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Bess Newcomer papers

Identifier: IWA0663

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Scope and Contents

The Bess Newcomer papers date from 1936 to 1978 and measure 2 linear inches. They consist of her columns and a manuscript of her memoir "My Seventy-Year Affair with the Wabash Railroad." Newcomer wrote columns that were regularly published on the first pages of the Iowa Bureau Farmer from 1941 until 1947. She wrote a regular column, "Rustic Ruminations" for the Iowa Bureau Farmer from 1947 until 1951, when a change in editor took place. The columns were originally kept in a scrapbook that has been disassembled and the articles photocopied for preservation purposes.

The manuscript does not have page numbers until page 131, nor are chapters numbered. Page numbers given here assume sequential pagination. The first folder of the manuscript (pp. 1-57) concerns the history of the Wabash Railroad and the second (pp. 58-154) tells Newcomer family history in the context of the national economy, the history of the Wabash Railroad, Moulton, and family lives of railroad workers. A prospectus, bibliography, reference notes, and list of illustrations are included.  There are no illustrations in the manuscript, however. A few newspaper clippings about Newcomer and photocopies of the chapters she wrote about the Wabash Railroad and the Short and Newcomer Families for a history of Moulton complete the collection.


  • Creation: 1936-1978


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

Bess Pauline Short Newcomer, writer, Farm Bureau officer, and historian, was born in 1893 in Moulton, Iowa. Her parents Cora Jennings and James Short were both born and raised on farms in Appanoose County. Cora Jennings taught school until she married James Short in 1891. They bought a farm next to his parents' farm outside of Moulton, but soon after their two children were born, James Short contracted tuberculosis and the family moved to Colorado in 1895 on the advice of a physician. The move did not improve his health, and the family returned to Iowa where James Short died in 1899. Cora Short supported her family by farming and selling milk to the hotel in Moulton. She paid for the college education of both children through successful farm management and economizing.

Bess Short graduated from Moulton High School in 1909 and Drake University in 1913 with a B.A. in Latin. She taught for nine years in the Drake University Extension High School in Des Moines, Iowa, and in Nebraska and Missouri before returning to Moulton in 1920. In Moulton, she met and married Ralph E. Newcomer, then the district trainmaster on the Wabash Railroad. They had two sons, Ralph, Jr. and Robert, born in 1923 and 1924.

In 1926, Ralph Newcomer was promoted to a supervisory position in St. Louis, returning to Moulton only on weekends until 1930. His next promotion transferred him to Ohio; in this job he could return to Moulton only occasionally. Dissatisfied with this, he decided in 1932 to retire from the railroad and farm in Moulton. Bess Newcomer had raised their sons on the farm during these years. When the boys were teenagers, she became active in the Farm Bureau Women, serving on the state board for twelve years.

During the 1940s, she wrote a column for the Iowa Bureau Farmer. She also served on the Appanoose County Board of Education for sixteen years. When Ralph Newcomer died in 1957, Bess Newcomer remained on the farm. In the years 1976 to 1978, she contributed several chapters to a bicentennial publication Chronicles of Moulton History. She expanded these writings about her family and the Wabash Railroad into an autobiographical essay "My Seventy-Year Affair with the Wabash Railroad." Although refused for publication as a book, she kept the manuscript, which is now in this collection.

Bess Newcomer died September 27, 1990.


2.00 linear inches

Language of Materials



Appanoose County farmwoman, columnist, and Farm Bureau officer.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 759) were donated by Ralph Newcomer in 2001.

Doris Malkmus, 2001.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

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)