Iowa Roots, Global Impact: The Life and Legacy of George Washington Carver

College Years

Carver as a faculty member of Iowa State College, circa 1895

Carver as a faculty member of Iowa State College, circa 1895. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Parks Libray, Iowa State University

In 1885, young George Washington Carver applied and was accepted to Highland University in Kansas. Later on, Carver was denied access to this University when the college found out Carver was an African American. The reason they would not admit George Washington Carver into Highland University was because they did not know if they would still be able to raise funds if an African American student was enrolled.

B.2.9 Highland University, 1885

Highland University (now Highland Community College). Photo courtesy of Highland Community College.

After his denial to Highland University, Carver found a home at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. This was the beginning of a road of great achievement for George Washington Carver.

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”
– George Washington Carver –

For more information on Highland University today Click Here

Simpson College

Simpson College, circa 1890

Simpson College in the late 1800s. Courtesy of Simpson College.

During 1890 to 1891, Simpson College, located in Indianola, Iowa was endowed by Matt Simpson, a friend of Abraham Lincoln and an advocate of equal rights for all men. Carver, therefore, was accepted and allowed to attend Simpson College where he completed one year. Carver was one of the first African American students to attend Simpson College.

FACT: While attending Simpson College Carver created a laundry business to make money while taking classes.

Carver with painting, 1893

Carver painting at Simpson College. Photo courtesy of George Washington Carver National Monument.

Carver attended Simpson College as a talented artist. There, he met one of his professors named Etta Budd. Professor Budd believed Carver was a talented painter, but she did not think there was much of a future for an African American painter. Because of Carver’s love of nature, Etta Budd talked to her father, an Iowa State agricultural professor. She encouraged Carver to transfer to Iowa State because she thought an African American man could have a better career with a science background rather than an art background. Carver took Budd’s advice and transferred to Iowa State because he wanted to help African Americans in the south by teaching them the new scientific techniques of the time.

Budd family with Etta in the center, circa 1890

Family portrait of the Budd family. Miss Etta Budd (bottom center) was Carver’s professor at Simpson College, while her father (middle left) was Carver’s professor at Iowa State. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Parks Library, Iowa State University.

“During my six years in college, her interest in me never waned”
– George Washington Carver about Miss Budd –

“(She) helped me whatever way she could”
– George Washington Carver about Miss Budd –

Iowa State

Old Main

Iowa State in the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Park Library, Iowa State University.

Carver decided to leave Simpson College and move to what was then Iowa State Agricultural and Mechanical College in Ames, Iowa. He was accepted and allowed to attend classes at Iowa State, but the discrimination was much larger while attending classes there. George Washington Carver was the first black student to attend Iowa State. Because Carver was an African American student, he was not allowed to sleep in the residental dormitories or eat in the dining hall. Carver was forced to sleep in an old office and when it was time to eat, Carver had to eat meals in the basement of the kitchen with the employees.

Carver in National Guard Student Battalion uniform

Carver in his National Guard uniform. Photo courtesy of George Washington Carver National Monument.

George Washington Carver, even with taking classes and working to earn money to get him through school, was still able to participate in extracurricular activities. The most notable one for Carver was the National Guard, where he became a Captain of the student battalion. Others included…

  • Debating Club
  • German Club
  • Art Club
  • Young Men’s Christan Association
  • Athletic Trainer for the Iowa State football team
Microscope given to Carver by faculty members of Iowa State College

Carver received this microscope a gift when he left Iowa State. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Park Library, Iowa State University.

After George Washington Carver graduated with his Bachelor’s degree, he was encouraged, by his professors, to continue taking classes at Iowa State and obtaining his Master’s degree. Along with taking classes, Carver also taught some courses as a teacher’s assistant. After two years in the Iowa State Master of Agriculture program, Carver graduated with his Master’s degree. At this point in Carver’s life, he had to make a choice between staying at Iowa State as a faculty member, or he was also offered a job at Tuskegee Institute. Carver wanted to help African American farmers, and he believed that the Tuskegee Institute was the place he could do the most for them, so Carver accepted the job.

” There is no short cut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation — veneer isn’t worth anything”
– George Washington Carver


Throughout Carver’s college career, he made many life long friends. Many of these people were accomplished scientists in their field and inspired or were inspired by Carver is some way.oil

Louis Pammel, circa 1900

Lois Pammel working in the field. Photo courtesy of special collections, Parks Library, Iowa State University.

Louis Pammel was a professor at Iowa State, where he met George Washington Carver. Pammel was a botany professor, but was an expert on fungi and plant diseases. Carver worked under Pammel while working towards his Master’s degree. During this work, Carver learned skills on plant pathology, which he used to publish articles and gain national respect. When Carver left for Tuskegee Institute, Pammel kept in close contact with his old friend, and eventually Pammel wrote a paper about George Washington Carver’s life.

“(He was) the best collector I ever had in the department or have ever known”
– Louis Pammel about George Washington Carver –

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Henry C. Wallace, circa 1910

Henry C. Wallace, circa 1910. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Parks Library, Iowa State University.

“I never can repay you for being so kind, and indulgent to a poor little wayward black boy when in school.”
– George Washington Carver in a letter to Henry C. Wallace –

Henry C. Wallace was another one of Carver’s professors are Iowa State. Henry C. Wallace was an Iowa State agricultural college graduate, where he stayed to teach. In 1921, Warren G. Harding appointed Henry C. Wallace as the Secretary of Agriculture. Henry C. Wallace’s classes and the man himself inspired George Washington Carver and helped him in succeeding his achievements.

“No one missed his class if they could help it. A born teacher. (He’ll) never know how much he enthused and inspired me.”
– George Washington Carver about Henry C. Wallace –

Henry A. Wallace

Henry A. Wallace talking with Carver. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Park Library, Iowa State University.

Henry A. Wallace was a boy at the time George Washington Carver attended classes at Iowa State. When Carver would go on his nature walks, young Wallace would tag along. By Carver allowing Henry A. Wallace to accompany him on his walks, Wallace’s interest in nature rose, and he credits Carver for getting him interested in nature and agriculture. Henry A. Wallace grew up and became the Secretary of Agriculture, and later became the vice president of the United States. After his political days, he developed Hybrid seed corn, which became the world’s largest seed corn company.

“Kindliest, most patient teacher I ever knew.”
– Henry A. Wallace about George Washington Carver –

For more information on Henry A. Wallace Click Here