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


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Shambaugh, Bertha Maude Horack
(February 12, 1871–August 30, 1953)

–scholar, photographer, artist, naturalist, women's rights advocate, clubwoman, educator, public speaker, hostess, homemaker, devoted wife, and prominent historian and photographer who created a definitive study of the Amana Colonies—was one of the first American women to demonstrate artistic and technical proficiency in photography. Herself the author of two books and numerous articles, she also collaborated with her husband, Ben jamin F. Shambaugh, acting as a sounding board for his ideas and involving herself in the work of the State Historical Society of Iowa by editing manuscripts, preparing indexes, designing book covers, drawing maps and illustrations, and working in the library.

    Born in Belle Plaine, Iowa, in 1871, she moved to Iowa City in 1880 with her Czech-born parents, Frank J. and Katharine (Mosnat) Horack, and two younger brothers. She attended public schools and inherited "artistic tastes and fondness for music from her father," while her mother exposed her to literary classics. She enjoyed outdoor life, was inspired by scientist Bohumil Shimek to study nature, and became president of the local Agassiz Association. She refined her skills as an artist by sketching plant specimens, and soon her illustrations and stories appeared in the Illustrated Youth and Age, the Interior, the Midland Monthly, and other magazines.

    A major shift in her interests occurred in the fall of 1888, when she was given a camera. Among the first amateurs to experiment with dry plate photography, she employed a keen pictorial sense, focusing her camera on aspects of life previously unrecorded and documenting ordinary lives. Expressive images reveal intimate details about the culture she was part of and invoke a spirit of the times, serving as visual artifacts.

    A daring 20-year-old in 1890-1891, she took more than 100 photographs in the Amana Colonies–"glimpses of the Old Amana that is fast disappearing."Her photographs show houses, gardens, street scenes, woolen mills, an apothecary shop, bakery, kitchen, and church, along with school activities, craftsmen, and communal kitchen workers. "The Knitting Lesson" is perhaps her most enduring image.

    Her interest in botany led her to the State University of Iowa to study under Thomas Macbride from 1889 to 1895. Active in literary societies, she met Benjamin Shambaugh in 1892 when he lectured on early Iowa City history. From 1893 until her marriage in 1897, she chaired Iowa City High School's biology department. But then, as she later wrote, "My interest in Benjamin's work and in the development of the State Historical Society of Iowa drew me into the field of State and Local history."

    In 1895 she was hired to undertake a study, published as Some of the Economic and Industrial Phases of the Amana Society in the Ninth Biennial Report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the State of Iowa in 1901. An essay on the Amanas appeared in the Midland Monthly in 1896, followed by an article in the World Today in October 1902, featuring her photographs. Extensive research included field trips to interview residents and gain access to private records and church archives. Her 1908 book, Amana: Community of True Inspiration, published by the State Historical Society of Iowa, established her as an authority on a culture not then familiar to outsiders. She explained the distinctive religious basis of the communal society, profiled leaders, and reported on Amana history, government, industry, and religion.

    The house the Shambaughs built in close proximity to the State University of Iowa campus in 1900 became a social and intellectual haven for faculty, students, and distinguished guests. Benjamin launched a lecture series that brought prominent national and interna tional visitors to Iowa City. Luminaries ranging from Jane Addams, Hamlin Garland, Thornton Wilder, Amelia Earhart, and Walter Lippmann, to Arctic explorers, economists, humorists, and philosophers attended dinner parties at the Shambaugh home.

    Bertha Shambaugh maintained an active social life as a member of the N.N. Club, American Association of University Women, Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs, Iowa Press and Author's Club, University Club, and the Triangle Club; as an adviser to student groups; and as a Sunday school teacher at the Unitarian Church. As her hearing deteriorated in the 1920s, she rarely went out in public. Amana That Was, Amana That Is, published in 1932, reprinted her earlier book with an updated chronicle of fundamental changes in communal life leading up to the incorporation of the Amana Society. Bertha Shambaugh died at the age of 82.
Sources The Shambaugh Papers in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, and in Special Collections, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, offer rich archival documentation. Of particular note are Bertha Shambaugh's House Books, 36 volumes containing correspondence, clippings, and commentary, and Mary Bennett's oral history interview with Katharine Horack Dixon (niece), April 1982. See also the bio graphical sketch by Addie B. Billington in the "Iowa Women Whom All Iowa Delights to Honor" series, Des Moines Register and Leader, 3/20/1910; Mary Bennett, "Images of Victorian Iowa," Palimpsest 61 (1980), 34–41; Jean Berry, "Bertha Shambaugh's Frog Folk," Palimpsest 70 (1989), 18–31; Rebecca Christian, "Her Starring Role in Their Polished Show," Iowan 39 (Winter 1990), 30–38, 50– 51; and Bertha Shambaugh, "The Scrap Books of a Quiet Little Lady with Silvery Hair," Palimpsest 4 (1923), 401–27.
Contributor: Mary Bennett