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Althea R. Sherman

Althea Sherman and the Birds of Prairie and Dooryard—1989       Iowa's Woman Ornithologist:  Althea Rosina Sherman (1853-1943)1943 

This article first appeared in Palimpsest, 70:4 (Winter 1989). Copyright State Historical Society of Iowa. Used with permission of the publisher.

 

 

Althea Sherman

and the

Birds of Prairie and Dooryard

A Scientist’s Witness to Change

by Sharon E. Wood

Year after year, between 1918 and 1932, hundreds of people made their way to a Clayton County crossroads called National, Iowa. They braved spring mud and summer dust, traveling on rutted country roads in northeastern Iowa.

There was no rail service to National; by 1918, there wasn’t even a post office. But the visitors kept comingcollege professors with groups of students, eminent scientists and amateur naturalists, “automobile tramps” out for fun on an afternoon drive.

So many came that Althea Sherman finally gave up counting her callers. By 1932, the year she stopped keeping track, the 79-year-old Sherman had led more than 1,700 visitors on the tour through her backyard laboratory.

Stout, whitehaired, and possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of her natural environment, Sherman was an object of admiration and curiosity to her visitors.

She had spent more than 20 years teaching art in schools and colleges around the country. Then, shortly after the turn of the century, at an age when most people would be looking forward to retirement,

Sherman began a new career as a scientist. By 1918 she had established a national reputation as a meticulous observer and interpreter of bird and animal behavior.

 

Grafic: Painting of Goldfinch on a Thistle bybAlthea R. Sherman used for cover of the Palimpsest magazine, Winter 1989.

Althea Sherman’s oil painting of a goldfinch balancing on a thistle symbolizes one Iowan’s record of human values and natural resources.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Photo: Althea with binoculars in her garden.

Binoculars in hand, Sherman watches for birds. (Photo taken in 1923.)

The acre around her home in National gradually turned from open prairie to a mix of shade trees, berry bushes, and fruit trees—attracting different species of birds, which Sherman diligently recorded with pencil and paintbrush.

© Oberlin College Archives. Oberlin, Ohio

Sherman lacked professional scientific training, but she made up for this through rigorous self-education. Working from her home in a tiny village in northeast Iowa, Sherman subscribed to a variety of scientific journals and studied them carefully.

She joined scientific organizations and corresponded with other researchers. Soon she began publishing her observations in regional journals and presenting papers at scientific meetings

In 1912, only seven years after she published her first article, fellow ornithologists honored Sherman by electing her to the rank of “member” of the American Ornithologists’ Union. Limited to 100 persons, the “member” category was an honor bestowed on only three women before Sherman.

During a career spanning nearly three decades, she published more than 70 articles and notes on ornithology, animal behavior, and natural history. Her articles appeared in some of the most prestigious scientific journals of the day:

• the American Ornithologists’ Union’s Auk

• the National Audubon Society’s Bird-Lore

Report of the Smithsonian Institution

Journal of Mammology, and

• the British Avicultural Magazine.

By 1921, when she was nearly 70, her reputation was such that she was selected for inclusion in the third edition of American Men of Science.

Sherman owed her success in this new career to her naturally keen powers of observation (enhanced by years of training as an artist), to disciplined study, and to her ingenuity in turning the domestic space around her home into a laboratory for research.

She designed an observation blind, a variety of nesting boxes, and a remarkable 28-foot tower containing a false chimney to facilitate her study of chimney swifts— all of which were built on the acre or so surrounding the house she shared with her sister.

A daughter of the first generation of European-American settlers on the Iowa prairie, Sherman brought to her studies a sensitivity to the signs of change about her.

The cycles of seasons, the life cycles of the birds whose nest lives she observed, even the cycles of crop rotation practiced by her farming neighbors all found their way into her densely written journals.

And woven through these cycles are her poignant observations of the long-term changes that occurred during a lifetime of nearly 90 years: 

• the native plant and animal species that disappeared under the pressures of agricultural development

• the new species that arrived to replace them, and

• the changing weather patterns that affected not only crops but also the birds and animals that shared the land with farmers.

Sherman often regretted that members of her parents’ generation had not been more careful observers of the natural world.

Their help, she thought, would have made it possible to trace the changes on Iowa land from the very earliest days of settlement.

Perhaps this is why she took such pains to record in journals and in art the changes to which she herself was an eyewitness.

Grafic:  painting of a Chipping Sparrow and Kingbird by Althea R. Sherman.

The chipping sparrow and kingbird lost nesting sites to the bronzed grackle, which thrived in the Midwest as farmers planted evergreen windbreaks and plowed up grub worms.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Photo: Althea at her garden gate in National.

Althea Sherman at her home in National, Iowa (pronounced Nā'-shŭn-al).

© Oberlin College Archives. Oberlin, Ohio

Althea Sherman was born in Farmersburg Township, Clayton County, Iowa in October 1853, the fourth of six children. Her parents, Mark Sherman and Melissa Clark Sherman, had settled in northeast Iowa nine years before.

A New Hampshire native reared in Essex County, New York, Mark Sherman was the son of a tanner and shoemaker. He learned those trades himself, but by the 1840s, most shoes were produced in large factories in towns like Linn, Massachusetts.

Shortly after his marriage in 1842 he, like many displaced craftworkers of the period, determined to move west. In 1844, after an unprofitable stay in Milwaukee, Mark Sherman bought land in sections 25 and 26 of Farmersburg Township.

That summer, he erected a log pole house at a cost of seventy-five cents (a considerable bargain over the twenty-eight dollars, twelve and one-half cents Thoreau would spend a year later at Walden).

Mark, Melissa, and their new-born daughter Emma spent nearly a year in that simple shelter before a sturdy frame house was built.

For the next 21 years, the Sherman family lived and prospered on their prairie farm, and five more children joined Emma:  Ada, Amelia, Althea, Mark, and a daughter who died in childhood.

Mark Sherman was part of the generation that transformed the prairie into a rich agricultural resource, In doing so, he achieved considerable personal success as a farmer.

Sherman bought land on a Mexican War land warrant for seventy-nine cents an acre. By 1850, the real estate was valued at $2,500, and the household included one farmhand. Six years later, the Shermans employed two hands and the wife of one of these men.

On land that 11 years before had been virgin grassland, they produced:

• 15 tons of hay • 540 bushels of spring wheat
• 400 bushels of oats • 150 bushels of potatoes
• 900 bushels of corn • 500 pounds of butter
• 80 hogs for sale • 1,000 pounds of cheese
• 3 cattle for sale.  

By 1860, they were employing three farmhands to farm 267 acres (80 unimproved). The farm was worth $6,000, and Mark Sherman’s personal estate was valued at $10,000.

Years later, his daughter would write regretfully of the prairie life—both plants and animals—that vanished under the pressures of agricultural development, but Mark Sherman’s success as a farmer also lay the groundwork for Althea’s later career in science.

He was abIe to pay for the best education available to a young woman of her generation, and his estate would provide financial security for her old age and money to support her research.

Grafic: painting of ploughed up prairie and rotated crops by Althea R. Sherman.

Ground-nesting species disappeared as farmers plowed up the prairie and rotated crops, requiring new nesting sites.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Althea began her education in the common schools of Farmersburg Township. High schools were rare in the 1860s, so the teenaged Althea and her older sisters Amelia and Ada traveled 40-some miles to the academy at Upper Iowa University in Fayette to prepare for college. (In the 19th century, most colleges and universities—especially in the Midwest—operated preparatory divisions in addition to their collegiate courses.)

By the mid-19th century, dozens of colleges—including several in Iowa—offered degrees to both women and men, but the oldest and best of these coeducational institutions (and the model for most of the others) was Oberlin College in Ohio. After the money and effort Mark and Melissa Sherman had already invested in sending their daughters to Fayette, college was a natural next step. In 1869, the three sisters journeyed together to Ohio to enroll at Oberlin.

Grafic: drawing of young Catbirds by Althea R. Sherman.

Young catbirds—one of several of Sherman’s drawings and oil paintings published here for the first time.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

No one who knew them in college would have guessed that of the three Sherman sisters, Althea would one day be the sister honored for her contributions to scientific research. While Amelia and Ada began preparing for careers in medicine, Althea devoted herself to the study of art.

Years later, she would remember her art education at Oberlin as “very bad,” but as a young woman she was an enthusiastic student, saving some of the drawings and paintings from her student days throughout her life.

The subjects of some of these paintings suggest that art teachers at Oberlin saw drawing and painting as genteel accomplishments. One allegorical painting showed “Winter” in the guise of a wizened crone.

A carefully drawn portrait of Lincoln honored the recently martyred president. Another portrait, depicting Eugénie of France, may have been Sherman’s tribute to the empress who, while serving as regent, visited painter Rosa Bonheur in her studio and bestowed upon her the Légion d’Honneur—the first woman so recognized.

Althea’s interest in art  did not keep her from working seriously at her other studies. Oberlin was coeducational, but it maintained two separate degree tracks:  a classical course and a literary course. When the college opened in 1833, administrators assumed that only men would choose the classical course, while women would confine themselves to the less rigorous literary course.

But from the start, some highly motivated women had always chosen to pursue the more prestigious classical course, and Althea Sherman was one of these. More than 40 years later, Sherman attributed her success as a scientist in part to the training in Latin and Greek she had received in Oberlin’s classical course.

After graduating from Oberlin in 1875, Sherman taught school for a while, then returned to Oberlin to earn a master’s degree in 1882. For the next few years, she alternated periods of teaching with further training as an artist.

She taught at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, taking a leave of absence in 1885 to study with the Art Students’ League in New York City In 1887, she moved to Wichita, Kansas, to be near her sister, Dr. Ada Sherman St. John.

There she gave private instruction in drawing until she was called back to her parents’ home in National to help care for her father, who was gravely ill.

A year later, she was again able to spend time studying in New York City, and in 1892 she took a position as supervisor of drawing in the Tacoma, Washington, public schools, where she remained until 1895, when she returned to Iowa once again to care for her aging father.

This time, her stay was to be more or less permanent. Mark Sherman died in 1896, and Althea remained to care for her mother until Melissa Clark Sherman died in 1902.

From then on, Althea remained in National, sharing the family home with her older sister, Dr. Amelia Sherman.

Grafic: painting of the prairie becoming farmland and woods becoming lumber by Althea R. Sherman.

During Sherman’s lifetime, prairie became farmland and woods became lumber. Sherman recorded these changes, through scientific observations of birds and through artistic perceptions of changing landscapes.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Grafic:  drawing of the Sherman home by Althea R. Sherman.

Althea Sherman’s dooryard, 1906.

In Chapter 1 of her Birds of an Iowa Dooryard (posthumously published in 1952), she cites 162 species identified “either on our place [the dooryard and her surrounding lots] or in the air overhead.” Sherman insisted her “dooryard” was not a cultivated garden but an acre of outbuildings, a few vegetables and flowers, and an orchard.

“A large part of the trees are plum trees, bearing harvests mainly of birds’ nests. There is toleration for plum trees for several reasons:  They take care of themselves and are thorny and brushy about their trunks, thereby offering desirable sites for bird nests.”

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Amelia Sherman had been a country doctor in National since the mid-l880s, and she continued her practice for many years to come. Althea, however, found her opportunities less satisfactory.

“My professional work was the study and teaching of Art,” she wrote in a 1918 letter to Oberlin College. But her tiny hometown proved “unsuitable for progress” in this field.

Casting about for an activity to occupy her energetic mind, Sherman rediscovered the birds she had loved in girlhood.

National may have been no place for an artist, but “its environs were found very favorable for research work in some lines of Zoology” Gradually, Sherman began to redefine her profession.

To the 1900 census-taker, she called herself a “teacher of art,” but by 1910, she was listing her occupation as “bird study at home.”

It is tempting to look upon Sherman’s first career as an artist and teacher as the typically genteel occupation of a middle-class lady.

If this were true her later decision to pursue a scientific career might seem a fairly dramatic break with the past.

But while drawing and painting were certainly part of the ornamental education offered to young ladies in the 19th century, by the time Althea Sherman was studying and teaching, training in art—particularly drawing—had become more than just a sign of culture and taste. It had become a valuable skill.

Grafic: drawing of Bluejays by Althea R. Sherman.

Bluejays.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

In the late 19th century, a working class trained in drawing was considered an asset to American industry. “Drawing is the language of mechanics and the ability to use the pencil freely lies at the foundation of success in many mechanical pursuits,” wrote Isaac Clarke in a government pamphlet called Art and Industry (1885). “Without such education the American artisan must gradually descend in the scale of industry and content himself with a menial scale in life.” Among the trades that acknowledged the need for such training were carriage makers, taxidermists, sign writers, marble cutters, machinists, upholsterers, dyers, paperhangers, designers, and teachers.

Drawing was no longer just one of the ornamental branches of education; and it was usually as a teacher of drawing, not painting or art, that Althea Sherman found employment. Especially during her years as supervisor of drawing instruction in the Tacoma public schools, Sherman would have been emphasizing the mechanical, practical aspects of drawing as a craft, as a tool to facilitate other kinds of work. In a period before high-speed cameras, one of the kinds of work with which artists regularly assisted was the recording of visual phenomena for scientists.

The development of high-quality wood-engraving, photoengraving, and chromolithography created a demand for artists who could meticulously illustrate the plants, animals, and fossils, as well as experiments and observations, discussed in scientific publications. Her own training might have emphasized the genteel side of drawing and painting, but Sherman’s work as a teacher would have acquainted her with these areas in which art and science merged.

Grafic:  drawing of birds at 1-, 2-, 5-, and 6-days old by Althea R. Sherman.

Birds, at one, two, five, and six days old. Sherman attributed some of her success as an ornithologist to her “painstaking” drawing lessons at Oberlin.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Years later, Sherman acknowledged that the skills she learned as an artist served her well in her second career as an ornithologist. In a 1918 letter to Oberlin encouraging the college to add entomology to its curriculum, Sherman wrote,

That my work in these lines [zoology] has been such as has received the hearty approval of scientists I believe is due...[to] Drawing under the instruction of Miss Wyatt (which from an art standpoint was very bad, but was painstaking.

How often the word “painstaking” has been used in press comments on my work is interesting to note.)

Training as an artist helped give Sherman patience and an eye for detail—indispensable talents for the student of animal behavior.

The paintings and drawings now held by the State Historical Society of Iowa reveal that Sherman herself was far more skilled in the use of the pencil than the brush.

She painted many landscapes and was an admirer and perhaps a student of New York landscape artist George Smillie (several of her paintings have notes identifying them as copies of Smillie’s work), but her use of color in these paintings remains clumsy and amateurish.

Much more satisfying are drawings of the birds she loved and studied so carefully.

Drawing became a tool  Sherman used in her own research on birds. She not only prepared finished studies of her bird-subjects, but also made quick sketches in her notebooks to help her remember visual details.

The margins of her early journals often feature thumbnail drawings of new birds observed near her home, with notations about colors and arrows to point out identifying features.

After she had identified the bird, she would record its species next to the sketch. Similar sketches helped her remember feeding postures, nest positions, and the size of family groups.

One notebook contains a detailed drawing of a bat, noting its resting posture and wing structure.

Drawing was a useful skill for an independent ornithologist, but Althea Sherman was not opposed to more modern methods of research.

She learned to use a camera as well, and her journals record some comical moments attempting to photograph birds who simply would not pose for the camera. Unfortunately, her photographs seem not to have been preserved.

Grafic: drawing of a hanging bat from her 1915 journal by Althea R. Sherman.

Sherman did not limit her observations to birds. Above: description and drawing of a bat from her July 1915 journal.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Sherman’s work and training as an artist  may have provided fertile soil for her late-blooming scientific career, but the seeds had been sown much earlier. It is not hard to imagine  how a girl growing up in the 1850s and 1860s, in a region just undergoing the transition from prairie to farmland, would have found in the wildlife that abounded all around her home a source of endless fascination. Later, as a young teacher right out of college, Althea took pleasure in sharing her own wonder with children.

A former student recalled, “There was never another teacher like her. She took us into the woods a few rods away, showed us how flowers grow; how seeds ripen; how leaves are constructed and how they breathe; how to know trees by the bark.”

Even her interest in birds and their habits had its childhood origins. Althea was one of several neighborhood children who gathered 200 prairie-chicken eggs and hatched them under domestic hens, hoping to tame them. The experiment was a failure; every chick eventually wandered off and died.

Prairie chickens and wild turkeys—for which the nearby Turkey River had been named—were only two of the many ground-nesting species common to the open prairie near Sherman’s childhood home. Both cliff and barn swallows nested in the barnyard, and Althea remembered them as “the chief bird joys of our childhood,” skimming the air in scores.

“A lack of trees and telephone poles accounted for the absence of the Northern Flicker and Red-headed Woodpecker now so abundant,” Sherman later wrote. While the flicker—Sherman’s favorite bird in later years—was uncommon, other tree- and hole-dwelling birds found a habitat in woodlands not far from her childhood home.

Grafic:  drawing of a young Flicker in 1910 by Althea R. Sherman.

1910 drawing of a flicker: “Hurling a Derisive Yelp.”

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

When Althea’s father had retired from farming in 1866, he moved from the home where Althea spent her childhood to a newly built house at the south end of National’s Main Street.

Only three years later, Althea and her sisters left for Oberlin, and the years that passed until she returned to care for her aging parents made their own changes on the land.

Originally, the space surrounding the house was “open prairie devoid of tree or shrub.” But when the family moved in, the acre or so around the house began to be transformed from prairie to domestic space.

Elm, maple, and cedar trees were planted, and an orchard with plum and apple trees, and gooseberries, mulberries, raspberries, and elderberries. A barn was built close to the house.

When Sherman began to study birds, she found that these alterations, combined with the natural habitats provided by the land, gave her the raw materials she needed to transform her dooryard into a laboratory for bird study.

She spent the next decades devising structures to transform these raw materials into a space for science. In the unused barn and elsewhere around the acre, Sherman placed nesting boxes of her own design.

The first of these were devised for flickers, but it took a year or so of experimentation before she arrived at a design that suited both her needs and those of the flickers.

The successful boxes were made of soap crates, nailed up inside the barn against holes drilled in the barn wall by the flickers themselves. Each box had a peephole in the top and a handhole near the bottom, closed by a trapdoor and “large enough to withdraw the hand while it held a well-grown nestling.”

These boxes enabled her to note with great accuracy the incubation period of eggs, the feeding habits of parents, and the weights of eggs and nestlings, among other things.

They also made it possible for her to draw accurately the postures of birds within the nesting space, recording this information without greatly disturbing the birds.

Her studies of rails, marsh wrens, screech owls, and sparrow hawks were aided by another structure, a wooden blind erected in 1907 in the marshy ravine on the west edge of the lot. The blind was 46 inches square, with a door on one side and one window on each of the other sides. It was elevated on posts.

Originally intended only for observation of migrating birds, it eventually became the site of a nesting box that attracted two species of predators. First screech owls, then sparrow hawks made use of this box, allowing Sherman to become the first person to publish first-hand observations of the nest lives of these species.

By far the best-known piece of Sherman’s laboratory equipment—and the one that drew so many of her curious visitors—was the tower she had built in 1915 to aid her study of chimney swifts.

Before she designed the tower, the only way she and the ornithologists with whom she corresponded had been able to observe the nest habits of the chimney swift was “by standing on a box placed on a chair” and using “a hand-mirror thrust through a stove-pipe hole into a chimney.”

The obvious inconvenience of this method meant that much about the swift—a prime example of the kind of bird that came west with European-American settlement—remained unknown.

Grafic: a drawing of a screech owl 10 days old by Aklthea R. Sherman.

”Screech owl, ten days old.” When screech owls nested in Sherman’s bird blind, her subsequent observations of their nest lives were the first published in her field.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Photo: Althea (left) and Amelia (right) and friends in front of the Tower.

An artificial “chimney” ran through the center of this tower, allowing Sherman to observe and sketch chimney swifts.

© Oberlin College Archives. Oberlin, Ohio

To remedy this, Sherman had the tower built in the yard behind her home. Nine feet square and 28 feet tall, the tower contained an artificial chimney two feet square that ran “down the center of the tower to a depth of 14 feet.

Below the “chimney” were two low ceilinged stories: a bottom room used for the storage of items related to bird study, and an upper room that gave access to the base of the chimney, where there was a zinc pan to catch rainwater (and, as Sherman soon discovered, bird excrement, enabling her to know whether swifts had roosted in the chimney overnight).

A flight of stairs wound around the “chimney,” and peepholes and windows gave views of the interior of the chimney, where the swifts nested. Sherman was especially pleased with her design for the windows.

Instead of being flat glass surfaces flush with the chimney wall, they were made of two panes of glass meeting in a wide “V” shape that jutted into the chimney. She could put her head into this opening and look “to the bottom or to the top of the chimney without unduly frightening the birds.”

Sherman found the tower ideal for studying the swifts. She could shade one of the windows looking into the chimney with paper and place a lamp there, casting just enough light for her to watch the swifts’ activities at night.

The swifts themselves obligingly built their first nest just below one of her observation windows. This made it possible for her to look right down into the swifts’ nest—something impossible using the old technique of looking in a hand mirror thrust into a stove-pipe hole.

Sherman made a sketch of the swift’s position on the nest to share this information with other ornithologists. She used the tower for other kinds of observations as well.

The outside windows, which looked out on the trees and shrubbery behind her house, gave her an excellent, elevated vantage point from which to view birds.

One year, a mourning dove built its nest in a tree branch about 10 feet from a tower window. Her description of how she watched that nest reveals a good deal about how she made her observations—and about the way she combined her scientific work with her domestic obligations.

I rose early and at about five o’clock in the morning arrived at the watchout with an armful of sewing, expecting to spend the entire day there.The watching of a Mourning Dove’s nest is a dreary task, unless one can do something besides watch.

If one knits, that is a good occupation, for the eyes must be lifted to the nest at least once a minute, since the exchange of place on the nest is done so quickly and quietly it easily escapes detection.

Sherman’s casual assumption that the “one” to whom she was giving advice about making scientific observations would also be one who sewed or knitted was probably startling—or amusing—to most of her readers.

Only a handful of women were pursuing serious work in ornithology at that time. But her description also suggests how domestic labor intruded on her time in ways a male ornithologist would never have had to confront.

Indeed, this mingling of bird observation with domestic tasks occurs more than a few times in her writing:  she cannot maintain a perfect watch on her bird tower because she must take time to get supper.

And she jokingly compares the “food cards” of seed and suet she prepares for winter bird feeding to the “food cards” (rationing pledge cards) women used during World War I.

These casual references point up one more important source of Althea Sherman’s success in scientific research. At a time when most women pursuing scientific research struggled for access to the laboratories and observatories they needed to do their work, Sherman could literally work at home.

She could combine some domestic chores with her scientific labors, and she did not have to confront the expectation that she would work all day at the laboratory and manage a home on her “leisure” time.

Grafic: drawing of a swift in its natural nesting position by Althea R. Sherman.

In her Tower, Sherman was able to observe and sketch chimney swifts in their natural, albeit awkward-appearing, nesting position.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

But even more important  than this was the fact that Sherman did not have to break any barriers to gain access to her laboratory. She was conscious of discrimination against women in the professional societies to which she belonged; but in her own lab, she had to be neither admitted nor hired, she had only to work and to write. By working as an independent, she offered no threat of job competition to “men of science.”

During her own lifetime, Sherman achieved recognition by her colleagues as a thorough, competent researcher. But in recent years, her work has been all but forgotten.

The few who have noted it have tended to dismiss it as naive and of little importance. By some measures, this is true—especially when only her published work is considered.

Although Sherman published more than 70 articles and notes during her career, most of them were produced during the first 15 years of her work as an ornithologist. And many of her earliest published notes simply recorded observations, offering little interpretation.

Over 50 when she began this second career, she spent years in reading and observation before she began to produce the kind of carefully argued and documented interpretations of animal behavior that make a real contribution to scientific knowledge.

Unfortunately, just as her mind was at its keenest, her body began to betray her. She was unable to complete and publish many of her studies.

Often sick, Sherman lacked the energy to keep up a rigorous schedule of writing. Arthritis made writing by hand painful and often impossible.

She began using a typewriter for correspondence and eventually limited herself to one letter a year to each friend, but field notes still had to be kept by hand. These began to diminish in number and thoroughness as the years went by.

“I am old and am very slow, yet within a year I manage to do considerable work,” she wrote in 1921 to Margaret Morse Nice, a young ornithologist in whose work she had taken an interest.

“I must keep abreast [of] the times in world affairs and read the scientific magazines that come to me, so I read while combing my hair, when eating, and when resting, but I have written nothing on my bird histories since early last spring.”

Grafic: pen and ink journal entry (June 25 Same old heat) with hand-drawn young Kingbirds guarded by parents by Althea R. Sherman.

Typically detailed entries from record books:

June 25 Same old heat. Early, as I was watching the swallow’s nest, I notice[d] one young kingbird out of the nest about two feet from it while three stood in the nest. The one outside returned to nest once or twice while I was making observations.

One parent (presumably the male) seemed to be on guard while the other did the feeding. Food was brought at 5.43—5.48—5.53—5.55—6.00—6.05 and 1/2. About once every five minutes.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Another drain on Althea Sherman’s time and energy  was the daily burden of housework. Sherman often complained bitterly of the amount of sheer labor this entailed, and the steady stream of visitors who came to see her laboratory only added to the load. The Sherman household had few “modern” conveniences to ease the load. In 1943, at the time of Althea’s death, water was still drawn from an open well with windlass, rope, and bucket—the last of its kind in the neighborhood.

Margaret Nice apparently encouraged her to hire domestic help, but Sherman’s letters protest that there was none to be had in their neighborhood. The letters also hint darkly that sister Amelia was too miserly to spend money on help or modernization.

In the end, one of Althea Sherman’s most important contributions to ornithology may have been Margaret Morse Nice herself. Like Sherman, Nice was an independent, largely self-trained ornithologist, who studied birds from her own home—first in Oklahoma, later in Columbus, Ohio. She was also 30 years younger than her mentor.

Nice had originally written to Sherman with questions about an article Sherman had published, but their correspondence quickly developed into a cross-country friendship. Sherman provided Nice with advice, support, and encouragement. She cautioned her not to let a lack of professional recognition cause her to doubt her own abilities as a scientist, and she could be positively sarcastic about the treatment women received in the scientific organizations to which both she and Nice belonged.

“When women receive any honors, they may accept same thankfully,” she wrote in 1925. “I have said and I believe it, that no woman will ever be made a Fellow [the highest rank in the American Ornithologists’ Union]... Man’s nature must change before a woman is a Fellow.” She warned Nice against the dangers of letting household responsibilities drain time and energy from scientific study. And she provided a model of scholarship that may have helped set the direction for the younger woman’s work.

Grafic: painting of a Thrush on Milkweed by Althea R. Sherman.

Later in life, Althea Sherman applied her art education to paint landscapes and birds. Here, a thrush perches on a stalk of milkweed.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Ernst Mayr, the German biologist, has written that Nice “almost single-handedly, initiated a new era in American ornithology” by emphasizing the “study of bird individuals because this is the only method to get reliable life history data.” The importance of closely observing individual birds was something Althea Sherman had argued for in her letters to Nice, and it was characteristic of Sherman’s best work.

In one early letter to Nice, Sherman sneered at the laxity of some published research. “Speaking confidentially,” she wrote of a study of mourning doves, “[this project] seems to me more like a dream than a study. I regard the study of 111 Mourning Dove nests as a good-sized job for 40 or 50 years.”

Nice carried the principle of limited study of bird individuals much further than Sherman, experimenting with banding and other techniques to mark particular birds. Sherman, writing from her Iowa home, applauded these innovations.

“Truth and hard work are the exactions of science,” Althea Sherman once wrote. Spending countless tedious hours observing her subjects and many more studying scientific journals, Sherman held both herself and others to high standards.

She had little patience for self-proclaimed “bird-lovers” who “dabble a little in bird-lore so they can gabble about birds.” But her scorn for “bird-lovers” should not mask the fact that she herself was first and always a lover of birds.

She never lost her delight in the darting flight of the cliff swallow or the “brilliant combination of colors” afforded by the sight of a red-headed woodpecker feeding alongside two Baltimore orioles.

It was with great sadness that she noted in the mid-1920s a clear decline in the number and variety of birds to be seen around National.

In a letter to Margaret Nice in 1928, Sherman wrote,

I was greatly depressed by the reduced number of birds...I did not see a Phoebe a half dozen times in the whole season.

Brown Thrashers were scarce. My daily averages dropped by one more figure.

A year later, the news was still bad:  “I am heartsick over their diminishing numbers,” she wrote. Sherman was not alone in noting that birds that had once been numerous seemed, as the 20th century progressed, to be vanishing.

Other Iowans commented that the booming call of the prairie chicken—once the strange music by which farmers had done spring planting—had become a sound rarely heard.

So had the bubbling notes of the bobolink and the fluting of the western meadowlark.

But Sherman recognized that these birds were not just vanishing; most of them were being displaced by other species.

As settlers plowed and planted and grazed their animals on the prairie grasses, as they built houses and planted orchards and windbreaks, they irrevocably changed the habitats that had once supported these birds.

“On unfenced portions of prairie, where herds of cattle grazed, and many beautiful wildflowers (now gone forever), were to be found the eggs or young of ground-nesting species,” wrote Sherman of her pioneer childhood.

This was the landscape where prairie chickens, bob-whites, meadowlarks, bobolinks, upland plover, and killdeer flourished.

By the 20th century, most of this prairie was fenced and plowed, destroying the grasslands that had sheltered these birds.

Grafic: drawing of a young bird on twig by Althea R. Sherman.

“Those the Cats Love Die Young.” Sherman sometimes set scientific objectivity aside when she wrote about her love of birds and her sadness as some species decreased.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Grafic:  painting of a mill in Fayette, Iowa with horse and wagon in forefront by Althea R. Sherman.

Sherman’s depiction of a mill, Fayette, Iowa. Daughter of a successful farmer, Sherman regretted that abundant harvests required the loss of natural habitats.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Crop rotation, practiced by most of the farmers in Sherman’s neighborhood, forced the birds to change their nesting sites yearly, and even pasturelands were not always safe.

I have yet to hear of farmers in this neighborhood shooting Bob-whites, but I have seen some of them show deep concern over injuries done to nesting birds by their plows and mowing machines.

It is these implements that have worked destruction; these and the life-sustaining cow.

No vegetarian herself, Sherman nevertheless observed wistfully that if human beings had developed vegetarian habits and synthetic dairy products, “the ground nesting birds would not have fared so badly.”

Bobolinks and meadowlarks remained more numerous around National than in nearby areas because “the small pastures of the villagers, the cemetery, the churchyards, and the 20 acres constituting our County Fairgrounds have remained in grass year after year,” permitting the birds to nest in peace.

Other farming activities changed the bird populations as well. The planting of evergreen windbreaks, which began in the last decades of the 19th century, greatly increased the number of bronzed grackles in the Midwest.

“The farmers like to see the grackle following the plow, picking up the larvae of the May beetle, known as the white grub worm, which destroys their corn,” observed Sherman.

But the cordiality that marked relations between farmers and grackles did not hold true in the grackles’ relations with other birds.

As the number of grackles increased, native species that shared their nesting sites, like kingbirds and chipping sparrows, began to vanish.

Sometimes even the intentional activities of “bird-lovers” could have devastating effects on the bird population. Sherman was famous—or infamous—for her campaign against house-wren boxes, calling the teachers who encouraged their students to build and install the boxes “criminal.” While her rhetoric could be inflammatory, Sherman’s reasoning was sound. House wrens are among the most territorial of common birds.

When a pair chooses a nesting site, they systematically search out all other nests nearby and destroy the eggs by piercing them or tossing them from the nest. Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, bluebirds, other wren species, vireos, and other small songbirds are the usual victims of wren aggression, and the arrival of large numbers of house wrens can be devastating to these birds.

House-wren boxes, with small holes to protect the occupants from their natural enemies, encouraged a disproportionate number of wrens to breed, rapidly displacing other species. Only the goldfinch, which nests later than the other birds, seemed relatively immune to attacks.

Sherman’s monthly tallies of the bird population confirmed her observation that wrens had driven many other birds from her dooryard, and she feared the long-range consequences for native species.

A late freeze in 1907 had killed, by some estimates, millions of warblers, vireos, and flycatchers throughout the Midwest. “It was a bereavement for bird students to have the beautiful family of warblers come so near extinction,” Sherman wrote.

At the time of the freeze, most ornithologists took comfort in the knowledge that natural increase would eventually restore the number of warblers. But Sherman’s observations showed that this never happened.

After 20 years, the number of warblers, by Sherman’s count, was decreasing—not increasing. House wrens had taken their place. Bluebirds, too, had suffered inordinately.

Sherman’s early bird counts showed bluebirds in her neighborhood more than 100 days a year. In 1926, she saw bluebirds on just four days; in 1927, on eleven days.

“What does this mean?” she wrote angrily. “Nothing less than that I am being wronged, defrauded, cheated out of my rights to the pursuit of happiness by the maintainers of wren boxes to the north of me.”

By 1943, the year of Sherman’s death, the village of National had all but vanished. It had been declining for years, and as their neighbors died or moved away,

Althea Sherman and her sister had purchased many of the houses, so that “the birds in an unmolested state tenanted the deserted homes of man.”

In 1937, Althea added the abandoned Congregational church to her collection—to prevent its being turned into a tavern. (The Methodist church had already become a barn.)

Gradually, Althea Sherman came to own many parcels of property around the acre that had been her home and laboratory for half a century.

 

Grafic: pen and ink journal entry of monthly bird species tally for August, 1907, by Althea R. Sherman.

Sherman’s yearly notebooks run from 1903 to 1936 and are filled with daily entries on individual birds and occasional sketches. Some notebooks include monthly tallies of species observed. Here, August 1907 totals.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

In her will, she laid out her plans for her now extensive holdings. Designating the National Cemetery Association her heir, or if they refused the conditions, the State of Iowa, Sherman willed:

that the old Sherman homestead together with the ‘mill-Iot’ be kept in a condition attractive to birds much as it has been during my lifetime.

• That the House Wren not be allowed to breed there, nor the Screech Owl, nor other conditions allowed that will unfit it to be a bird sanctuary.

She also made provisions for the preservation of her notebooks, drawings, and paintings by the state, and endowed a professorship at Oberlin College:

to be occupied by a Professor who shall each year give some special instruction in the study of birds.

Sherman’s notes and drawings were preserved, and Oberlin received its endowment, but the bird sanctuary she envisioned in National never materialized. Sherman’s heirs refused her conditions, and the land was eventually sold off.

Visitors to northeast Iowa  can still stop in National today, though they won’t find it on most state highway maps.

The marshy brook where Sherman studied sora rails from her blind has vanished, a victim of modern drainage systems.

The church, her home, and virtually all the other houses that once stood in National are long gone, replaced by a modern motel and a handful of houses of recent vintage.

The county fairgrounds and the cemetery remain, but these, once the last preserves of bobolinks and native prairie wildflowers, are now neatly mowed.

Near Althea Sherman’s grave, a single mound of birdfoot trefoil—a yellow-blossomed immigrant from Europe breaks the smooth expanse of green.

And the air is silent, save the whirring of insects and the rusty voice of a crow, high above, in the evergreen grove nearby.

Grafic:  painting of a bird thouroughfare on the Volga River inear Fayette, Iowan 1897 by Althea R. Sherman.

Sherman’s note: “A Bird Thoroughfare: Scene on the Volga River Near Fayette, Iowa, sketched in 1897 under Mrs. C. B. Coman transcribed in 1906.”

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

Note on Sources

The primary sources for this article are:

• Althea R. Sherman’s posthumously published book, Birds of an Iowa Dooryard (1952);

• letters in the Margaret Morse Nice Papers, Cornell University Archives;

• letters and other materials in the Oberlin College Archives;

• Althea Sherman’s will and inventories, Clayton County Clerk’s Office;

• and letters, journals, field notes, drawings, and paintings in the Althea Sherman Collection, SHSI-Des Moines.

Portrait and Biographical Record of Dubuque, Jones, and Clayton Counties (1894) and History of Clayton County, Iowa, vols. I, 2 (1916) provided historical material on the Sherman family.

As did U.S. Census for Iowa, Garnavillo and Farmersburg townships, Clayton County, 1850, 1856, 1860, 1900, 1910; and Iowa State Census, Farmersburg Township, Clayton County, 1915, 1925.

Important secondary sources are:

• Mrs. H. J. Taylor, “Iowa’s Woman Ornithologist: Althea Rosina Sherman, 1853-1943,” Iowa Bird Life 13 (1943), 19-35;

• Margaret W. Rossiter, Women Scientists in America:  Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (1982) ;

• Milton B. Trautman, “Margaret Morse Nice,” in Notable American Women:  The Modern Period (1980);

• Diana Korzenick, Drawn to Art: A Nineteeth-Century American Dream (1985).

Grafic: painting of the wildrose and goldfinch by Althea R. Sherman.

The wildrose and goldfinch, Iowa’s state flower and bird, painted in 1936.

© Althea R. Sherman Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa

This article, "Althea Sherman and the Birds of Prairie and Dooryard: A Scientist's Witness to Change," by Sharon Wood, first appeared in Palimpsest, 70:4 (Winter 1989). Copyright State Historical Society of Iowa. Used with permission of the publisher. The contents appearing on this page are for educational use only, no other permissions given. U.S. and International copyright laws may protect this item. Commercial use or distribution of this digital object is not permitted without written permission of the State Historical Society of Iowa.


This article first appeared in Iowa Bird Life, (June 1943) and is reprinted with permission of the Iowa Ornithologists' Union, Iowa Bird Life 13 (2):  19-35.

Iowa's Woman Ornithologist

Althea Rosina Sherman

1853-1943

by Mrs. H.J. Taylor1

Althea Rosina Sherman was born in Farmersburg Township, Clayton County, Iowa, October 10, 1853. Her parents, Mark Bachelor Sherman and Melissa Clark Sherman, were born of “pioneer stock that for 200 years had been leaders in the march westward.” (History of Clayton County, Iowa, Vol. 2, 1916, p. 380).

From New York state they came to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, in 1843. They moved to Iowa in 1845, and located in Clayton County, about 50 miles from Dubuque, where they built their pioneer home.

All about was trackless prairie resounding with howling winds and the wild cry of the prairie wolf. Their first caller was a Winnebago Indian chief asking for food. A memorable incident was a rattlesnake that fell to the floor as the mother lifted the teakettle to the stove.

The Sherman home was the first frame house on the Iowa prairie north of Dubuque and served as a landmark and an unofficial “Wayside Inn” to the endless covered wagon procession trailing westward to establish homes on cheap land.2

Of this home Miss Sherman wrote:

The first homes were log cabins sheltered by the woods, their owners believing it foolhardy to build upon the prairies, where buildings would be wrecked by the winds.

Thus they cautioned my father when he chose a location away from the woods. But he built his house just the same and dared to use lumber instead of logs, and even to make it one and a half stories high.

Oak beams were used to strengthen the wall; between beam and siding a wall of heavy oak planks was erected perpendicularly. Built this way it was believed that if the house should be carried away by the wind it would hold together.

It was not intended as a tavern yet in the wilderness one can’t turn away the cold and hungry from the door, so the little house was sometimes crowded to its utmost capacity. One night 14 travelers slept on the kitchen floor.

In the pioneer home one son and four daughters, the youngest of whom died in childhood, were born. The daughter born in Prairie du Chien died in early womanhood.

Graphic: Althea R Sherman Memorial Issue of

Just two months after her death (April 16, 1943), the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union dedicated this entire issue of their journal to Althea R. Sherman’s memory.

© Iowa Ornithologists’ Union.

1The writer is indebted to Dr. and Mrs. T. C. Stephens, appreciative friends of Miss Sherman, for valuable suggestions and data, and to Dr. Stephens for reading the manuscript.

2After the Mexican War public land could be bought at $1.25 an acre and often for less if an ex-soldier wished to sell his warrant. Mark Sherman bought such a warrant and obtained land at 79 cents an acre.

Photo:  portrait of Althea R. Sherman

Althea R. Sherman, 1928

© Althea R. Sherman Papers—Fred J. Pierce Collection.

After 20 years in the pioneer home the Shermans bought land two miles farther north where they built their permanent home.

Here a post office was located and the name National (pronounced Nā'-tion-al) was given to the village which had little beyond a blacksmith shop, a general store for trading, a church or two, and a post office. It attained a population of about 200 people.3

National is twelve miles from McGregor, Iowa. The pioneers who located about this little post office town were largely an educated and cultured class, and from its earliest years National had an atmosphere of intellectual refinement.

The colonial house built here in 1866 by Mark and Melissa Sherman has been continuously the Sherman home. It is on Highway 52 which follows the Dubuque/St. Paul trail of early days.

About two miles east on the same highway stands the pioneer house built in 1845. It is today used as a machine-shop and from outward appearances is good for another century.

Miss Sherman traced her ancestry to England where the name is found as early as 1420.4 The Sherman family of Suffolk, England, was a prominent one. To this the American branch traces its ancestry.

Miss Sherman said:

My known ancestry entitles me to membership in the following societies:

• Mayflower Descendants (through William Bradford)

• Colonial Dames; and

• Daughters of the American Revolution.

3There was no money. Everything was trade. Miss Sherman recalled taking a wash tub full of eggs and getting one pound of tea for them. Eggs were three cents a dozen and tea was one dollar a pound.

4Miss Sherman said that her father, Mark Bachelor Sherman, brought with him to Iowa a manuscript history of his father’s family. One of these ancestors was Roger Conant, founder of Salem, Massachusetts, who was also an ancestor of James Conant, president of Harvard. Another ancestor was Captain Aaron Kimball, one of the “Minute Men” of Lexington in Revolutionary days.

Roger Sherman, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was also an ancestor of Mark Bachelor Sherman.

When scarcely in her teens she attended Upper Iowa University at Fayette. Later she went to Oberlin College, and graduated in 1875 with an A.B. degree. In 1882 she received the Master’s degree from the same college. She was a loyal alumna proud of her alma mater that has much cause to be proud of her.

Her class tie was strong and she followed the development of her classmates with deep interest. The children born to them were in a sense her nieces and nephews. She often expressed the hope that she might attend her 50th class reunion.

This hope she realized in June, 1925, and it was a great satisfaction to her. She wrote:

We had a cheerful time. Now I have only two hopes and ambitions:  one to go to Oberlin’s Centennial celebration; the other to go to A.O.U.’s next meeting in Philadelphia.

To her no place was quite so alluring as the Quaker City.

On graduating from Oberlin, Miss Sherman taught four years in the public schools. When, in 1922, she spoke before the Sioux City Academy of Sciences a friend said:

Why, I know her! Miss Sherman was my teacher in a little country school more than forty years ago. There was never another teacher like her.

She took us into the woods a few rods away, showed us how flowers grow; how seeds ripen; how leaves are constructed and how they breathe; how to know trees by the bark. I can never forget her. She has been an asset in my life.

After a few years of teaching there followed study at the Art Institute in Chicago and the Art Students’ League in New York City.

c

c

Althea Sherman:  Two Periods of Her Life.

The left picture is enlarged from a family group photograph, taken when she was seven and one-half years old (in 1861). The photograph on the right was taken while a student at Oberlin College, perhaps in 1875, the year she graduated.

© Oberlin College Archives. Oberlin, Ohio

c

The Sherman Home at National, Iowa. The sturdy pioneer house was built in 1866. This view is of the front side which faces east. From a photograph taken by Dr. T. C. Stephens in August, 1923.

© Althea R. Sherman Papers—Fred J. Pierce Collection

From 1882 to 1887 she was instructor in drawing in Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, a Congregational school founded in 1866. From 1892-1895 she was supervisor of drawing in the city schools of Tacoma, Washington.

Drawing, painting—expression through art—here was a glorious field, alluring and full of interest, one that opened still wider the avenues of natural sciences.

Botany, mammalogy, ornithology were growing interests to Miss Sherman and she expressed them with pencil, brush, and pen. Art was the natural outlet of her life and her work in these early years gave promise of rare attainment.

Was an artist lost when suddenly she was called from this field? Recently she referred to this period of her life, recalling her deep interest in art and her expectation to make it her life work:

But changes come suddenly and unexpectedly. My parents needed my care and I went to them in the old home in 1895 and have been here ever since. My father died in 1896, my mother in 1902.

 

Miss Sherman’s interests were wide, varied, opening into many fields. There is reality in all she did. Her work in drawing and painting, in spite of early interruption, has lasting quality and definite value.

At the American Ornithologists’ Union convention in Chicago in 1922, she exhibited three paintings. Looking at her “Brown Thrasher,” Louis Agassiz Fuertes remarked to the writer:  “That Brown Thrasher has more life and personality than any bird I ever painted.”

Articles from her pen to various branches of science were distinct contributions. Her article on Bats (Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 10, 1929, pp. 319-326) was the result of 14 years of study. On seeing the article a prominent mammalogist wrote: 

She has put on record many facts new to all of us and thrown more light on the habits of these remarkable animals than anyone else in recent times.

Circumstances in her life brought out qualities of rare and universal value. Miss Sherman was never overcome. She looked squarely and thoughtfully at events that were baffling and seemingly insurmountable, evaluated them and made them stepping stones in her life.

There was no waste in her life. Hers was not a buoyant personality radiating sunshine and joyousness. It was a rugged personality stamped with reality, strength, vision; ready ever to face and endure the weather of human experience. She radiated mental and spiritual health, power, understanding.

Life brings many interruptions, sudden and compelling, that force us from our wonted paths. Many are bewildered—some are stranded—not so Miss Sherman. The home cares and responsibilities that became hers would have absorbed most women. Absorption has a drying-up effect while diversion refreshes and recreates. A living soul is ever opening new avenues; it loses no time in regrets and laments.

Elm, maple, and cedar trees framed in the comfortable colonial house with its acre or two of yard planted to orchard, shrubs, and garden; the big red barn stood a few rods distant. These with the adjoining pasture and swamp became her laboratory. Here she worked intensely and steadily for nearly half a century, preeminently in ornithology though no plant or animal escaped her notice.

The old red barn, in which no horse neighed or crunched its oats for many years, was one of the most interesting spots in Miss Sherman’s laboratory. She called it the ”Flicker Apartment House.”

Her study, “At the Sign of the Northern Flicker” (Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 22, pp. 135-171), through a period of 15 years is not only a contribution to ornithology but is also an insight into her untiring and painstaking method of work.

The three original drawings in this article, full of action and expression, are characteristic of the author’s art.

In 1915 she built a tower 30 feet high, a few rods from the house, to attract the Chimney Swift. It was three years before a swift came. From then on it fulfilled its purpose for the swifts and became a rare opportunity for the study of these birds.

To go up the winding stairs to the chimney and sit within a few inches of the birds, yet not be seen by them as they build their nests, lay their eggs, rear their young, and come home to roost is a rare privilege that I have enjoyed.

Bird students from far and near have visited the tower. In a letter of October, 1931, Miss Sherman wrote:

In one week in July I took 56 people up into the chimney of the tower to see the Chimney Swifts.

In 1928 the swifts abandoned their three previous nests and built and used a fourth nest below and in line with three previously built nests.

The great bed of tiger-lilies with its abundant and colorful blossoms and a bed of phlox was the field for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird study through seven summers.

Her “Experiments in Feeding Hummingbirds During Seven Summers” (Wilson Bulletin, December, 1913, pp. 153-166) was read at the Thirty-first Annual Congress of American Ornithologists’ Union, in New York City in 1913, and was received with much interest.

This paper was printed in the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution. By permission it was also printed in the Avicultural Magazine (England) in September and October, 1915.

Photo: Althea (left) and Amelia (right) and friends in front of the Tower.

The Chimney Swift Tower.

This structure, probably the only one of its kind in existence, was built in 1915. Its sole purpose was to attract the Chimney Swift so that a systematic study of its nesting habits could be made.

From the ground to the top of the chimney it measures almost 30 feet high, and is nine feet square. The simulate [sic] chimney, built of boards, is two feet square and runs down the center of the building to a depth of 14 feet.

Peep-holes at several places in the chimney gave Miss Sherman an opportunity to watch at close range the nesting activities of the Swifts.

The circular staircase inside the building is suggested by the windows at different levels. The tower illustrates the seriousness with which Miss Sherman regarded her bird study work. The west side of the Sherman house is in the background.

© Oberlin College Archives. Oberlin, Ohio

Miss Sherman’s work bears the stamp of thorough and first-hand study through a period of years. You may differ from her—though never dogmatically—if you, too, are a thorough student in this field. In considering her results and statements you reconsider your own.

In a letter, 1926, Miss Sherman stated: “I count 20 years all too short for a thorough acquaintance with the birds of my own dooryard, where 31 species have been pleased to nest.” In May, 1936, she wrote:

On my home surroundings I have listed 168 species. Forty species have nested on our place in the past 33 years. Of the 40 species that have nested on our place in the past 33 years I have obtained very full details of the nesting of some of them and not so full of others. They are:

Sora Killdeer Bob-white Mourning Dove Sparrow Hawk Screech Owl
Hairy Woodpecker Northern Flicker Chimney Swift Kingbird Phoebe Bluebird
Bobolink Cowbird Redwinged Blackbird Meadowlark Western Meadowlark Baltimore Oriole
Bronzed Grackle Black-billed Cuckoo Goldfinch Chipping Sparrow Song Sparrow Dickcissel
Barn Swallow Yellow-billed Cuckoo Warbling Vireo Indigo Bunting Migrant Shrike Northern Yellow-throat
Catbird Brown Thrasher Western House Wren Short-billed Marsh Wren Yellow Warbler Cedar Waxwing
Alder Flycatcher Robin        

A few have been studied longer and more thoroughly than by any other person so far as I can learn. Those thus studied are the Screech Owl for 26 years, the Flicker for 33 years, Chimney Swift for 17 years, Phoebe for 31 years, Red-winged Blackbird for 29 years, Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and Robin for 33 years, Alder Flycatcher for 15 years.

For several years I have been killing all the Screech Owls that could be found in this neighborhood. I pay 50 cents apiece for them. I am astonished that ornithologists have not awakened to the deadly menace these owls are to the harmless birds. For 26 years I have watched these owls and I know of what I speak.

Another bird upon which I have made war is the Bronzed Grackle which was scarcely to be found here in 1902. In 1934 I paid upward of $12 for dead grackles at 15 cents each.

c

A Studio Portrait Made in 1916 [sic].

© Oberlin College Archives. Oberlin, Ohio

Miss Sherman’s campaign against the House Wren is well known. The serious, scientific ornithologist reckons with her findings; on others they have little effect. She said:

I am up against it in the whole fight, the stubbornness of the ‘little knowledge’—always a dangerous thing—and the impossibility of wiseacres comprehending what real investigation means. I have said my say in print and hope I shall be left free to write on my other birds.

In Iowa Bird Life (Vol. I, pp. 5 and 9) Miss Sherman says:

All can share in this study [birds] as long as we keep our birds, but that will not be long unless everyone awakens to the exterminating threats that reside in Screech Owls, Ring-necked Pheasants, Bronzed Grackles, English Sparrows, and House Wrens...

...When the ground thaws out I have for burial eight Screech Owls ‘collected’ within a period of about 20 days of the year. They will not be ‘laid away tenderly and reverently’ as the sickening sentimentalist describes his interment of a Screech Owl.

Miss Sherman’s work was unquestionably thorough and her sharp-pointed pen put her writing in a class by itself. You were struck by her rare English; her descriptions are lasting pictures. In her valuable paper, “Nest Life of the Screech Owl” (Auk, 1911, Vol. 28, pp. 155-168) she says:

The blind, intended as a shelter while watching migrating birds, was built upon posts on a tiny plot of nearly solid earth in a small quagmire...

...In its outside dimensions the bind is but 45 inches square, hence when four of us entered it, the audience in the ceremony of viewing the Owls, like that of the Greek Orthodox Church, remained standing.

In another letter she said that she condemned herself severely for ever letting a Screech Owl escape alive, and remarked:  “There is too much slush connected with present-day conservation.”

Miss Sherman made an extensive tour of the Old World, leaving New York on November 7, 1913. Ten months later, on account of the war, she was obliged to return. She had traveled 33,000 miles and had visited 20 countries. Her ornithological observations and comments are embodied in “Birds by the Wayside” as follows:

• In Europe, Asia, and Africa. Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 27, 1915, pp. 243- 271

• In Egypt and Nubia. Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 27, 1915, pp. 369-393

• In Palestine. Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 28, 1916, pp. 106-122

• In Greece. Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 28, 1916, pp. 157-171

Her capacity for seeing and understanding added to her sharp pen and expressive English make these notes interesting and valuable. Her original and poignant descriptions flavor her writing deliciously. In “Birds in Egypt and Nubia” she wrote:

A view was obtained of a small Owl...

...It retired to a small niche prepared for it by the wise precaution of Rameses III. That monarch realizing how easily many of his forefathers had stolen the monuments of their predecessors resolved to forestall this thieving propensity in his descendants by making the job too hard for them in his temple at Medinet-Abu.

This was done by cutting the hieroglyphics very deep. The depth of some will admit the hand quite to the wrist, a measurement of fully seven inches.

On page 387 of the above article she wrote:

Since the crocodile still survives in the upper reaches of the Nile there is offered brilliant opportunities for the ambitious young man with the camera, who shall secure for us moving pictures of the plovers at work cleaning the saurian’s teeth.

This is especially desirable because of the skepticism still prevailing in spite of John Lea’s array of evidences.

In “Birds by the Wayside in Palestine,” page 109, Miss Sherman wrote:

We...passed within sight of a structure said to mark the birthplace of Samson... Whatever shortcomings this ancient athlete displayed in his escapades before his hair-cut, he evinced good judgment in two respects:  He chose for Ramath-lehi a site that would be in full view of future railway trains, and in slaying there 1,000 men with the jaw-bone of an ass he did not muss up a spot that was of any value for agricultural purposes.

Her trip to the Old World was Miss Sherman’s only long absence from her bird laboratory at National, Iowa. Here she worked as regularly as a business man goes to his office, but her hours were not fixed and vacations were not on the schedule.

Her work was independent and thorough in a laboratory that had no duplicate. Her alluring and original style made her work interesting beyond the circle of the strictly scientific. She was the busiest woman I ever knew and she accomplished the most.

Her method of work, her ever-widening interests, her eagerness to give to the world the results of her studies, kept her life full and made her interesting and inspiring to others.

A visit to her home was an event. She was a hostess unlike any other. There was no waste in her plans. The well-laden table was a banquet prepared by her. When and how was not evident.

It was a New England table fragrant with delicious pot-roast and gravy; fresh vegetables direct from her garden; steaming, mealy potatoes untouched and unspoiled by any potato-masher; hot biscuits; graham and salt-rising breads.

She remarked:  “I made the salt-rising bread thinking it might recall years long gone. We still like it.” The lemon pie with its quivering custard, and the mince pie that must have been a New England brand all its own, were unsurpassed. The spice and pound cakes recalled feast days in the pioneer life of my parents.

Her table conversation led into various fields of science. With clear and concise evaluation she brought in review men of promise and men of rare attainment. Her criticism of work wanting in sincerity and truth was keen, direct and scathing.

Dinner over, the tower was suggested as an interesting place to watch the nesting Swifts as well as those returning to their nightly roost. The chimney became black with 20 or more birds clinging to its walls.

The evening was full of interesting comment in various fields of science. Her drawings and paintings, numbering over 250, brought in review bird and animal painters. Time flew.

“It’s half past one,” said Miss Sherman, “but we must visit the bats sitting in the window blinds upstairs and then it will be bedtime.”

We saw the bats, some of which she knew as individuals. When, a few years later, her article on bats was published, it had for me a deep, personal interest recalling a very rare day in my life.

c

Little children were drawn to Miss Sherman. They came to see her birds and brought her offerings of flowers. They received a genuine welcome and she was never too busy to point out to them her birds and their nests in the shrubbery.

(Photograph taken at the door of the Chimney Swift tower, 1928.)

© Althea R. Sherman Papers—Fred J. Pierce Collection

The rosy tints of the new day had scarcely touched the leaden bars of clouds when we started on our rounds of the laboratory. In the old, red barn a Yellow-shafted Flicker was raising the annual brood as had been done for nearly 40 years. The barn was indeed the “Flicker Apartment House.” Our observations were made from the hayloft through peep-holes.

A hayloft in a midwest summer is a hot and almost unendurable place when watching a family of Flickers four or five hours daily through several weeks. Miss Sherman remarked that the Starlings, since their arrival in 1933, had constantly interfered with the Flickers. A pair of Phoebes claimed one rafter in the barn where, except for two years, they nested and raised their young for 35 years. The laboratory was a place for constant, strenuous, daily work through all kinds of weather. Every shrub, tree, and locality had its special interest.

A yellow rose bush on one side of the gate, a blush rose on the other was an inviting entrance to the Sherman house and its ample yard. White with green blinds, it stands as it was built in 1866. The house has eight or nine large rooms exclusive of the woodshed and the summer kitchen—essential adjuncts of every pioneer house. It was a luxurious home in its day. I marveled at the many cords of cut-up wood in the shed and the many more uncut outside. It seemed enough for years.

c

In the Sherman Home—The Typical Parlor of Bygone Years.

This scene is no doubt cherished by all visitors to Miss Sherman’s home. Everything in the room was left just as it was furnished shortly after the Civil War.

The original wallpaper is still intact and in good condition, and the positions of pictures and articles of furniture probably have not been changed in 60 years.

Prominent are the black, horse-hair upholstered sofa and chairs, What-not in the corner, family portrait albums and stereoscope on the center-table with its oval marble top, generous display of pictures on the walls, and fancy, highly-colored carpet.

A large bookcase stood on the right side just out of the picture. The west window looks out upon the Chimney Swift tower.

© Althea R. Sherman Papers—Fred J. Pierce Collection

The house was interesting. The gilt-figured paper in the parlor was as spotless as when it was put on more than 70 years ago. The What-not standing in the northwest corner continued to fulfill its purpose.

Among the many things it held were two hand-carved dolls, mother and baby, with jointed knees and elbows. Not a hair was left on their heads and all trace of painted facial features had been worn off for many years.

These dolls were given to Sibyl Melissa Clark Sherman when she was seven or eight years old by her uncle, Aaron Clark, mayor of New York City about 1830.

The walls of both parlor and library were hung with pencil drawings and paintings done by Miss Sherman.

All her pictures, drawings, and paintings, numbering about 250, she presented to the Iowa Historical Museum at Des Moines, Iowa.

The weekly and monthly magazines that came at her subscription are too numerous to mention. She was a member of 15 scientific societies. These were:

American Association for the Advancement of Science American Ornithologists’ Union National Audubon Society
Ecology Society Cooper Ornithological Club Iowa Ornithologists’ Union (Charter Member)
Wilson Ornithological Club American Museum of Natural History American Society of Mammalogists
American Genetic Association American Biological Society Iowa Academy of Science
Iowa State Historical Society Mississippi Valley Historical Association Ottawa Field Naturalist Club

She never took a daily paper, and explained:

If there is anything worth knowing I will get it in the weeklies, and I have plenty of kindling to start the fire. We have far, far too much to read and too much time goes to reading.

Miss Sherman is not only in Who’s Who but also in American Men of Science, where very few women have been enrolled.

She joined the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1907. She was elected a “Member” in 1912. Only three women up to that time had been raised to this class which is limited to 100 persons.

Miss Sherman had an unfailing interest in the life of the little community about her. When the church was without a pastor she continued the service by reading one of Spurgeon’s sermons each Sunday morning.

When a girl of 16, and two boys in the community, each a year older, won the national prize in judging cattle, she was filled with pride and enthusiasm. She wrote:

Go to the country for common sense. I started the idea of a rousing reception to the winners. It is said 600 people were there. Refreshments were served and there was enough. Speeches followed. We were proud of our young folks and they knew it.

In September, 1933, she wrote:  “National is the site of the Clayton County Fair. All the stir of the year centers in the few days of that time.” Her interest in this annual event was keen and her generosity, to make it a success, was boundless.

To the early pioneers the village of National was an attractive center and meeting place. Losing the post office was a hard blow. Miss Sherman’s persistence kept National somewhat on the map. She was a pioneer and knew what it had meant and that it should not entirely vanish.

Mark Sherman was a leader in the group that built the Congregational church nearly 70 years ago, and its followers were justly proud of it. The main floor had a seating capacity of about 200. The balcony seated about 50.

The pipe-organ in the northeast end of the main floor is still in use. The pulpit, elevated about 10 feet above the floor, is in the southeast corner. It is enclosed in an elaborate railing. Two stoves, located on either side of the west end of the room with stovepipes running to the chimney in the east end, heat the church fairly well.

The years brought changes and National did not grow. The loss of the post office in 1902 took the name from the map. National has been for many years only a memory. The church, once the pride of the village, has long fallen into disuse; only an occasional funeral has been held there.

The Methodist church across the way is today a barn. In 1937 the Congregational church was put up for auction. Someone wanted it for a beer tavern. To save it from such a fate Miss Sherman put in the high bid and took the church for $1,050. She deeded the property to the Cemetery Association—thus this landmark is preserved.

In the cemetery beside the church are the graves of Mark and Melissa Sherman and many other pioneers. A late interment was the burial of Dr. Amelia Sherman on November 6, 1940. On November 30, had she lived, she would have been 91 years old.

The deep feeling for National by the Sherman family is easily understood. For more than 80 years their home was in Clayton County, and for more than 70 years it was in National. After the death of the parents Miss Sherman and her sister, Dr. Amelia Sherman, four years her senior, were the sole occupants of the home.

Miss Sherman was never reconciled to the loss of the post office. Only a few years ago she wrote: 

National now is the name of a spot only, once there was a small village here.

All her years, except 26 spent in study, teaching, and travel, were lived in Clayton County to which her name has added distinction.

In the 1933 Who’s Who of the Women of the Nation appear the names of Althea R. Sherman and her sister, Dr. Amelia Sherman. Clayton County and the State of Iowa may well be proud that in the list of names two are native daughters.

c

Althea R. (left) and Dr. Amelia Sherman.

From a photograph taken on the Sherman porch by Dr. T. C. Stephens in August, 1923. The scene is very typical and shows the sisters as they are remembered by the hundreds of nature students who visited their home over a long period of years.

Miss Althea holds a copy of The Condor, probably her favorite magazine. The Doctor holds a copy of the Journal of the American Medical Society, her favorite.

© Althea R. Sherman Papers—Fred J. Pierce Collection

Miss Sherman’s life was expressed in realities. Her observation of birds about her home for more than 40 years was a study that has no duplicate. She did not belong to the group known as “Bird Lovers.” For the sentimentalist who “loves the birdies no matter what they do” she had a wholesome contempt.

She never sought the limelight nor was she guilty of writing what would be pleasing or acceptable. She was a student, scientist, and conservationist that appealed to the honest, thinking mind. She gave the truth uncamouflaged as she found it.

Her letter to The Condor (May, 1925) suggesting a “Society to Protect Wild Life from the Protectionists,” definite and direct, is good reading and would enlarge the horizon of all save those “not subject to change.”

Men distinguished in ornithology and other fields of natural science visited the acreage about the old colonial home on Highway 52 and marveled at her strenuous program. What she gave to the world was not what she thought but what she knew.

Many and urgent requests begged that she lessen her daily routine of observation and give to the world from her own pen the valuable life histories of species—knowledge obtained through many years of serious study.

It is regretted that this remained undone, but the work of a growing life is never finished. Miss Sherman’s last paper, “The Old Ornithology and the New,” (Wilson Bulletin, March, 1930, pp. 3-10) she read at the Annual Meeting of the Wilson Ornithological Club in Des Moines, 1929.

Here and there are individuals who live original lives. They are alone but not lonely. They follow no pattern of social life yet are a distinct factor in it. Their bent is their rudder, all else is secondary. Such an individual was Althea Rosina Sherman, rooted in National, nurtured in Iowa soil, the fruits of her years are universal. The essence of her life is cast abroad.

Althea R. Sherman died on April 16, 1943. The funeral service, conducted by the Rev. H. M. Adix, of Farmersburg, Iowa, was held in the parlor of the Sherman home. She was buried beside her sister, Amelia, in the cemetery at National.

900 Santa Barbara Road,
Berkeley, California

A bibliography of the published works of Althea R. Sherman

1905

• Some Observations at Weedseed Inn. Wilson Bulletin, 17 (1):  1-4.

1906

• My Neighbors’ Homes in Clayton County, Iowa. Wilson Bulletin, 18 (3):  81-83.

• Decrease of Icteridae in North-eastern Iowa. Wilson Bulletin, 18 (4):  134.

1907

• Another Provident Melanerpes erythrocephalus. Wilson Bulletin, 19 (2):  72.

1908

• The “Farthest North” Record of the Cardinal in Iowa. Wilson Bulletin, 20 (2):  102.

• August Notes from a Watering Place. Wilson Bulletin, 20 (3):  146-150.

1909

• The English Sparrow and Bird-boxes. Bird-Lore, 11 (5):  217.

• Migration Halts. Wilson Bulletin, 21 (1):  38-40.

• Bohemian Waxwing in Northeastern Iowa. Wilson Bulletin, 21 (1):  49.

• Five Notes from the Upper Mississippi Valley. Wilson Bulletin, 21 (3):  155-158.

1910

• An Acre of Birds. Bird-Lore, 12 (6):  230-232.

• Effects of Weather in North-eastern Iowa, Spring, 1910. Wilson Bulletin, 22 (2):  117-118.

• At the Sign of the Northern Flicker. Wilson Bulletin, 22 (3-4):  135-171.

1911

Nest Life of the Screech Owl. Auk, 28 (2):  155-168.

• The Keeping of Notes. Bird-Lore, 13 (4):  203-204.

• A Vireo Tragedy. Bird-Lore, 13 (4):  205.

• The Village English Sparrow in the Grain-raising Region. Wilson Bulletin, 23 (2):  129.

1912

• Diurnal Activities of the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus virginianus). Auk, 29 (2):  240-241.

• Relative Number of Birds in 1912. Bird-Lore, 14 (6):  347-348.

• Position of Mourning Dove Nestlings. Condor, 14 (4):  153.

• Moments with the Leconte’s Sparrows. Wilson Bulletin, 24 (1):  18-21.

• Bob-white (Colinus virginianus virginianus). Wilson Bulletin, 24 (1):  49-50.

• Robin (Planesticus migratorius migratorius). Wilson Bulletin, 24 (1):  50-51.

• The Brown Thrasher, (Toxostoma Rufum) East and West. Wilson Bulletin, 24 (4):  187-191.

1913

• Carolinian Avifauna in Northeastern Iowa. Auk, 30 (1):  77-81.

• The Nest Life of the Sparrow Hawk. Auk, 30 (3):  406-418.

• The Extermination of the Wild Turkey in Clayton County, Iowa. Wilson Bulletin, 25 (2):  87-90.

• The Increase of the Cardinal in the Upper Mississippi Valley. Wilson Bulletin, 25 (3):  150-151.

• Experiments in Feeding Hummingbirds During Seven Summers. Wilson Bulletin, 25 (4):  153-166. (Reprinted in the Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1913, and in Avicultural Magazine, issues of Sept. and Oct., 1915.)

• The Cardinal Arrives at Lansing, Iowa. Wilson Bulletin, 25 (4):  205.

1915

• The Rock Wren at National, Iowa. Auk, 32 (2):  234.

• The ‘Whisper’ Songs of Birds. Bird-Lore, 17 (2):  129.

• The Great Destruction of Warblers:  An Urgent Appeal. Bird-Lore, 17 (5):  375-377.

• Birds by the Wayside, in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Wilson Bulletin, 27 (1):  243-271.

• Birds of 1915:  Too Few and Too Many. Wilson Bulletin, 27 (2):  350-352.

• Birds by the Wayside, in Egypt and Nubia. Wilson Bulletin, 27 (3):  369-393.

1916

• The Nest Life of the Western House Wren. Wilson Bulletin, 28 (2):  91.

• A Peculiar Habit of the House Wren. Wilson Bulletin, 28 (2):  94-95.

• Birds by the Wayside:  In Palestine. Wilson Bulletin, 28 (3):  106-122.

• Birds by the Wayside:  In Greece. Wilson Bulletin, 28 (4) :  157-171.

• “Incubation Period of Killdeer.” Wilson Bulletin, 28 (4):  195-196.

1917

• Summer Records for 1917. Wilson Bulletin, 29 (3):  163-164.

1919

• Historical Sketch of Park Region about McGregor, Iowa, and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Iowa Conservation, 3 (1):  11-14; (2):  35-41.

1920

• “The Grizzly, Our Greatest Wild Animal” (book review). Iowa Conservation, 4 (1):  19-20.

• The Cardinal in North-Central Iowa. Wilson Bulletin, 32 (4): 123-132. [Reader's Note:  this article was overlooked and did not appear in Taylor's original listing.]

• Bird Conservation. Iowa Conservation, 4 (3):  72-74.

1921

• The Bohemian Waxwing in Iowa in Vast Numbers. Auk, 38 (2):  278-279.

1922

• An Open Letter. Iowa Conservation, 6 (1):  13-14.

• A National Bird Day. Iowa Conservation, 6 (2):  26-28. (Reprinted in the Condor, 25, 1923 (1):  15-20.

1924

• “Animal Aggregations:”  A Reply. Condor, 26 (3):  85-88.

1925

• The Problem of the House Wren. Bird-Lore, 27 (2):  97-100.

• A Society to Protect Wild Life from the Protectionists. Condor, 27 (3):  124-125.

• Down with the House Wren Boxes. Wilson Bulletin, 37 (1):  5-13.

• Additional Evidence Against the House Wren. Wilson Bulletin, 37 (3):  129-132.

1926

• A Skunk Entrapped by Nature. [Reader's Note:   Journal of Mammalogy, 7 (4):  331.]

• Periodicity in the Calling of a Chipmunk. [Reader's Note:   Journal of Mammalogy, 7 (4):  331-332.]

• Fox Squirrels’ Nest in a Barn. [Reader's Note:   Journal of Mammalogy, 7 (4):  332.]

1928

• Are Birds Decreasing in Numbers? Wilson Bulletin, 40 (1):  29-38.

1929

• (No title) A note on woodpecker holes. Bulletin of the Iowa Ornithologists' Union, (2):  12.

• (No title) A note on Red-bellied Woodpecker and Ruffed Grouse. Bulletin of the Iowa Ornithologists' Union, (4):  24.

• Summer Outings of Bats During Fourteen Seasons. Journal of Mammalogy, 10 (4):  319-326.

1930

• A Choice of Birds. National Plant, Flower and Fruit Guild Magazine, March issue. (Reprinted in Iowa Bird Life, 1, 1931 (2):  17-19).

• The Old Ornithology and the New. Wilson Bulletin, 42 (1):  3-10.

1931

• Migrating Blue Jays. Auk, 48 (2):  272-273.

• A Sustained Interest in Iowa Birds. Iowa Bird Life, 1 (1):  5.

• Studying Iowa Screech Owls. Iowa Bird Life, 1 (1):  9.

• The Gambel’s Sparrow at National, Iowa. Wilson Bulletin, 43 (3):  154. [Reader's Note:  the correct volume is 43 (2).]

1932

• Red-winged Blackbirds Nesting in Treetops near Top of Hill. Auk, 49 (3):  358.

• Downy’s Mate or Daughter? Bird-Lore, 34 (3):  202-203.

Editorial Note

Althea Sherman was buried beside her relatives in the village cemetery at National, Iowa, on April 19, 1943. The Iowa Ornithologists’ Union was represented at the last rites by these members:

• Arthur J. Palas—Charter Member and former President

• Oscar P. Allert—former Treasurer

• Fred J. Pierce—Charter Member and Editor of lowa Bird Life.

The Iowa Ornithologists’ Union is very grateful to Mrs. Taylor for writing the very complete biography of Miss Sherman. Mrs. Taylor has made it a gratuitous contribution to the Union by underwriting the cost of publication. Her generosity is thus perpetuated in our special Sherman Memorial Issue and will stand as a lasting tribute to her friendship with Althea Sherman.This special issue of Iowa Bird Life takes the place of our regular June number, but another issue, containing the May bird census reports and other material scheduled for the June issue, will follow in a few weeks.

The Sherman Memorial Issue is published in an edition of 600 copies.
—F. J. P.

This article first appeared in Iowa Bird Life, (June 1943) and is reprinted with permission of the Iowa Ornithologists' Union, Iowa Bird Life 13 (2):  19-35.

Photo: portrait of Althea R. Sherman

Althea Rosina Sherman

© Oberlin College Archives. Oberlin, Ohio

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updated       05.18.15

Grafic: pen and ink drawing of Sherma’s Chimney Swifts’ Tower by William J. Wagner, AIA

Sherman’s Chimney Swifts' Tower

© William J. Wagner, FAIA (1965)