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Lois H. Tiffany, More than a “Mushroom Lady”

Lois Hattery Tiffany, March 8, 1924–September 6, 2009
This post is part of a series for Women’s History Month, March 2016. See all related posts.
In the later years of her long and celebrated career at Iowa State University, popular field classes (mushroom walks and prairie wildflower trips) gave Dr. Lois Tiffany the title “Mushroom Lady,” by which she is still remembered. Despite specializing in mycology, Dr. Tiffany was an accomplished botanist and field ecologist whose contributions as a teacher as well as a researcher are diverse and abundant.
Dr. Tiffany is also featured this month on the Special Collections blog at the Iowa State University Library.

She was especially interested in fungi in prairies and changes in prairie systems, including those resulting from burning, and susceptibility of different ecotypes of big bluestem to particular plant pathogens. The long-term work she, Knaphus [a colleague] and her students did on prairie fungi is unique among prairie ecological and fungal biosurveys.   —RA Healy et al., obituary in Mycologia

1945 B.S., Botany, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
1947 M.S., Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
1950 Ph.D., Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa (Dr. Joseph C. Gilman, adviser)

I did not realize until much later how very fortunate I was to have the opportunity to learn and grow under the demanding guidance of Dr. Gilman. Although he was very much a gentleman of the old school, he considered a good mind to be a talent that should not be wasted.
—Dr. L H Tiffany, 1985

Career highlights
Dr. Tiffany faced challenges early in her career. Healy et. al (2010) report that “When she was first hired as faculty, the chairman of the department suggested that she work for no pay because her husband had a job. She declined…” (Healy et al., 2010) She started as an instructor—with pay—in 1950, coincidentally the same year as Iowa State’s herbarium curator Dr. Ada Hayden died. She was promoted to full professor in 1965.

Lois Hattery Tiffany (1924-2009) Iowa's Mushroom Lady sparked interest in nature and the outdoors through outreach education. Photo courtesy Jean Tiffany Day.

Lois Hattery Tiffany (1924-2009) Iowa’s Mushroom Lady sparked interest in nature and the outdoors. Courtesy Jean Tiffany Day.

As faculty advisors to the Botany Club, Dr. Tiffany and Dr. George Knaphus led annual camping and botanizing trips to faraway national parks and other botanically interesting locations. She took on a field botany course for non-majors that became immensely popular, teaching skills like winter twig and wildflower identification—in addition to a full teaching load and her own research. She chaired the Botany Department for six years, and served on 27 committees or advisory boards at the university. In 1977-78, she served as president of the Iowa Academy of Science; she and her students often contributed to its journals.
Dr. Tiffany reviewed the role of women in the Iowa Academy in 1975, commenting that “Women have been active contributors to the Iowa Academy of Science from its earliest days.” However, she noted that “The women who were long-term regular contributors to the Academy or active in its programs are few.” She herself had “possibly been the most active woman member of the Academy in its history,” the editors added in a footnote.
In 1985, she described some of her experiences and compared three generations of women in science, including Dr. Ada Hayden, in a speech to the American Association of University Women.

Yes, there are times when I know that opportunities have not developed that potentially could have—and I ponder why. At such times I think of Dr. Hayden and consider how much more diverse and potentially richer my life has been. I have had the experience with the good times and the bad, of having my own family. Dr. Hayden, and most other professional women of her era, did not have such an opportunity. I have had the friendship and challenging working relationships as equal contributors with a number of fine scientists, almost all of them men.    —Dr. L H Tiffany, 1985

Upon retirement from Iowa State in 2002, Dr. Tiffany continued to maintain a lab and teach classes until 2005, after which she continued to share her enthusiasm for nature, and especially fungi, through informal field trips.
Selected awards

  • 1982: Distinguished Iowa Scientist Award, Iowa Academy of Science
  • 1989: ISU Teaching Excellence Award
  • 1991: Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame
  • 1994: Distinguished Service Award, Iowa Academy of Science

Two species of Iowa truffles have been named in Dr. Tiffany’s honor. Mattirolomyces tiffanyae was described in 2003, and Temperantia tiffanyae was documented in 2001 as the type species of its new genus.
In 2013, The Nature Conservancy dedicated The Lois Tiffany Prairie. This land, with high quality native prairie, wildlife habitat, and wetlands, occupies 80 acres in the Glacial Hills of Little Sioux Valley. Funds to acquire the property were donated anonymously by one of Dr Tiffany’s former students.
Selected research contributions
Klich, MA, LH Tiffany, G Knaphus. 1992. Ecology of the aspergilli of soils and litter. Biotechnology (USA) 23, pp 329-353
Klich, MA, LH Tiffany. 1985. Distribution and seasonal occurrence of aquatic Saprolegniaceae in northwest IOWA. Mycologia Vol. 77, No. 3 (May – Jun., 1985), pp. 373-380
Tiffany, LH, JC Gilman. 1954. Species of Colletotrichum from legumes.
Mycologia Vol. 46, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 1954), pp. 52-75
Tiffany, LH, JF Shearer, G Knaphus. 1990. Plant parasitic fungi of four tallgrass prairies of northern Iowa: distribution and prevalence. Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science 1990 Vol. 97 No. 4 pp. 157-166.
Tiffany LH, G Knaphus. 1995. Fungus pathogens of prairie plants in Iowa. Proceedings of the 14th Annual North American Prairie Conference, pp 49-54.
Tiffany LH, G Knaphus, DM Huffman. 1998. Distribution and ecology of the morels and false morels of Iowa. Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science.
References and links
Anon. 1991 Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame Honoree: Lois Hattery Tiffany (1924-2009).
Anon. Lois Hattery Tiffany (1924-2009) Obituary at The IAGenWeb Project
Anon. L. H. (Lois Hattery) Tiffany (1924-2009) Papers, 1940-2010, undated Papers at Iowa State University Special Collections Department RS 13/5/20.
Anon. 2013. Dr. Lois Tiffany Prairie in the Little Sioux Valley. Iowa Update, fall 2013 newsletter, The Nature Conservancy in Iowa.
Anon. 2013. Prairie dedication to honor former Iowa State professor. Chronicle Times, Thursday, September 12, 2013.
Healy RA. 2003. Mattirolomyces tiffanyae, a new truffle from Iowa, with ultrastructural evidence for its classification in the Pezizaceae. Mycologia 95:765–772.
Healy, RA, J.L. Richard, K.A. Niyo, M.A. Klich. 2010. Lois Hattery Tiffany, 1924–2009. Mycologia July/August 2010 vol. 102 no. 4 985-988.
Kovacs, Gabor M., James Trappe, et al. 2011 Terfezia disappears from the American truffle mycota as two new genera and Mattirolomyces species emerge. Mycologia, 103(4), 2011, pp. 831–840.
Tiffany, Lois Hattery. 1975. Reflections on Women Scientists and the Iowa Academy of Science
The Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science, 82(2):94-95.
Tiffany, Lois H. 1985. Untitled luncheon address to AAUW, Summer Leadership Workshop—Iowa—July 20, 1985. Copy found in Jean Langenheim’s notebooks on women in ecology, used by permission. Available at Iowa State University Special Collections, RS 13/5/20, Box 20, Folder 32.
Wikipedia. Entry for Lois H. Tiffany.