod Library in the Special Collections and University Archives. Hours of operation are from 9am to 4pm Monday through Friday.

Nathan Scott Arndt
Museum and Collections Curator (link sends e-mail)

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, 8.5×11 – $.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.


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. []