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Cornelia Cameron papers

Identifier: IWA0198

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Scope and Contents

The Cornelia Cameron papers date from 1903 to 1995 and measure 3.25 linear feet. The papers are arranged in three series: Personal, Field notes, and Publications. The bulk of the collection documents Cameron's career as an internationally-recognized expert on peat.

The Personal series (1951-1994 and undated) includes obituaries, personal letters, and pay stubs related to Cornelia Cameron. This series contains long letters that Cameron wrote to friends and colleagues while she was stationed in Japan, Korea, and Formosa (now Taiwan), during the 1950s. This series also includes architectural records and correspondence pertaining to Harriet Cameron's Iowa City property. Photographs of Cornelia Cameron and the places where she conducted fieldwork are included in this series. Artifacts include a button from the 1976 International Peat Conference in Poznan, Poland, and a slide ruler in a leather case.

The Field notes series (1906-1993) includes journals written by Harriet and Cornelia Cameron. The notes document their geological work throughout the United States.

The Publications series (1903-1995) constitutes half the collection. This series includes articles and conference papers written and co-written by Cameron. This series contains one of Cameron's most influential textbooks, The Earth in Human Affairs. A substantial portion of Cameron's articles was published by the United States Geological Survey.


  • Creation: 1903-1995


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Cornelia Clermont Cameron, an internationally recognized peat geologist, was born in 1911 near Iowa City, Iowa, to John Edwin Cameron and Harriet Clearman Cameron. John Cameron, born in 1867, worked as a professor of natural sciences and botany in Missouri and at the University of Iowa, also worked as a professional photographer. Harriet Cameron, born in 1872, earned an MS in geology in 1904 and later completed the coursework for a PhD in botany. John Cameron died of influenza in the 1918 epidemic. Harriet Cameron raised Cornelia and her brother, William, on a farm near Iowa City.

Cornelia Cameron earned a BA in 1933 and an MS in 1935 in botany at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa). After completing the MS degree, she worked for the Cities Service Oil Company in Wichita, Kansas, and then the Iowa Geological Survey. She subsequently earned a PhD in geology at the State University of Iowa in 1940.

She taught geology at Stephens College from 1942 to 1951. From 1951 until her death in 1994, Cameron worked for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Cameron's career with the USGS began in the Military Geology Branch, where she performed terrain analysis based on literature, photography interpretation, and field studies. She was the senior author of an Army Field Manual on terrain intelligence.

From 1953 to 1964, she did fieldwork in over thirty countries, including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Nigeria. During this period, she wrote fifty reports on water resources and engineering construction and foundations. In Korea, she served as an engineering geology consultant to the United Nations forces. Cameron's mother, Harriet Cameron, frequently accompanied her daughter on overseas fieldwork until she died in 1975 at the age of 103.

Cameron developed the concept of peat as a mineral resource and was at the forefront of a renewed interest in peat as a soil additive and energy source in the twentieth century. She was instrumental in establishing a standard classification for the commercial use of peat and wrote one of the first textbooks in the United States that relates geology to society, The Earth in Human Affairs, first published in 1945. Cameron was the senior author of a five-volume work on peat resources in Maine and wrote dozens of articles on the subject.

In 1977, Cameron received the Meritorious Service Award from the USGS. She received a special commendation from the Maine state legislature in 1984. In 1986, the U.S. Department of the Interior presented her with the Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her thirty-five year career in military and engineering geology and mineral resources. Cameron died of cancer in 1994 at the age of eighty-three at her home in Winchester, Virginia.


3.25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Internationally recognized peat geologist from Iowa City.

Method of Acquisition

The papers were donated by Shirley Briggs (donor no. 278) in 1994 and Ron Cameron (donor no. 860) in 2002.

Related Materials

Shirley Briggs papers (IWA): Cameron was a friend and colleague of Shirley Briggs.

Margaret Richardson, 2002; Kate Stewart and Karissa Haugeberg, 2007.
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)