Walt uncovers Simpson’s rich history

Walt uncovers Simpsons rich history

by Christy Smith

Simpson College has a rich history, but until 1985, no one really knew what it was.

During Simpson’s 125th Anniversary, the president of the college at the time, Robert E. McBride, asked Joe Walt, now professor emeritus of history, to research and write the history of the college before the next fall semester began.

“Two people before me had already tried to write the history. One gave up and the other passed away,” Walt said. “At the time, I was heavily involved in the State Historical Society of Iowa, and I was able to get to the archives to find out about Simpson in the past.”

The end product was “Beneath the Whispering Maples: The History of Simpson College”.

According to Walt, the title came from the last line of the second verse in the school song.

Walt found most of his information in Iowa’s newspaper archives.

“I knew Iowa had the best collection of newspapers, but I didn’t know they had the old Indianola papers, and if there would be anything on Simpson beginning in 1850.

They did, and so my research began,” Walt said.

One of those newspapers included an interesting front-page story about Simpson.

“On the front of the newspaper there was a story about a group of people who had gotten together at the United Methodist Church to form an institution,” Walt said.

In order for Walt to write the history of the college he had to read thousands of newspapers over a time period of seven to eight years. Students also helped him with his research.

“I thought it was going to take me six months to research,” Walt said. “But it took me years.”

The book, according to Walt, is 699 pages and is much longer than he intended it to be.

One of the most interesting facts about Simpson, according to Walt, is the fact that before Simpson became an established college it was a secondary school.

“When the school was founded there was not one public high school in the state of Iowa,” Walt said. “In the beginning the school was called Indianola Male and Female Seminary. In 1867 the school pushed up into a college, and it adopted the name Simpson.

Although the book took an extraordinary amount of work, Walt still found time to teach.

“I didn’t write much in the winter because I was teaching. This became more of a summer project for me,” Walt said.

The book is out of print at the current moment, according to Walt, but he plans to have another work published, which has also required a great deal of historical reading.

A book about Liechtenstein, a small country in Europe will be Walt’s next project.

“I am partly done with my newspaper research. I just finished reading 250 boxes of newspapers,” Walt said.