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
Swisher, Jacob Armstrong
(August 1, 1884–July 7, 1976)

–historian and author—was born in Watseka, Illinois, to William Hatfield Swisher and Nancy (Scudder) Swisher. Like his longtime colleague Ruth Gallaher, Swisher is remembered as one of the most productive scholars associated with the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) during Benjamin Shambaugh 's tenure as its director. In that respect, he contributed to professionalizing the practice of history in public organizations.

    Little is known of Swisher's childhood, but after he finished his formal schooling, he lived a peripatetic lifestyle until the early 1920s. Between 1905 and 1909, he studied law at the University of Illinois, without taking a degree. As of 1910, he was teaching in Bureau County, Illinois, where he met Nora Mae Anthony, another teacher. The two were married that year in Nora's hometown of Providence. Presumably, Swisher continued to teach in Illinois for the next few years, but in 1914 he and his wife and a daughter, Dorothea, moved to Iowa City, where, at age 30, he matriculated at the State University of Iowa to begin his college education. Later he recalled that "having had a wife... sort of placed him in a class all by himself, for married students were the exception rather than the rule in those days."After earning his B.A., he took a position as superintendent of schools for Garfield Township in Clay County, where he registered for the draft during World War I (he was never called to duty). Early in 1920, census enumerators caught up with the Swishers, now with four children, in Mankato, Minnesota, where Jacob was teaching at a commercial college.

    The Swishers came back to Iowa City in 1922 so that Jacob could undertake graduate studies. For the next five years he worked part-time at SHSI, and after receiving his Ph.D. in political science in 1927, he assumed the position of research associate, a position he held until he retired in 1950. During his 28-year career with SHSI, he wrote more than 100 articles for the society's various serial publications and authored several books, including Leonard Fletcher Parker (1927), The American Legion in Iowa (1929), The Iowa Department of the Grand Army of the Republic (1936), Robert Gordon Cousins (1938), Iowa–Land of Many Mills (1940), and Iowa–In Times of War (1943).

    In addition to a demanding professional career, Swisher was active in civic affairs. He served as state president of the Wesley Foundation Board of the Methodist church, as a member of the Iowa City School Board, and on Iowa City's city council. He also was active in the Kiwanis Club and published a history of that organization in Iowa in the Palimpsest (1960).

    Seven children were born to the Swishers, all of whom survived to adulthood. Following the death of his wife, Nora, in 1949, Swisher married Blanche A. Fletcher in 1950. After retiring from SHSI, he remained in the Iowa City vicinity and wrote poetry as a hobby. He died on July 7, 1976, at Solon, Iowa.
Sources The Jacob Armstrong Swisher Papers are located at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City. Rebecca Conard, Benjamin Shambaugh and the Intellectual Foundations of Public History (2001), incorporates lengthy excerpts of his unpublished biography of Benjamin Shambaugh, the original of which is located in SHSI's manuscript collections. The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, hold four volumes of his poetry, most of it self-published.
Contributor: Rebecca Conard