Erma B. Plaehn

Political Science Faculty

Dr. Erma Plaehn, ca. 1947

TO: All Faculty and Staff Members
FROM: Robert E. Morin, Dean, College of Business and Behavioral Sciences
DATE: September 12, 1974

Dr. Erma B. Plaehn, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, died Wednesday, September 11, 1974, at Sartori Hospital after a lengthy illness.

Dr. Plaehn was born on a farm near Reinbeck, Iowa, on October 28, 1906. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell College in 1928 and began her teaching career that year at Algona, Iowa, where she remained for three years. In 1931 she entered the State University of Iowa where she earned both the Master of Arts (1932) and the Doctorate of Philosophy degrees in political science.

She began her 37 years of service at this institution as an instructor at the Laboratory School in 1936. In 1945 she joined the Department of Social Science with the rank of Assistant Professor of Political Science. Teaching was her life commitment and she developed a sensitive appreciation for the individuals who studied with her. Her classrooms and office were among the busiest on campus.

As the number of political scientists on the staff increased, she led the successful movement to create a separate Department of Political Science and became its first Head in 1969. After two years she decided to leave her administrative position and return to full time teaching; she was awarded emeritus status at the end of the 1972-73 academic year.

Dr. Plaehn was a member of many community organizations and was named to the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, and Board of the Iowa Center for Education in Politics. She was active professionally and during her career was a member of more than a dozen national academic or service organizations including the Midwest and the American Political Science Associations, the American Civil Liberties Union, and AAUP. She helped establish the Iowa Conference of Political Scientists and served as one of its early officers.

Her scholarly writings included contributions to the Iowa State Course of Study for American Government, the State Civics Course Study, and "Taxes Underwrite Education", which appeared in the Palimpsest, March 1945. She was co-author, with Professor Henry Nelson, of a series of filmstrips on Iowa history and geography. In 1969 she received the Outstanding Woman Educator award from Torch and Tassel, UNI Women's Association, and twice received the Alumni Service Award. She was named both in Who's Who of American Women and Who's Who in America.

Funeral services will be held at the United Church of Christ, Cedar Falls, at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, September 14, and burial will be in the Reinbeck Cemetery.

The flag will be flown at half mast during the time of the service and the Campanile bells will be played in memory of Dr. Plaehn.


CEDAR FALLS--Dr. Erma B. Plaehn, 1205 W. 18th St., Cedar Falls, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa, died at 7 p.m. Wednesday, September 11, 1974, at Sartori Hospital. She was 67.

A native of Reinbeck, Dr. Plaehn earned a B.A. degree from Cornell College in Mt. Vernon in 1928, and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Iowa. She was a high school social studies teacher in Algona and taught at University High School in Iowa City before joining the UNI staff in 1936 as supervisor of social studies at the campus school. In 1945, she assumed a position as assistant professor of social science on the UNI faculty.

In 1969, Dr. Plaehn's efforts contributed to the formation of UNI's political science department and she served as its first head from 1969 to 1971, returning to full-time teaching until her retirement in 1973.

At the time of her retirement, Dr. Robert Ross, political science department head, said, "The creation of the political science department was the result of extensive and dedicated efforts on the part of Dr. Plaehn. The favorable reputation of the department, particularly in regard to the teachers of American government in the public schools of Iowa, is largely a product of her leadership."

In 1969, Dr. Plaehn received the first annual UNI Torch and Tassel Award from the senior women's honorary. This award goes to a faculty woman for continued scholarship, leadership, and service to UNI.

A member of numerous University committees during her tenure at UNI, Dr. Plaehn also was a member and past president of the Iowa Political Science Association, and a member of both the Midwest and the American Political Science Associations.

In addition, she was a past president of the Iowa Council for the Social Studies and a member of the National Council for the Social Studies, the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women and the Iowa State Historical Society.

In 1973, Dr. Plaehn received the Alumni Service Award from the UNI Alumni Association for outstanding service to the University, its alumni, and the State of Iowa.

Survivors include a brother, Willis Plaehn of Reinbeck. She was preceded in death by her parents.

The French Funeral Home in Reinbeck is in charge of arrangements. Friends may call at the funeral home Friday (Sept. 13). Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday (Sept. 14), at the United Church of Christ in Cedar Falls, and friends may call at the church, located at 9204 University Ave., beginning at 9 a.m.




CEDAR FALLS--A seminar room in the University of Northern Iowa's Sabin Hall will be dedicated Sept. 16 (Sunday) in memory of Dr. Erma Plaehn, the organizer and first head of UNI's political science department.

The Erma B. Plaehn Memorial Fund Committee and Advisory Board will host a public open house from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in Room 201 of the Hall. A portrait of Dr. Plaehn, painted by Shirley Haupt, UNI associate professor of art, will be unveiled at 3:15 p.m. Dr. Robert Ross, head of the UNI Department of Political Science, said the dedication and unveiling will be brief and informal.

Special guests during the ceremony will be Dr. Plaehn's brother, Willis Plaehn, and his wife, Audrey, of Reinbeck, and a former teacher of Dr. Plaehn's, Mae Holden, Friendship Village Retirement Center, Waterloo.

Ross said more than $6000 was raised by the Erma B. Plaehn Memorial Fund Committee to furnish the seminar room. The room will be used as "a functional memorial to an outstanding, successful teacher," according to Ross.

Dr. Ross said Dr. Plaehn continued to keep in contact with her former students during her lifetime. Students sometimes stayed at her home; she made loans to those who needed money.

"Her life was her teaching," Ross said.

Dr. Plaehn left funds upon her death to the University to aid students of American politics. An advisory board of her former students recommends how to use the money for student activities, according to Ross.

Advisory board members, some of whom have been successful in political life, are: U.S. Senator Roger Jepsen, U.S. Representative Charles Grassley, Jay Mennenga, Carole Baumgarten, William Blake, Tom Dawson, John Forkenbrock, Robert Fulton, Vicki (Stuve) Hughes, Larry McKibben, Shirley (Post) Pantini, Jane (Leonard) Patton, Ronald Pepples, James E. Sage, Brian Schoenjahn, Keith Stamp, Richard Steffen, and Peter Van Metre.

Dr. Plaehn joined the UNI staff in 1936 as a supervisor of social studies at Price Laboratory School. In 1945 she became an assistant professor of social science, then led the move to create a separate political science department from the Department of Social Sciences. She became the first head of UNI's Department of Political Science in 1969. She retired in 1973, and died the following year.

Among her achievements were the following: first woman faculty member at UNI to receive the Torch and Tassel Award for continued scholarship, leadership, and service to the University, Alumni Service Award from the UNI Alumni Association for outstanding contributions to UNI, its alumni, and the state; past president of the Iowa Political Science Association and the Iowa Council for Social Studies; and member of the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women.

Dr. Plaehn was on the board of directors of the Iowa Center for Education and Politics and helped found the Iowa Conference of Political Scientists and served as an officer. In 1972 she won the Democratic nomination for Black Hawk County supervisor.

The second phase of the memorial to Dr. Plaehn will be a political resources room in Sabin Hall, according to Ross. Checks made payable to the Erma B. Plaehn Memorial Fund may be sent to Ross at the Department of Political Science, 205 Sabin Hall, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613.

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