Iowa’s Governor Leslie M. Shaw delivered his annual message to the legislature and the citizens of the state in January 1900. He had a number of items on his mind, and he wasn’t shy about making his ideas known. The text of his speech was splashed in newspapers throughout the state.
First of all, the chief executive wanted to see an increase in the governor’s salary. The $3,000 per year current pay was “below the necessary expenses of a family in the city of Des Moines”, according to Shaw. Although he was given $30 per month for room rent, he said most other states provided their governors with residences — furnished and maintained at state expense. He rationalized that state Supreme Court judges and the attorney general received $4,000 per year in salaries. The State University paid its president $6,000. However, Governor Shaw was looking ahead to his successor when he asked for the increase. He said it would be inappropriate for him to ask for an increase in his own salary.
The governor also wanted to see more male teachers in the state’s schools. He believed that the presence of female teachers served to deter boys from continuing their educations past eighth grade. According to the governor, only 954 young men had graduated from high school that year while 1839 young ladies had gotten their high school diplomas.
Governor Shaw was quick to commend the work of the State University at Iowa City for its accomplishments despite its limited income from the state legislature. “Certainly no money has been squandered. And the results have been phenomenal,” he remarked. “No one has ever accomplished more with such limited means.”
He noted that the annual income of the university — $150,000 — was far lower than neighboring states. Nebraska’s state university had an annual income of $280,000; Minnesota and Illinois universities benefited from $350,000 appropriations.
The governor also recommended the legislature set aside money to build Civil War monuments at Shiloh and Chattanooga, Tennessee, to commemorate the “bravery and heroism” of Iowa soldiers. He asked for $2,500 to complete the state historical building in a “desirable and presentable manner.” He recommended the purchase of two blocks of land north of the capitol building in Des Moines so the state could store supplies there rather than continuing to rent a building for the purpose. The governor wanted to see the legislature care for the “unfortunate inmates” of the “institution for the feeble minded,” the “industrial home for the blind,” and the school for the deaf “not lavishly, but liberally.”
Governor Shaw was pleased to announce that the state was enjoying a surplus of over $400,000 that year. He stated that under such “favorable conditions” the legislature was “justified in making somewhat more liberal appropriations” than in the past. However, he believed that “care should be exercised.”
He warned, “For it must be borne in mind that it is easier for a state to incur a liability than to discharge one.”
Cheryl Mullenbach is a former high school history teacher and public television project manager. She is an award-winning author of non-fiction books for young people. She was featured on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” for her talk at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum’s Reading Festival. Her Iowa history column about people, places and events from the past inspire Iowans to treasure their history.