Family Story

Albert Barfoot grew up farming with his family outside of Decorah, Iowa; Decorah had a population of around 2,000 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). In 1862, when Albert was born, there was no indication that he, the sixth of seven children, would become a doctor (“Historical Records and Person Search”). He was expected to become a farmer, and in the census of 1879, he was listed as a laborer. Alfred was a social climber; six years later in 1885, Barfoot graduated with thirty-five other students from Iowa State University, and in four more years he found himself on the Iowa Board of Medical Examiners with four other doctors. Thus, in a short decade, Albert found himself scaling the social ladder from a farm laborer to one of the most distinguished doctors in Iowa (Iowa State Medical Reporter).

With a reasonable amount of success under his belt, Dr. Barfoot decided to settle down. August 27, 1891 marked the day of his marriage to Rebecca H. Holmes. Rebecca, one year Albert’s junior, was an only child and immigrant from Canada. Her parents, originally from England, immigrated during the revolutionary period to Canada and then to the United States when Rebecca was only two years old. At seventeen years old, Rebecca became a schoolteacher. Albert and Rebecca were married in Medord, Minnesota, and shortly thereafter, Dr. Barfoot became a physician in Waterloo, Iowa. The couple was married for seven years before they had their first child. Dorothy Barfoot was born on October 7, 1898. Shortly after her birth, Albert and Rebecca decided to move back to Albert’s hometown. Broadway Street, Decorah Ward 4 became the home to Dorothy and her parents (“Historical Records and Person Search”).

Decorah was a small city compared to the Barfoot’s former home. Waterloo had a population of about 12,500 people in 1900, while Decorah recorded only a quarter of the people—3,300 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Perhaps their new house seemed too quiet compared to their formerly busy lives, because in 1901 Albert and Rebecca were blessed with their second and final child, Dorothy’s sister, Marjory. Mary Holmes, Rebecca’s mother and a 74-year-old widow, came to live with her daughter in 1920 (“Historical Records and Person Search”). Dr. Barfoot’s family was small, but he passed on his drive for success to his eldest daughter, Dorothy.

Albert lost his lifelong companion when Rebecca died early on February 11, 1934. She was buried in the Phelps cemetery in Decorah. Her mother, however, lived on for another three years before she died on May 12, 1937.  Mary, too, was buried in Phelps Cemetery, and two and a half years later, both mother and daughter were reunited with Albert Barfoot on November 20, 1939 (“Historical Records and Person Search”).

Dorothy and Marjory both attended school at Decorah High School. Marjory chose to attend the University of Iowa from 1923-1927. This was the first university to accept men and women in to their programs on an equal basis in 1855 (Undergraduate Admissions - The University of Iowa). Marjory’s presence at this university almost 75 years later is not a coincidence. The Barfoot women were born into an upper class family, and they expected to attend progressive universities. After Marjory’s graduation, she married Franklin Windle—two years her junior—on June 30, 1927. Mr. Windle was originally from Owatonna, Minnesota, but he and his wife moved to St. Louis, Missouri after their wedding (“Historical Records and Person Search”). Dorothy, on the other hand, chose to continue her education at St. Katherine’s School for Girls in Davenport, Iowa. This Episcopal school is now on the National Register of Historic Places, but in 1917, it was the first post-secondary school that Ms. Barfoot had graduated from. At this point in history, women studying after high school had to be referred to as “coeds.” At the land grant colleges that Dorothy attended in both Iowa and Kansas, domestic arts, known today as home economics, was the first department open to women (Thorne). After her Bachelor of Arts degree was completed in 1922 from Iowa State University, Dorothy began teaching. She started out at rural schools in Iowa and Park Rapids, Minnesota. Perhaps it was encouragement from her family to pursue a higher degree, or her own innate draw to produce more than arts and crafts, but Dorothy found herself across the country in New York City at Columbia University. In 1890, the United States claimed that 10 percent of graduate students were female. Over thirty years, this number increased to 41 percent. In the 1920s, the state of New York boasted 63, 637 female teachers and 21,915 female nurses. However, they only had eighteen workers in technology-related fields. These numbers show that, while 41 percent of all graduate students in the United States were female, in New York—and likely the rest of the nation—women were still falling into traditional gender roles (Chafe). In New York, Dorothy was among other women that were trying to make a name for themselves outside of traditionally feminine roles. While her degree in art is considered a female role, her position as a graduate student was not. In 1928, Dorothy graduated with her Masters of Arts degree. She also studied advanced art at the University of Arizona, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and Herron Art School (Kansas State University Media Relations). At the time when Dorothy was completing these degrees, 18.6 percent of collegiate faculty members were women; her awareness of the path she was following would have been heightened by her presence in universities during this monumental shift (Thorne). While she never completed a doctoral program, Dorothy indulged her thirst for knowledge by taking graduate-level classes for over half of her career. 

Dorothy Howard Items

Here, Dorothy is pictured with her colleagues in the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University. She is the second woman from the left in the middle row.