The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Gallaher, Ruth Augusta
(September 23, 1882–August 23, 1965)

–historian, author, editor, and educator—was the second of seven children born to Daniel James Gallaher and Sarah (Uren) Gallaher, tenant farmer near Warren, Illinois. After graduating from Warren Academy in 1900, she began teaching school, as did her older sister Emily, while both lived at home. Shortly thereafter, Ruth struck out on her own. She attended Northern Illinois University (1901-1902) and then earned a B.A. from the State University of Iowa in 1908. When she was not attending school, she taught at schools in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Idaho.

    Gallaher is remembered as one of the most productive scholars associated with the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) during Ben jamin Shambaugh 's tenure as its director. Inasmuch as she was able to pursue a scholarly career at a time when women generally were excluded from faculty positions at American colleges and universities, she contributed to professionalizing the practice of history in public organizations.

    In 1914 Gallaher joined the SHSI staff as a part-time research librarian while she worked on a doctorate at the State University of Iowa, where she also studied under Shambaugh in his capacity as chair of the Political Science Department. After earning her Ph.D. in 1918, she assumed the position of library associate. By that time, her parents and two brothers had joined her in Iowa City. In an arrangement typical of the times, they all lived under one roof, with the three siblings, unmarried, supporting their two aging parents. In 1930 Gallaher became associate editor of the Iowa Journal of History and Politics (IJHP), and from 1945 to 1948 she edited both the IJHP and the society's popular history magazine, the Palimpsest. In addition to editing those publications, she contributed scores of articles on Iowa history and politics to both, and edited or collaborated on several books published by the SHSI. Gallaher also edited or contributed much of the text for the WPA's Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State (1938), although her work received no mention by Raymond Kresensky, the state director and compiler. Among her outreach activities, she collaborated on the production of radio pro grams for Iowa History Week and spoke regularly at meetings of women's clubs and other community organizations. Gallaher also was instrumental in creating the State University of Iowa Archives, and from 1931 to 1944 she held the title of university archivist, without salary but with university clerical and student assistance.

    Gallaher's major works include Legal and Political Status of Women in Iowa (1918), also her dissertation, which is still considered a substantial early contribution to the field of women's studies. With Bruce Mahan, she coauthored Stories of Iowa for Boys and Girls (1929), which was widely used in Iowa schools for decades.

    An active member of the Iowa City community, Gallaher served on the city council (1925-1927) and chaired the Johnson County chapter of the American Red Cross (1927-1928). She also devoted considerable time to the Social Service League Board and the League of Women Voters, and during World War II sat on the Iowa City Rent Advisory Board.

    In 1948 Gallaher resigned from the SHSI and left Iowa to accept a faculty position at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she taught in the Social Studies Department until 1950. In 1951 the SHSI published her research on the history of Methodism in Iowa in the Palimpsest. Sometime after 1950, Gallaher moved to California, where she died in Los Angeles at age 82.
Sources The body of Gallaher's historical writings and her work-related correspondence are located in the holdings of the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City. A small collection of her papers is in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.
Contributor: Rebecca Conard