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Francis E. Palmer


FRANCIS E. PALMER, veteran Iowa educator, has since 1918 been superintendent of the Iowa State School for the Blind at Vinton. He comes of a family of educators, both his parents having been school teachers. His son, Eber L. Palmer, by an interesting coincidence, is superintendent of the public schools at Vinton.

Francis E. Palmer has devoted forty-two years of his life to school work. For two years he conducted a small private school near Grinnell. This was a school attended by pupils from the rural neighborhoods and his salary was twenty-six dollars a month. Mr. Palmer was superintendent of schools at Spirit Lake, Guthrie Center, Greenfield, Villisea, Jefferson, LeMars and Mason City, and then was called by the state board of education to the duties and responsibilities of the Iowa State School for the blind.

He is a native of Iowa, born September 24, 1863, on a farm located half way between Cascade and Monticello, in Jones County. His parents, Stephen A. and Angeline (BEnnett) Palmer, were Iowa pioneers. Stephen A. Palmer was born in New York State, thirty miles from Rochester, and his wife, Angeline Bennett, was a native of Ohio. They first met while both were students in Oberlin College of Ohio. Angeline Bennett taught school near Wadsworth in her native state. Before his marriage Mr. Palmer's father moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, and a year later, in 1853, came to Iowa, with his bride, locating in Jones County. At that time there were no railroads west of the Mississippi, and for his first home in Jones County Stephen Palmer hauled lumber thirty miles from Dubuque. That was a tremendous undertaking when the condition of the roads and highways are considered. At the present time over the modern Iowa highway system a truckload of lumber could be run out from Dubuque, thirty miles, in an hour's time, whereas seventy-five years ago a team of horses or oxen in the most favorable season of the year could accomplish such a trip in not less than ten hours. Stephen A. Palmer after coming to Iowa volunteered his service in the Union army, but was rejected, though he satisfied his patriotism by serving as jamor in a regiment of Home Guards.

From Jones County the family subsequently moved to a farm two and a half miles east of Grinnell, this move being made to give the children better school advantages. There were eleven children in the family. Stephen Palmer was an Iowa farmer when corn sold for from fifteen to twenty cents a bushel and hogs were taken to the market and brought only two dollars a hundred. He lived to be eighty years of age, passing away in 1917, and his wife died in 1894. The family were Methodists.

Francis E. Palmer while a boy came under the influence of a noted Iowa pioneer educator, Barrett Whittemore. He attended school in Grinnell and after graduating from Grinnell College received some special training in the Soper School in Chicago. As a young man he majored in the classical languages. Along with his practical work as an educator he has filled various offices in educational organizations, having been president of both the Southwest and the Northwest Iowa Teachers Association, is a former vice president of the Iowa State Teachers Association and for three years was on its executive committee. Mr. Palmer during the World war was a member of the Speakers Bureau, active in the Y. M. C. A., and Red Cross drives. He is a Republican and for many years has been active in the Methodist Church, serving on the board of stewards and as a leader in Sunday School.

Mr. Palmer married, in 1893, Miss May Lenon, daughter of Capt. P. H. and Emma (Baxley) Lenon. She was born at Panora, Guthrie County, was educated at Guthrie Center and taught school there. Her father came from Indiana and her mother from Illinois. Mr. and Mrs. Palmer have had two children, Lorna and Eber L. Both graduated from Grinnell College, and at the time of her death, in October, 1918, Lorna was instructor of piano at the School for the Blind.

~ source: A Narrative History of The People of Iowa, Edgar Rubey Harlan, LL. B., A. M., Chicago and New York, 1931

~ transcribed and contributed by:  Debbie  Clough Gerischer, Iowa History Project