1910, 1930-1993

2 linear feet and audiovisual material




This collection has been transferred to

Iowa State University, Parks Library,

Special Collections Department.





While music has always been a part of life in Iowa, it was not until the work of Charles A. Fullerton that it became an integral part of learning and teaching in Iowa schools. Fullerton believed that Iowa farm children were not getting a proper music education. So he developed the Fullerton plan. By listening to phonograph recordings of popular songs sung and played by professionals, the children were better able to understand musical concepts.


As part of the music extension program of the Iowa State College Cooperative Extension Service, the study of music also worked its way into the 4-H clubs in Iowa, mainly the girls' clubs. The rationale behind the program was to give people access to culture. Each year a different type of music was chosen to be studied. The children learned various songs and at the 4-H convention each year, they sang together as one group. The first such group, in 1930, included one thousand children from sixty-seven countries.


In 1934-1935, the 4-H clubs began a study of opera and the operetta "Bohemian Girl" was examined in length. The year's study ended with the rural production of the "Bohemian Girl." It included 175 singers from forty-seven countries. There were two performances, one at Iowa State College in June of 1935 and the other at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Convention in Des Moines in January of 1936. The story was picked up by dozens of national and local papers. In 1986, a fiftieth anniversary celebration of rural music and the "Bohemian Girl" (Rural Music History Celebration) included a re-creation of the opera.


It was the success of the 1936 performance of the "Bohemian Girl" that helped start the program of the County Women's Choruses. Under the leadership of Fannie Buchanan, music extension director, and with the help of Sarah Porter Ellis, assistant extension director of home economics, and Tolbert Mac Rae, head of the music department of Iowa State, the choruses started in 1937. The program was a joint effort of the Iowa State College Extension Service and the Iowa Farm Bureau. The choruses later came under the direction of Max Exner from 1947 to 1980 and Neil Bjurstrom from 1980 to 1993.


The women gathered in the center of the county, usually at the county seat, and were directed by a volunteer leader, usually a former music teacher or someone interested in music. They practiced regularly, usually two to four times a month, and performed at various functions throughout the year. The highlight of the whole program was the joint appearance of the county choruses together at the state festival, which traditionally opened the first main evening session of the annual Iowa Farm Bureau meeting in Des Moines. The choruses were phased out in 1993.



Scope and Content Note


The Neil Bjurstom Rural Music Collection dates from 1910 and 1930 to 1993 and measure 2 linear feet. The records are arranged in six series: "Bohemian Girl," County Women's Choruses, 4-H Music, and Photographs. This collection gives insight into music teaching in rural schools and the activities of rural women.


The "Bohemian Girl" series (1935 to 1936 and undated) contains photocopies of correspondence and newspaper clippings about the 1935 and 1936 performances of the operetta. Also included are stage movement and costume guides.


The County Women's Choruses series (1937-1993 and undated) consists mainly of newspaper clippings for several county choruses. The sheet music consists of examples of the music commonly used by the choruses. It has been kept in its original order and is grouped by date of use.


The 4-H music series (1936-1985 and undated) has several newspaper clippings and pieces of correspondence in it about group activities.


The Rural Music History Celebration series (1985-1988) consists of committee minutes and correspondence dealing with the celebration. Much of the material can be found in the Beverly Everett papers (see Related Collections).


Included in the Rural School Music series (1910, 1930-1962 and undated) are sheet music and articles showing the growth of music in rural Iowa. The slide show contains biographical information about several of the influential people in rural music.


The Photographs series (1954-1986 and undated) consists primarily of photographs from Rural Music History Celebration, along with a few photographs of county choruses.




Related Collections


Beverly George Everett papers

These papers contain a more in-depth look at the Rural Music History Celebration including the minutes of the Coordinating Committee, correspondence, and newspaper clippings (Box 5, Personal, Rural Music History, Celebration).



Box no. Description


Box 1

"Bohemian Girl"

General, 1935-1936 and undated

Newspaper clippings, 1935 and undated

Sheet music, undated


County Women's Choruses

Annual State Festivals

1977, 1979-1985




Correspondence, 1936-1938, 1984, 1989 and undated

County Choruses

Allamakee, 1960-1981 and undated

Howard, 1986

Jasper, undated

Linn, 1937-1983


General, 1950-1953 and undated

Sheet music, undated (Folder 1)


Box 2

Sheet music, undated (Folder 2)

Muscatine, 1935 and undated

Page, 1956, 1976-1983, 1990

Poweshiek, 1937

Shelby, 1948

Sioux, 1939-1940, 1955-1958, 1983 and undated

Tama, 1979-1984 and undated

Webster, 1972 and undated

Winneshiek, 1976-1985 and undated

Worth, 1937-1980

Mac Rae, Tolbert, 1928 and undated

Newspaper clippings, 1937, 1982-1993

Old chorus names list, undated

Overview, 1981

Reports, 1964, 1993

Sheet Music

Date of use

1930s-1993 (3 folders)



Box 3

1930s-1993 (1 folder)

1980-1993 (3 folders)

1992 (1 folder)

Silver Anniversary Banquet, 1956

Slides, unknown group, 1982


4-H Music, 1936-1937, 1985 and undated


Rural Music History Celebration

General, 1985-1986, 1988

Recollections [shelved in audiocassette collection]

Anderson, Julia Faltinson, 1986 [AC197]

Bell, Eleanor Nissen, undated [AC198]

Everett, Beverly George, 1986 [AC199]

Kriedeman, Joan Nissen, 1986 [AC200]

Poweshiek and Iowa County, 4-H dancers, 1986 [AC201]

Slides, 1986


Rural School Music

Educational Bulletin, 1930

Extension Service, Iowa State College (Iowa State University), handouts, 1959, 1962

Fullerton, Charles A.

General, 1931-1941 and undated

The New Song Book and Music Reader, 1910


Box 4

"Listen and Sing"

Phonograph record (LP 33 1/3), 1959

Programs, 1958-1959

Music, undated (2 folders)

"Personality Development Through Music," Florence George, 1947

Slide show

Slides, undated

Narration, undated [shelved in audiocassette collection: AC202]



"Bohemian Girl," undated

County Women's Choruses

County Choruses (1 folder)

Allamakee, 1954

Marshall, 1949

Page, 1954, 1956

Winneshiek, 1983?

Iowa Rural Chorus, Washington, D.C., 1950 [shelved in map case: drawer 2]

Exner, Max, undated

Rural Music History Celebration, 1986