Ada Hayden, Preserving Iowa’s Prairies

Ada Hayden August 14, 1884–August 12, 1950

Hayden is primarily associated with prairie preservation in Iowa. Within a year of earning her Ph.D., her research on the ecology of prairie plants in central Iowa was published in the American Journal of Botany (1919) and the Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science (1919). She issued a tentative call for prairie preservation in a short piece, “Conservation of Prairie,” published in Iowa Parks: Conservation of Iowa Historic, Scientific and Scenic Areas (1919), suggesting that a few acres of relict prairie, preferably tracts located near larger schools, be preserved in each county of the state.
—Biographical Dictionary of Iowa

Dr. Hayden is also featured this month on the Special Collections blog at the Iowa State University Library.

  • 1908 BS, Botany, Iowa State College, Ames, IA
  • 1910 MS, Botany, Washington University St. Louis, MO
  • 1911 MS, Botany, Iowa State College, Ames, IA
  • 1918 PhD, Iowa State College, Ames, IA (on “ecologic anatomy” of prairie plants)

The Iowa farm on which Ada Hayden grew up provided early inspiration for nature studies. Her parents maintained several acres of native prairie for her to play in, and later study.

One of Ada Hayden's illustrations for The Weed Flora of Iowa.

One of Ada Hayden’s illustrations for The Weed Flora of Iowa. Biodiversity Heritage Library

While still in high school, Hayden’s interest in botany was noted by botanist Dr. Louis Pammel, who encouraged her and later became her mentor and professor during her studies at Iowa State. In 1913, she contributed a chapter (“Scattering of Weeds”) and many illustrations to his book, The Weed Flora of Iowa. She succeeded Dr. Pammel as herbarium curator after his death.
Career highlights:
After being the first woman to receive a PhD from Iowa State, Dr. Hayden joined the Botany Department there as assistant professor in 1918. She served as curator of the herbarium there, which is now named in her honor, from 1931 until her death in 1950. She taught courses in botany, ecology, algalogy, and other fields.
According to Dr. Lois Hattery Tiffany, who joined the faculty in 1950:

“In 1934, Dr. Hayden was also appointed a Research assistant professor with the Agricultural Experiment Station. Her summer work for the station involved study of the vegetation of the lakes, marshes, and border areas of the state in relation to the feeding and nesting of wild water fowl and shore birds. She managed alone such tasks as loading, transporting, and launching her boat, if wading or swimming was required to obtain specimens or to investigate the area, she accomplished the task. She was an excellent photographer and an artist, illustrating her thoughtfully written, informative reports with exceptionally good visuals.”
1985 speech to American Association of University Women Summer Leadership Workshop

Dr. Hayden developed radio speeches and gave public presentations for decades to educate Iowans on the importance of prairie preservation. These talks included her hand-colored lantern slides of prairie plants. In the 1940s, she documented “more than 100 tracts of native prairie,” identifying 32 as potential preserves. She later worked with John Aikman (ESA president 1946), co-authoring a paper on managing prairie reserves shortly before her death. Dr. Aikman later cited her “important contributions” to prairie preservation. For her long dedication to documentation and conservation of Iowa prairies, the Ada Hayden Prairie Preserve in Howard County was named in her honor by the Iowa Conservation Commission.
Dr. Hayden appears in the ESA directory of 1928. According to Alton Lindsey (ESA Eminent Ecologist 1976), he saw Dr. Hayden often at ESA meetings early in his career. She was very “prominent in society affairs, active in conservation efforts,” he wrote.
Selected research contributions
1913. “The Scattering of Weeds,” Chapter V of The Weed Flora of Iowa, by L.H. Pammel et al. Also contributed numerous illustrations.
1919. The Ecologic Foliar Anatomy of Some Plants of a Prairie Province in Central Iowa. American Journal of Botany Vol. 6, No. 2 (Feb., 1919), pp. 69-85
Stable URL:
1919. The Ecologic Subterranean Anatomy of Some Plants of a Prairie Province in Central Iowa. American Journal of Botany, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Mar., 1919), pp. 87-105
Stable URL:
1945. The selection of prairie areas in Iowa which should be preserved Proc. Iowa Acad. Sci. 1945
1946. A progress report on the preservation of prairie Proc. Iowa Acad. Sci. 1946
_____ and JM Aikman. 1949. Considerations involved in the management of prairie reserves Proc. Iowa Acad. Sci. 1949.
References and Links
Ada Hayden Papers (1884-1950) Papers, 1864-[ongoing] RS 13/5/55
Hayden, Ada. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, University of Iowa Press Digital Editions.
Lindsey, Alton. 1989. Letter to Dr. Jean Langenheim, February 4, 1989.
Pammel, L.H., Charlotte King, et al. 1913. The Weed Flora of Ohio. Bulletin – Iowa Geological Survey ; no. 4.
Tiffany, L.H. 1985. Luncheon address. AAUW Summer Leadership Workshop—Iowa—July 20, 1985 . Copy of manuscript in Jean Langenheim’s files.
Wikipedia. Entries for Ada Hayden and the Hayden Prairie State Preserve.