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Seerley, Homer Horatio
(August 13, 1848–December 23, 1932)

—educator—was born near Indianapolis, Indiana. As a child, he also lived in Illinois and then on a farm near South English, Iowa, and knew firsthand the hardships of rural life. He attended a Keokuk County country school. In 1866 he walked 40 miles to Iowa City and enrolled in the university's preparatory department. Two years of teaching in country schools persuaded him to abandon engineering and take up pedagogy. After graduating from the university in 1873, he became, successively, assistant high school principal, principal, and superintendent at Oskaloosa. He often conducted the annual Mahaska County Teachers Institute. The Iowa State Teachers Association elected him president in 1884. Two years later the Iowa State Normal School Board of Directors named him to head that institution. He served for 42 years and died in Cedar Falls.

    The innovative Seerley transformed the normal school into Iowa State Teachers College (ISTC) by 1909. His personal knowledge of the rural populace, his fiscally responsible leadership, and his reputation for integrity won respect for the institution from the public and the Iowa General Assembly. His many speeches delivered to civic clubs, professional associations, and countless other groups promoted the cause of public education, which, he claimed, made the United States the world's schoolmaster of liberty. He worked to elevate standards through the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. He headed the creation of a visionary four-year B.A. in education that combined didactics with subject matter in preparing high school teachers. He insisted that high school teachers must be trained in a "normal school spirit" because collegiate academic instruction was insufficient preparation. Toward that end, he lobbied successfully for better facilities at ISTC–an auditorium, more classrooms, science laboratories, a library, a laboratory school, a vocational building, and gymnasiums for men and women.

    Not all of those initiatives pleased the recently established State Board of Education, which announced a controversial coordination plan in 1912 for the three postsecondary institutions. One of its proposals demoted ISTC to its earlier status as a normal school limited to a two-year program for training elementary teachers. An ensuing outcry from the schools and their constituencies produced a legislative resolution calling on the governing body to rescind its plan. Despite the crisis, Seerley developed a good working relationship with the board. On its behalf, he launched a major initiative to improve rural education. As part of that effort, Seerley authored a methods textbook titled The Country School: A Study of Its Foundations, Relations, Developments, Activities and Possibilities (1913). He claimed that instruction must be related to children's experience and devoted to improving the quality of rural life. At the same time, ISTC established study centers throughout the state for the continuing education of rural teachers. By 1917 that program served 15,000 teachers. The college also created model rural schools that provided sites for practice teaching and demonstrated what might be accomplished with proper instruction. The country-born Seerley called such institutions a system of cooperative consolidation and urged the 1915 General Assembly to establish such schools within 10 miles of every Iowa town or city.

    Seerley–an evangelical Christian and dedicated Congregationalist–preached the importance of conduct and character for a complete education. Hoping to ensure that prospective teachers were persons of exemplary character, he cultivated a family atmosphere and a Protestant ethos at ISTC, welcoming many religious organizations and activities, including the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian associations, the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, and systematic Bible study. Each year during his long presidency, Seerley delivered a baccalaureate address, based on scriptural passages; these were essentially sermons on the superiority of the democratic American school system. His last talk in 1928 asked graduates to pledge themselves to his educational credo: "Live true. Honor ideals. Maintain character."
Sources Seerley's correspondence is in Special Collections, University of Northern Iowa Main Library, Cedar Falls. See also T. P. Christensen, "Homer Horatio Seerley," Annals of Iowa 35 (1960), 363–85; and William C. Lang, A Century of Leadership and Service: A Centennial History of the University of Northern Iowa, vol. 1, 1876–1928 (1990).
Contributor: Carroll Engelhardt