Obermann Center at 111 Church St.

Obermann Center logo

 

A brief history

The Obermann Center is named in honor of University of Iowa Professor Emeritus C. Esco Obermann and his wife Avalon L. Obermann for their generous financial commitments, their tremendous enthusiasm for interdisciplinary endeavors, and their many years of loyalty and devotion to the University of Iowa. In the mid-seventies, the Obermanns, President Sandy Boyd, and Vice President D. C. Spriestersbach discussed the idea of an institute that would encourage the exchange of ideas among researchers from many disciplines and institutions. That idea was formalized as University House in 1978 and then, nurtured by generous funding from Esco and Avalon and from the Vice President for Research, grew into the University of Iowa Center for Advanced Studies in 1990. In 1993, with great ceremony and celebration, it was renamed the C. Esco and Avalon L. Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.

Our Mission

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies (OCAS) serves the research mission of the University of Iowa. The Center is a convening space dedicated to debate and discovery. Our grants for University of Iowa artists and researchers support imaginative collaborations and multi-disciplinary exploration. Our programming connects scholars across campus and engages the larger public in the ambitious, illuminating, and transformative work of the artists and scholars we serve.

Serving a unique role at the University of Iowa

Situated in an old house on the north end of campus, we provide offices for six Fellows-in-Residence each semester, scholars who have supported leave. Other Obermann programs provide funding and staffing for a major annual humanities conference, small group collaborations, and faculty book completion workshops to name a few. In addition, the Center is a nexus for University-community activities, including lectures, workshops, and performances.

The Obermann Center falls under the auspices of the Office of the Vice President for Research. The Obermann Center Director reports to the Vice President for Research and is advised by a faculty-based Advisory Board.

Obermann Center programs are​ designed to:

—Create an intellectual community that values interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches and the rigorous thought, long hours, and great passion at the heart of artistic and scholarly excellence.

—Support the work of University of Iowa artists, researchers, and scholars when creative and research projects demand concentrated effort.

—Foster imaginative interdisciplinary collaborations across disciplines, institutions, and world locations.

—Inspire faculty and graduate students to experiment with new ideas, approaches, methods, partnerships, and forms for sharing knowledge and resources.

—Broaden and deepen the impact of the Obermann Center’s support by encouraging faculty members and graduate students to share discoveries through new and re-imagined courses and curricula.

—Connect the campus with city, state, and global communities through public programming and support for networks of artists, scholars, researchers, local citizens, and international colleagues.

On Campus

Teresa Mangum, Professor in the Departments of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies and English and Affiliate Faculty with the Public Policy Center, was appointed Director of the Obermann Center in 2010. She has served in a number of administrative roles, both on campus and nationally.

black and white photo of Esco in his 50s giving a speech at a lectern

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies is named in honor of University of Iowa Professor Emeritus C. Esco Obermann and his wife Avalon L. Obermann for their generous financial commitments, their tremendous enthusiasm for interdisciplinary endeavors, and their many years of loyalty and devotion to The University of Iowa.

Esco Obermann was born July 31, 1904, in Yarmouth, Iowa. Avalon Florence Law was born June 24, 1904, in Texas but grew up in Washington, Iowa. The couple met in the fall of 1922 after each of them had begun classes at The University of Iowa. Years later, Esco described their meeting: “On the day that [I] met her, [I] saw so much beauty and warmth and intelligence and character in her, it is reported that [I] confided to [my] college roommate, ‘I am going to marry that girl.’”

The two were soon engaged, but due to the Depression they weren’t able to marry until 1929. Avalon had graduated from The University of Iowa in 1925 and taught high school music for several years. Esco received three degrees from The University of Iowa: a B.A. in political science in 1926, an M.Ed. in 1931, and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and speech pathology in 1938. While a student at Iowa, Dr. Obermann was an outstanding gymnast (pictured below, fourth from right, with the UI gymnastics team) and a member of the Hawkeye yearbook staff. 

Dr. Obermann’s career as a psychologist and rehabilitation counselor began in 1928, when he was named chief of vocational education for the Rochester, Minnesota, schools. After earning his doctoral degree and holding a research fellowship at The University of Iowa from 1938 to 1940, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1940 to 1946. He then joined the U.S. Veterans Administration in Minneapolis and served as director of rehabilitation from 1946 to 1960. He directed the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center from 1960 to 1963; worked for two years as an associate professor of Psychology at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant; and was named associate professor in Counselor Education at The University of Iowa in 1968. He left the UI in 1970 to become a rehabilitation consultant in Wisconsin, and in 1977 became an adjunct professor for Mankato State University. The couple had a country home in Afton, Minnesota in their latter years. Avalon passed away in 1992, and Dr. Obermann remained active in consulting until his death in 1999.

An active alumnus, Obermann chaired his Class Gift committee and became a Presidents Club member in 1975. In the mid-seventies, he and President Sandy Boyd and Vice President D. C. Spriestersbach discussed the idea of an institute that would encourage the exchange of ideas among researchers from many disciplines and institutions. That idea was formalized as University House in 1978 and then, nurtured by generous funding from Esco and Avalon Obermann (who donated part of the sale of their estate) and from the Vice President for Research, grew into The University of Iowa Center for Advanced Studies in 1990. In 1993, with great ceremony and celebration, it was renamed the C. Esco and Avalon L. Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. 

Esco’s financial commitment to the Obermann Center was extraordinary but no more so than his intellectual commitment to interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship. Esco was able to see his dream realized in the creation of the Obermann Center and then, just recently, in the Provost’s identifying interdisciplinary research as a major UI strategic goal.

Read more:

1856

Craft Coast (1816–1864) and his wife Nancy Regan purchase the plot of land after arriving from Ohio in 1854. They build a house at 530 N. Clinton (corner of Clinton and Church Streets) and a carriage house at what later becomes 111 Church St. Their daughter, Mary Elizabeth, would go on to marry the famous portraitist George Henry Yewell, whose papers are held by the UI Libraries.

1926

Bird Baldwin

Bird Thomas Baldwin (left) commissions Cedar Rapids architect Mark Anthony to build a home for himself, his children, and his then-fiancée on the site of the Coasts’ carriage house. Baldwin (1875–1928) was Research Professor of Educational Psychology at the UI from 1917 to 1928 and Founding Director of the University of Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, the first research institute in its field in the world. As an occupational therapist, he was devoted to holistic patient care. He was a major in the sanitary corps of the army in 1918–19 and was director of the rehabilitation of disabled soldiers in the Walter Reed General Hospital. As director of the ICWRS, Baldwin won a series a of grants, including from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, with which he led the Station to national eminence, integrating the science of child study and the applied social technology of parent education. His wife Claudia died of illness in 1925, leaving their three children in his care.

Baldwin himself died on May 12, 1928 at age 53—a few days before he was to be remarried. (He’d cut himself while shaving on a train and died of a bacterial infection.) The house was still under construction. Bird and his children had been living at 124 E. Church St. Beth Wellman (1895–1952), Baldwin’s fiancée and an ICWRS researcher, author, and UI professor, settled Baldwin’s estate, foreclosed on the property, and raised his three children as her own.

Mark Anthony (the architect) was a strong proponent of period revival-style architecture, hence the half-timbered, half-stone exterior and steeply pitched gable roof of the house at 111 Church St. Originally from Chicago, Anthony was sent to Cedar Rapids in 1918 to work on engineering projects for Douglas Starch Works and Quaker Oats and went on to become a prominent church and home architect. According to the Iowa State Historical Department’s Iowa Site Inventory, the house at 111 Church St. is one of only a few homes in the district with an identified architect.

1928

Pi Mu purchases and completes the house. We are unsure if this reference is to Pi Mu Epsilon, Alpha Pi Mu, or a different organization.

1941

Baldwin and Georgia Maxwell purchase the house and convert it to a private residence. Baldwin Maxwell (1893–1988) was the chair of the UI English Department from 1926 to 1961—a remarkable 35 years. He was a scholar of Renaissance drama and oversaw the English department through a period of major growth that included the founding of the Writers’ Workshop. He was also a longtime editor of Philological Quarterly and a WWI veteran.

Georgiana ("Georgia") Smith Maxwell (1896–2000), a native of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, was considered one of the most influential hostesses in Iowa City. She was a founding member of the Pan-American League of Iowa City, whose mission was "to broaden the mutual appreciation of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere," and was a longtime member of Iowa City’s Raphael Club, serving as both vice president and historian. The Raphael Club was founded in 1884 as an all-female social/literary/artistic club that studied copies of Raphael's drawings and other works of art owned by founder Mrs. Mark Ranney. The members would each research and prepare papers on the different subjects, then present them to each other. 

The Maxwells were also active in a number of social organizations, including Hiking Club and Dancing Club, and threw numerous memorable parties in their home, propitiously situated across the street from the University President’s house. 

2002

The Maxwells’ heirs sell the property to the University of Iowa. Renovations begin.

2004

The house serves as the home of former UI Provost and historian Michael J. Hogan and his wife. In 2005, the Hogans move to a new home north of Iowa City, and the house at 111 Church St. is unoccupied until 2006.

2006

The Office of the Provost makes house available to visiting writers, graduate students across all writing disciplines, and creative writing undergraduates as a mixed-use living, working, socializing, and learning space called “The Writers’ House.” Four postgraduate writing fellows move in.

2010

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies moves from its longtime home on the Oakdale Campus north of Iowa City to 111 Church St. 

Today

Today, the building includes many of the charms that the Maxwells surely enjoyed, including two fireplaces, sloped ceilings, a screened porch, and a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. More recent amenities include a full kitchen, complete with dishwasher and microwave, rain garden, a backyard patio, and house-wide wi-fi. There is a wheelchair accessible entrance on the west side of the building and three single-user, gender-inclusive restrooms in the house—one on the first floor and two on the second. 

In addition to the offices available each semester to seven Fellows-in-Residence, the Center has a library and conference room where other Obermann Scholars, including members of our Working Groups and Interdisciplinary Research Grant groups, meet. These rooms can be reserved by Obermann-related groups and friends of the Center. To reserve these rooms, please contact Erin Hackathorn.

There is a wheelchair accessible entrance on the west side of the building. 

There are also three single-user, gender-inclusive restrooms in the house—one on the first floor and two on the second floor. View a map of all gender-inclusive restrooms on campus.

Ours is an older house, but we will work with you to address your accessibility needs and concerns; please e-mail us with any questions.

In case of medical emergency:
There is an automated external defibrillator (AED) mounted on the wall in the first-floor restroom anyone may use to help those experiencing cardiac arrest. Learn more about AEDs. There is also a first-aid kit in the kitchen cabinet above the electric hot water kettle.

The University of Iowa has adopted the following acknowledgement:

The University of Iowa is located on the homelands of the Ojibwe/Anishinaabe (Chippewa), Báxoǰe (Iowa), Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Omāēqnomenēwak (Menominee), Myaamiaki (Miami), Nutachi (Missouri), Umoⁿhoⁿ (Omaha), Wahzhazhe (Osage), Jiwere (Otoe), Odawaa (Ottawa), Póⁿka (Ponca), Bodéwadmi/Neshnabé (Potawatomi), Meskwaki/Nemahahaki/Sakiwaki (Sac and Fox), Dakota/Lakota/Nakoda, Sahnish/Nuxbaaga/Nuweta (Three Affiliated Tribes) and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Nations. The following tribal nations, Umoⁿhoⁿ (Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa), Póⁿka (Ponca Tribe of Nebraska), Meskwaki (Sac and Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa), and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska) Nations continue to thrive in the State of Iowa and we continue to acknowledge them. As an academic institution, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the sovereignty and the traditional territories of these tribal nations, and the treaties that were used to remove these tribal nations, and the histories of dispossession that have allowed for the growth of this institution since 1847. Consistent with the University's commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, understanding the historical and current experiences of Native peoples will help inform the work we do; collectively as a university to engage in building relationships through academic scholarship, collaborative partnerships, community service, enrollment and retention efforts acknowledging our past, our present and future Native Nations.

Please visit the UI Native American Council website for additional information.

Resources & Guides

These reports document years of arts, engagement, scholarship, and intellectual community. 

Obermann Center logos

Teresa Mangum (Director) photos and CV

Sample event press release for area newspapers

Sample op-eds for area newspapers

We've put together a guide to hotels, transportation, restaurants, shopping, arts, and entertainment in the Iowa City area.

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