A lost chapter in college rivalry emerges

In the late 1950s, the presidents of Iowa State and the University of Iowa began a several-year feud which shaped both institutions’ future.

Amid years when the schools played no athletic contests, U of I president Virgil Hancher and Iowa State’s James Hilton fought about on-campus curriculum and off-campus extension programs. They fought over money, inevitably. Above all, they fought over large questions about what form college education in Iowa ought to have, and whether Iowa State College should expand into a full competing university.

Hilton’s Iowa State won that particular campaign, decisively, but the story of how it and other arguments played out is rich with detail. Hancher and Hilton clashed publicly more than once, but much of their conflict took place behind the scenes, in remarkably pointed memos and meetings. The product of more than two years’ archival research, Hancher vs. Hilton reintroduces the largely forgotten individuals behind two iconic names, whose full stories have gone untold for more than 50 years.


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