Eva May Luse
Laboratory School Director & Head of the Department of Teaching
1919 - 1940
“Working with children is interesting, because no two of them are alike.” Dr. Eva May Luse
Luse grew with the evolving Model School, Training School, and Campus School in Cedar Falls. Her career also offers a window on the lives of gifted U.S. women academics in the years before married women entered in numbers the college and university ranks.
Eva May Luse was born in Oxford, Iowa on September 15, 1877. Her family moved west to Audubon, Iowa where she graduated from Audubon High School in 1895.
She came to Cedar Falls, where she earned her teaching certification from Iowa State Normal School in 1901, which she enriched with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa. She taught in the public schools, but in the spring of 1904, the Normal School’s Nellie Dority resigned to become principal of Jefferson High School in Iowa. The Normal School tapped alumnus Eva May Luse to take her place.
Luse’s first assignment was in the Department of Training where she taught grammar to young children in the “Training School.” By 1906, she was called a Critic Teacher for the preparatory grades and, by 1908, a Critic Teacher in Grammar and Secondary Grades. In March 1910, when Luse was granted a leave of absence to complete her master’s degree at the University of Iowa, she was in charge of both Latin and English at the Training School. Luse’s master’s thesis aided her work. It was titled “Application of the Herbartian Formal Steps to Instruction to the Teaching of Elementary Grammar.” The Herbartian approach called for formal lesson plans to place teaching on a more scientific path than before. This German method was widely influential in the United States until the work of John Dewey.
Luse’s evolving career corresponded with the arrival of the first Laboratory School building: Sabin Hall. Iowa State Normal School was founded in 1876 at the site of a former Civil War orphanage. In 1883, the School’s first president, James Gilchrist, began a “Model School”: a school for youngsters in the community and a place for Normal School students to do their practice teaching. The Model School ran from 1883 to 1886, but then closed, only to be revived in 1892 by the new Normal School President, Homer H. Seerley. Seerley called this new version the Training School.
From 1892 to 1913, Training School classes were held in a number of different locations on campus, none of them especially suited for kindergarten through twelfth grade students. In 1911, the Iowa General Assembly renewed the millage tax which provided the funding for a new building dedicated solely to the Training School. (This tax on Iowa real estate financed the construction of most of the large red brick and limestone buildings erected on the eastern campus in the early twentieth century.)
Construction of the $150,000 Training School began in 1912, and the building was ready for use in January 1914. It was named Sabin Hall to honor Henry Sabin, the Iowa State Superintendent of Schools from 1888 through 1892 and again from 1894 through 1898. In that role he also served as the ex-officio president of the Iowa State Normal School Board of Directors. Sabin worked closely with President Seerley to establish the certification of Normal School graduates on the basis of training rather than examination. He worked, too, with Seerley on the development of special curricula in teacher training and for the permanent establishment of a campus Training School.
When Sabin Hall opened in 1914, it was called an “educational palace.” Iowa State Normal School had become Iowa State Teachers College in 1909, and the large new Training School represented an important step forward for the College. The four-story structure was designed to be a model school building. It was a place where Teachers College students could receive instruction on the best teaching methods and then have the chance to practice what they had learned in real classrooms under the observation of experienced teachers. The new building provided rooms for classes from kindergarten through high school. Further rooms were for manual training, domestic science, physical training, and student teacher demonstration and observation. The building also housed a library of 3,000 volumes as well as motion picture equipment, photographs, and a player piano. The building’s auditorium, which held 400, was decorated with a copy of a Lucca della Robia frieze, a gift of the Class of 1913.
When it opened, the new Training School had 25 teachers, some 350 students, and—over the course of the year—about 500 student teachers. At the 1914 dedication ceremony, D. D. Murphy, President of the Iowa State Board of Education, praised the building as “symbolizing proper teacher training.”
From Grammar to Mathematics
Luse applied her master’s thesis research to her Training School role as Critic Teacher in Grammar. When the new Sabin Hall opened in January 1914, she had been made a full Professor in the ISTC Department of Teaching and her mind, steeped in English and Latin grammar, began to turn toward math.
At the same time, she began a steady rise as an ISTC administrator. From 1916 to 1919 she was Assistant Director of the Training School, then Acting Director from 1919 to 1920 when she became the full Director—a post she held for more than twenty years. In 1921, she also became Head of the Department of Teaching and, in 1936, added the role of Director of Student Teaching.
And she was always growing and learning. In 1920, she was given a leave of absence to study and observe at the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City. In the summer of 1921, she spent six weeks at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
In 1923, when the College Eye student newspaper called Luse “our efficient Superintendent of the Training School,” the school had grown to serve 413 students (268 in the kindergarten and grades one through eight and 145 in the high school). The school now also had a Home and Education Department. In the fall of 1923, the fourth graders were harvesting the crops they had planted in the spring—each student having his or her own garden plot. The grades also competed with each other each week for the Thrift Banner. The winning class was the one that demonstrated the most thrift.
That fall, Luse was given a leave of absence to work on her doctoral degree at the University of Iowa, her focus now on math. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she titled her 1925 dissertation “Specific vs. General Learning in Narrow Mental Functions.”
It is hard to know when Luse met David Eugene Smith, the prolific Columbia University mathematics professor whom she would marry in 1940. She may have met him as early as 1920, when she studied and observed at Columbia University as part of her new role as Director of the Iowa State Teachers College Training School. Smith may have propelled her toward math. A constant national lecturer across the 1920s and 1930s, Luse was granted another leave of absence for the fall 1927 semester to present lectures in New York City and in New England. In December 1929, she was attending mathematics conferences in New York City and Bologna, Italy.
David Eugene Smith was born in 1860—seventeen years before Luse—and when she met him in the 1920s he was already a distinguished professor of mathematics at Columbia and author of countless books and articles on mathematics, starting with his co-authored New Plane and Solid Geometry in 1889. Smith became an emeritus professor at Columbia in 1926; however, this only allowed him more time to write. He likely invited Luse to join him in his writing projects, for the College Eye report of Luse’s 1927 fall semester leave reveals that her time would be given to her lectures in the east, but also to “completing several manuscripts which she is to publish in the future.”
In 1929 came the first of Luse’s and Smith’s books, Walks in Numberland, an arithmetic book for primary grades, and The Problem and Practice Arithmetics, a set of texts for students from second to ninth grades. Smith and Luse wrote these books with Edward Longworth Morss of Boston. The three published Junior Arithmetic in 1930. In 1929, a reviewer for the national Journal of Education wrote of Walks in Numberland: “We went with great care over each of the 182 pages and then looked over the first 100 pages again. It is easy to see that Walks in Numberland is a work of art as different from a book evolved by a clever teacher as a portrait is from a snapshot. There is nothing that could have been different without marring the perfection of the arrangement. We came to enjoy it with a professional thrill.”
The next year a Journal of Education reviewer said of The Problem and Practice Arithmetics: “here is is one of the most elaborate and most beautiful first arithmetics ever published. It will be impossible for any child to escape the fascination of the illustrations and there is no picture that is not used in some way to create problems and produce practice opportunities. Every suggestion of pedagogical science is in the background for the teacher, while only an almost infinite variety of attractive devices with the latest facts and phrases, that appeal to children . . . are utilized.” That year Smith, Luse, and Morss published the Teachers’ Manual to accompany The Problem and Practice Arithemetics.
So prominent now was Luse in math education that in 1929 she was named one of three Americans to represent the United States and Canada on the International Commission on the Teaching of Mathematics. In that role she assisted in conducting national surveys in the U.S. and in Canada concerning the teaching of mathematics in the junior and senior high schools and in the first two years of college. In 1932, she represented the United States and Canada at the International Congress of Mathematics in Zurich, Switzerland. In 1935 came the last of the volumes with Smith and others, titled Canadian Problem and Practice Arithmetics.
From Math to Love
A 1940 College Eye profile called Eva May Luse a “Jack of All Trades.” She earned graduate degrees in first English and then mathematics, to which she added diplomas in physical education and home economics. (She taught cooking at ISTC in 1920.)
Luse exemplified many of the traits that would characterize her successors as Laboratory School heads. She spoke nationally and internationally on education, speaking in almost every one of the United States. She taught four summer school sessions at Cornell University and two summer sessions at the Ohio State University. She served as national President of Pi Omega Pi, the honor society recognizing student achievement in business education. She began the practice—so brilliantly followed by her former student and successor, Guy Wagner, and others—of collaborative publishing of beautiful, artful, and engaging books for children (and teachers) across the grades.
In 1940, she told the College Eye that she enjoyed tennis, golf, swimming, bridge, taking motion pictures, travel by water—as well as entertaining.
Dr. David Eugene Smith’s wife of 41 years died in 1928. For the next twelve years Luse continued as Smith’s math colleague and collaborator. Luse had her own important career to pursue.
But in 1940, Luse was 63. Her professional life at Iowa State Teachers College spanned 36 years. She may have been ready for a change. Her motive is lost in time; we do know that she resigned her many administrative roles at ISTC, married 80-year-old Smith on November 5, 1940, and moved to New York City. Her former student and mentee, Guy Wagner (teaching in 1940 at Cornell University) was recruited to take her place.
The lights dim now as we try to follow Eva May Luse Smith’s final years. We know that David Eugene Smith died in 1944—at age 84. We know that Eva May returned to visit the ISTC campus in 1951, and that she died on September 25, 1969 in California at age 92. Eva’s sister, Clara, was a teacher too: a California high school teacher.
For more than twenty years, Eva May Luse (Smith) set a standard for Laboratory School Directors and Heads of the Department of Teaching: a standard of national and international leadership and service, of collaborative publication, and of service to students. She told the College Eye in 1940 that she considered student teachers “a select group to work with.” She called these aspiring teachers “sincere, eager, and willing to work.”
In 1940, her Lab School students dedicated their yearbook to Luse, with these words:
AT T. C. H. S., there is one person who has placed much confidence in us, the student
body. She has watched us carefully since we were in kindergarten. With interest she
saw us rise through the grades, and concerned herself with our growth and success.
Therefore, with deepest appreciation and the most sincere gratitude for the faith she
has placed in us, and the encouragement she has given us, in the making of this annual
and in other endeavors, on the part of the Student Body, the Annual Staff of 1940 has
the honor of dedicating "The Little Tutor" to Miss Eva May Luse.
Dr. Luse circa 1923