The following was written by Cassandra Anderson, a student assistant who helped with the project:
As students, we often walk by Catt Hall several times a day without even realizing the complex history behind the building itself. You might have heard a whisper or two from a professor or former student about the protests on campus that erupted in the 1990s after the official naming of Catt Hall. However, there was never an easy way to find out just what happened during the controversy over Catt Hall which happened in the 1990s unless you spent hours in Special Collections and University Archives going through the numerous related boxes. Digital Initiatives, a unit within the University Library that works to bring physical copies of works to the internet, has created a digital collection (September 29th Movement digital collection) available through the Iowa State University Library Digital Collections website. The exhibit holds digitized materials from several archival collections, including the September 29th Movement records, President Martin C. Jischke’s papers, and the Government of the Student Body records. With these resources now available online, people can now research online how each side of the issue reacted and responded.
The building we all know today as Catt Hall was originally built in 1893 under the name of Agricultural Hall to hold the Agriculture, Horticulture, and Veterinary Science departments. Soon it was renamed Agricultural Engineering, and then it became Botany Hall. In 1969 Botany moved out of the building, and when no one moved in, the building was renamed Old Botany Hall. The building was condemned in 1966 and sat empty for a number of years. However, the building eventually became a National Historic Landmark and was given a second chance when renovations began to save it. After the renovations were completed a dedication ceremony took place on October 6, 1995 – renaming the building after Carrie Chapman Catt, a famous ISU alumna who fought for women’s suffrage.
On September 29, 1995 a group of students wrote an article for Uhuru!, a student publication run by the Black Student Alliance. The article, titled “The Catt’s Out of the Bag: Was She Racist? Racism in the Suffrage Movement,” called for the university to rename Catt Hall. Students created the September 29th Movement to further advocate for the views expressed in the Uhuru! article, and the movement grew quickly. On the September 29th Movement’s website you can read their goals, which said they were “dedicated to the elimination of racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and classism at Iowa State University, recognizing that changing the name of Catt Hall, a symbol of exclusion, must be the first step in that struggle.” The September 29th Movement was very active on campus, hosting a Silent March, numerous protests, and even a hunger strike.
A Catt Hall review committee was created whose mandate was to recommend ways for the university to find closure to the issues raised. The committee’s final report was published in 1998 (and is available through the ISU Digital Repository). The primary members of the September 29th Movement soon graduated, and the movement ceased activity. However, the issues that the September 29th Movement focused on are still issues our campus faces today. With the digitization of these documents, we hope to more readily give access to a part of the university’s history. The digital collection is now available online, and we encourage you all to take a look when you get a chance.