The exemplary lives of Candace Downs Merchant and her children, Frank Ivan Merchant and Kate Matilda Merchant, have enriched the University of Northern Iowa for over one hundred years. Through academic achievement, determination, and perseverance, the Merchant family made it possible for generations of UNI alumni to pursue graduate study. Candace Downs Merchant instilled in her children the idea that education was a necessity, but that sheer hard work was a part of gaining that education. She taught her children that families, working together, could rise above humble circumstances to become productive, even philanthropic members of their communities.
The last of the Merchant family died sixty years ago. However, the family's legacy to the University of Northern Iowa endures to this day.
Early years of the Merchant Family
The Merchant family, possibly of French Huguenot descent, was in America by the early eighteenth century. The name was likely Marchant or Marchand at the time of the family's arrival. But by 1730, when John Merchant, a great-grandfather of Frank and Kate Merchant, was born, the spelling of the name had stabilized to Merchant. Several members of the Merchant family fought in the American Revolutionary War: John Merchant, mentioned above, and Obadiah Dunham, who was a member of the Vermont Militia. Both of these men were great-grandfathers of Frank and Kate Merchant. Kate Merchant drew upon this distinguished ancestry to become an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Merchant family settled in Bennington, Vermont. Stoddard Merchant, a son of John Merchant and a grandfather of Frank and Kate Merchant, was born in Bennington on February 23, 1782. He married Matilda Orton, born March 30, 1783, on October 16, 1804. They had five children:
- Marcus Aurelius.
Stoddard Merchant died on September 28, 1828.
Albert Merchant, who would become the father of Frank and Kate Merchant, was born on August 10, 1818. He married Abigail Downs, born June 5, 1821, on August 20, 1843. Albert and Abigail Downs Merchant had three children:
- Albert Lavergne, born March 12, 1845;
- Ada Louisa, born October 20, 1846;
- Lorenzo Stoddard, born August 29, 1849.
Abigail Downs Merchant died on October 11, 1851, leaving her husband and three small children. The little girl, Ada Louisa, died on April 13, 1853. A few months later, on August 1, 1853, Albert Merchant remarried. His second wife was Candace Downs, born on January 13, 1826.
Candace Downs was a younger sister of Albert Merchant's first wife. Candace Downs was the fourth of six children of a Baptist deacon in Bennington, Vermont. The Downs family lived on a farm, where Candace assisted her parents particularly with the care of an invalid brother. In addition to her family duties, she attended the Bennington Academy. She was lively, energetic, and enjoyed music. She had a fine contralto voice and sang in the Baptist church choir.
After their marriage, Albert and Candace Merchant initially lived in New York City, where Albert Merchant was a teller in the Merchants' Exchange National Bank. Their first child, Frank Ivan Merchant, was born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, in a house at the corner of 1st Avenue and 120th Street, on December 23, 1855. In about 1859 the family moved back to Bennington, Vermont, where their second child, Kate Matilda Merchant, was born on January 18, 1862. At that point there were four children in the family: the two surviving children from Albert Merchant's marriage with Abigail Downs--Albert Lavergne and Lorenzo Stoddard--and the two children from his marriage with Candace Downs--Frank Ivan and Kate Matilda.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, the oldest child, Albert Lavergne Merchant, enlisted in the Union Army. He was wounded during fighting around Petersburg, Virginia, on June 17, 1864. He died in Armory Square Hospital, Washington, D. C., shortly afterward. Just two years later, in 1866, the senior Albert Merchant died. That left Candace Merchant a widow with a stepson aged seventeen, a son aged eleven, and a daughter aged four. Frank Merchant later told a friend that his life in Bennington after the death of his father was very difficult. Even though he was still a young boy, he had to work hard every day for his uncle. He would finish his day's work half-frozen and then attempt to find something--anything--to read by firelight. His access to formal education in Bennington was limited.
Within a year of two following her husband's death, probably in 1868, Candace Merchant moved her family to Cedar Falls, Iowa. Her children, Frank and Kate, and probably her stepson, Lorenzo, accompanied her. It is unclear why Candace Merchant moved her family to Iowa. It is possible that her stepson actually preceded his stepmother and half-siblings to Iowa by a few months. Perhaps he went west, found work, and paved the way for the family. But this is speculation. Both the Downs family and the Merchant family had deep roots in Vermont. And there is no evidence that Candace Merchant had family or friends in Iowa. There is also no evidence that she had job skills with which to provide for her family. Candace Merchant did, however, love music, so it is possible that she could have given private music lessons. Her journals also show that she was an incredibly hard worker, so perhaps she found housekeeping or other domestic work. But, again, there is no documentation for this possibility. Whatever the economic necessities, Candace Merchant's ultimate motivation was probably the simple and noble desire to provide her family with greater opportunities. As her eulogist, William Wesley Gist, said in 1916, "It was her energy and industry that made possible the education of her children."
Lorenzo Stoddard Merchant
Candace Merchant's stepson, Lorenzo Stoddard Merchant, was usually known as Stoddard or L. S. Merchant. Before moving to Iowa, he attended the Mt. Auburn Seminary, a Baptist school in Massachusetts. He had likely completed his formal education before he came to Iowa. Once in Cedar Falls, Stoddard Merchant became involved in the printing business. His pay from that work likely helped to support his stepmother and half-siblings. Within a few years, Stoddard Merchant became part owner of the Cedar Falls Gazette. In November 1877, he married Ella Robinson, daughter of Dr. William Robinson of Cedar Falls. Ella Robinson Merchant must have been an impressive character. A writer, possibly Frank Merchant, remembered her many years later:
No one who ever witnessed it can forget the pleasing sight of the fearless young high school girl with her striking beauty driving through the streets of the city the fiery black horse of her father, Dr. William Robinson.
In 1880 Stoddard and Ella Robinson Merchant moved to Butte, Montana, where they started a newspaper, the Daily Inter-Mountain. They then moved back to Iowa to work with a newspaper in Manchester. Finally, In 1883, they moved to Cedar Rapids, where they purchased a partial interest in the Daily Republican. Stoddard Merchant eventually became the principal owner and managing editor of that newspaper. As the name of the newspaper implies, Stoddard Merchant was a strong proponent of the Republican party. It is possible that his political affiliation helped him to secure several state appointments. From 1884 through 1888, he was the State Binder for Iowa. In 1894 he was appointed Inspector of Oils for the state. He died on October 18, 1894. A Sons of the American Revolution tribute called Stoddard Merchant a "far-seeing, energetic businessman . . . Mr. Merchant was a true man in every relation of life--true to his fellows, his family, and his country."
Stoddard and Ella Merchant apparently had no children, or at least none who survived. Ella Merchant had taken an active part in the newspaper business throughout their marriage. When Stoddard Merchant died, Ella Merchant inherited controlling interest in the ownership of the Cedar Rapids Daily Republican and apparently played some role in its operation for a number of years thereafter. She eventually retired from the business and spent the remainder of her life managing her property and traveling. She and her husband's family, Candace, Frank, and Kate Merchant, remained on cordial terms: they visited each other regularly and always remembered each other with Christmas gifts. Ella Robinson Merchant lived at least some of her retirement years in New York City. She died on June 22, 1916.
Frank and Kate Merchant's Early Years
After they arrived in Iowa with their mother, Frank and Kate Merchant attended the Cedar Falls public schools. The fragments of information that survive relating to their schoolwork show them to have been model students. Brief local newspaper accounts from April and July of 1870 report that Frank Merchant was a high school student and had a perfect attendance record for at least two terms during that school year. A Cedar Falls Gazette newspaper report from June 23, 1871, shows Frank Merchant in Class A, presumably the senior class, of the Cedar Falls High School, where he achieved scores of 100% in Scholarship, Deportment, and the Written Examination. At the age of fifteen-and-a-half, Frank Merchant graduated from high school with an outstanding record.
Frank Ivan Merchant and Kate Matilda Merchant in about 1870.
Kate Merchant also distinguished herself in the Cedar Falls schools. A newspaper report from November 1873 shows that she received the highest grades in penmanship for her grade. She inherited both an interest and a talent for music from her mother, Candace Downs Merchant. Kate Merchant's special musical talents allowed her to contribute to the family economy by giving private piano lessons for many years.
Frank Merchant did not go on to college immediately after high school. In 1871, college was not the obvious next step for high school graduates. Indeed, comparatively few young men and women graduated from high school in those days. A high school diploma was an achievement and a strong academic credential in itself. And, second, the Merchant family likely did not have the financial resources to support a son in college. Finding some sort of work, or learning a trade, probably was more important for Frank Merchant and his family at that point. So, after high school, Frank Merchant was apprenticed to a tinner. The exact nature of the work performed in the particular tinner's shop in which he was apprenticed is unclear. But, typically, tinners made and repaired metal articles such as tools, pails, milk cans, and kitchen implements. In the days when tools and utensils were not readily or affordably replaced, a tinner was an important member of the local economy.
The apprenticeship lasted three years. During the latter part of the apprenticeship, Frank Merchant decided that he wanted to continue his academic education. Consequently, in the mornings and evenings, he began to study Latin and Greek with Dr. and Mrs. William H. Stifler. Dr. Stifler was Frank Merchant's pastor at the Baptist Church in Cedar Falls. He took a deep interest in his pupil's education. He saw Frank Merchant as a young man of great promise. By January 1876, Dr. Stifler had assisted Frank Merchant as far as he could go with his studies. He likely arranged for him to study with Professor George B. Dodge, who was associated with Shurtleff College, a Baptist school in Upper Alton, Illinois, about twenty-five miles from St. Louis.
After six months of study with Professor Dodge in the Preparatory Department of Shurtleff College, Frank Merchant enrolled in the collegiate department of that school in September 1876. There he took courses in Latin, Greek, German, French, mathematics, logic, and rhetoric. In the first term of his first year, he received a grade of 98 in Latin. In every other course over the next four years, Frank Merchant received a score of 100, a near perfect collegiate record. In June 1880, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Shurtleff College. He was valedictorian of his class. He received the school's Osborn medal for high scholarship as well as the Milles Medal for oratory.
A Shurtleff College publication later stated:
During his entire college course it is believed he never would permit anything to come between him and the most complete preparations possible for the completion of every task assigned him.
While in college, Frank Merchant returned regularly to Cedar Falls during school vacations. It is unclear exactly what he did while at home, but on at least one occasion, in July 1879, the Cedar Falls Gazette reports that he substituted in the pulpit for his Baptist pastor, who was on vacation.
Following graduation in 1880, Frank Merchant returned to Shurtleff College, where he taught Latin, Greek, and German in the college Preparatory Department through 1885. His mother and sister moved from Cedar Falls and made their home with him during his time of service as an instructor at the college. In the summers of 1884 and 1885, he also taught Latin at the Saveur Summer School of Languages. In 1885 Frank Merchant resigned his position at Shurtleff College and undertook a long course of study in Europe. The governing board of Shurtleff College was sorry to see him leave:
Resolved, that we highly appreciate the scholarship, teaching ability, and devotion to the
service of the College of Prof. F. I. Merchant, and deeply deplore the fact, that, the carrying
out of his cherished purpose to take a further course of study, prevents a longer continuance
of his pleasant relations with us.
Frank Merchant left Upper Alton for Germany probably in the summer or fall of 1885. He spent most of his time in Europe at the University of Berlin, but he also traveled and studied in other parts of the Continent. The focus of his work at the University of Berlin was classical philology (Latin and Greek) as well as Sanskrit and philosophy. By 1890 he had earned both a Master of Arts degree and a Ph. D. The title of his Ph. D. dissertation, which he defended on July 5, 1890, was De Ciceronis partitionibus oratoriis commentatio. Professor Merchant later recalled a special circumstance of his dissertation defense. The Berlin faculty gave him the option of defending his dissertation in German. They assumed that an American would not have the ability to defend it in the customary Latin. However, Professor Merchant declined the kind, but probably patronizing offer. He defended his dissertation successfully in Latin.
Frank Merchant spent about five years in Europe. His mother and sister stayed in Upper Alton for the first two years of his absence. Kate probably gave piano lessons to local students. Mrs. Merchant and her daughter probably also planted and tended large gardens from which they sold produce. There is little doubt that all of the Merchants were busily occupied during Frank's first two years in Europe. They likely corresponded regularly, but it must have been a lonely time for such a close knit family.
The Year of Three Kaisers; a Memorable Trip
In 1887, Candace and Kate Merchant joined Frank in Europe. Thanks to the journals that Candace Merchant kept, we have a wonderful account of their stay there. On July 2, 1887, Candace and Kate Merchant left Upper Alton and traveled by train to Chicago, where they were met by Stoddard and Ella Merchant. Candace and Kate Merchant then traveled on to Bennington, Vermont, the original home of the Merchant family. After visiting with family and friends, they went to New York City. On August 18, 1887, they embarked on the Hammonia and landed in Hamburg on August 29. Candace Merchant described their arrival:
We were soon on the Wharf but could not see Frank. People were coming to meet their
friends, and we began to feel quite sober, but all at once I saw Kate run and embrace him.
I cannot express my gratitude to the Dear Father for bringing us safely together once more.
They arrived in Berlin on September 1, 1887, and found suitable rooms for a long stay. The location of their rooms, near Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate, made it easy for them to see all of the important sites in Berlin. Within days of their arrival they had seen Kaiser Wilhelm I, the Kaiserin, and many members of the German imperial family riding past them in the street. They also visited museums, galleries, palaces, and historical sites. Indeed, their entire stay was an interesting and ingenuous mixture of appreciation for high art and just plain royalty-gawking. Kate and Frank pursued this mix of activities almost daily. Their mother accompanied them on many occasions. During their stay, the Merchants saw the finest concert and operatic performers in Europe. They saw most of Wagner's operas performed. They enjoyed numerous concerts conducted by the legendary Hans von Bülow. They even witnessed Johannes Brahms performing and conducting his own work. Yet, in the same journal entry in which Mrs. Merchant would describe a stunning operatic performance, she would also state that she and Kate had waited outdoors for three hours in hopes of seeing important people pass through the Tiergarten.
Given their serious approach to life, the Merchants did not spend all of their time seeking entertainment. Frank Merchant, of course, was engaged in rigorous academic work at the University of Berlin. The conscientious approach that he had taken to all of his previous study persisted at the university. Mrs. Merchant notes that Frank once arrived at a Sanskrit lecture and found that he was the only student present. His professor took the matter in stride and gave his lecture as if a room full of students were present. Later, Frank and the professor had a pleasant conversation. Kate Merchant studied the German language and learned enough to be able to function well on her own in Berlin. Kate also took piano lessons with excellent teachers at Berlin conservatories. When she was not out on her frequent jaunts around Berlin with her children, Mrs. Merchant kept their rooms in good order and received callers. And, most Sundays and religious holidays, the family went to church. They varied their attendance from one historical church to another, but they often ended up at an English-speaking church so that Mrs. Merchant could understand the service better.
Streetcar ticket used by the Merchants while in Vienna.
The Merchants had unwittingly chosen a watershed year to be in Berlin. Visiting the imperial capital at the height of its splendor would have been enough in itself. However, the year 1888 later became known as the Year of Three Kaisers (Dreikaiserjahr). When Mrs. Merchant and Kate arrived in Berlin, the aged Kaiser Wilhelm I was ninety-one years old and nearing the end of his reign. He died on March 9, 1888, and was succeeded by his son, Friedrich III. The new Kaiser had cancer and reigned only ninety-nine days until his death on June 15, 1888. He was succeeded by Wilhelm II. So, within a very short period of time, the Merchants were able to witness the trappings of a succession of imperial funerals and accession celebrations. For one or another of these occasions, most of the crowned heads of Europe as well as important diplomats were in the capital. The Merchants saw Otto von Bismarck and Helmuth von Moltke several times. And, on April 25, 1888, Mrs. Merchant and Kate even saw Queen Victoria of England, who was visiting Berlin. Mrs. Merchant notes in her journal:
We had a good sight of the Queen three times, and we should not have known by her looks
that she was more than any other woman.
Mrs. Merchant and Kate continued to enjoy both the arts and the sights in Berlin in the winter and spring of 1889. By late June, Frank was arranging for their return to the United States. He would remain in Germany to complete his studies. Mrs. Merchant notes in her journal:
Frank has done everything to make it nice for us, I can't bear to leave him alone, but he
says he can get along nicely.
Before their departure, Mrs. Merchant and Kate made a tour beyond Berlin. In a three week excursion, they visited Dresden, Vienna, Linz, Salzburg, Munich, and several Swiss cities before concluding their trip with stops in Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Worms, Mainz, Cologne, and Nürnberg. After their return to Berlin to prepare for their trip home, they took advantage of a good royalty-spotting opportunity and managed to see Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.
Mrs. Merchant and Kate left Berlin on August 20, 1889. After a stop in Hamburg, they boarded a steamer and arrived in London on August 27 They visited historical sites in London for a week until Mrs. Merchant became very ill. Doctors advised her not to leave on their voyage home, which was scheduled for September 6. Mrs. Merchant and Kate, however, insisted that they simply had to leave on time. They did manage to get down to Southampton and board their ship, the Augusta Victoria. After boarding, Mrs. Merchant began to feel much better, and, aside from seasickness for Kate, the trip home was uneventful.
They arrived in the United States on September 13, 1889, having been gone for over two years. They took a train to Chicago where friends and Stoddard Merchant met them. After a short stay, Mrs. Merchant and Kate returned to their home in Upper Alton, Illinois, where they had arranged for a small cottage to be built for them. Mrs. Merchant was concerned for their immediate future. On October 20, 1889, she wrote in her journal: "I do not know whether we can get work to do. We can only trust and do all we can."
Things did not go as they might have hoped. Mrs. Merchant's journal account of this time is fragmentary and shows unusual anxiety. Kate Merchant did not get as many piano students as she anticipated, and apparently the family had counted on some income from those lessons. In December 1889, a family asked Mrs. Merchant and Kate to accompany them to Austin, Texas, for a few months. Kate would teach the children of the family and Mrs. Merchant would cook. The Merchants stayed with the family through May and then returned to Upper Alton. There they would await the arrival of Frank Merchant, who was to return to the United States in August 1890.
The Merchants in South Dakota
As noted above, Frank Merchant completed both a master's degree and a doctorate at the University of Berlin. With those impressive credentials, he applied for and accepted a professorship in Latin at the University of South Dakota. He took up his duties there in the fall term of 1890. And, once again, his mother and sister made their home with him. They quickly made themselves valued members of the collegiate and civic community in Vermillion. Frank Merchant continued his fine work as a teacher. The family regularly entertained the university faculty as well as new friends. They took part in fund-raising efforts for the local library and cemetery. They took occasional short trips to places such as Chicago for the World's Fair in 1893.
They exchanged visits with Stoddard Merchant until his death in 1894 and they continued to keep up acquaintance with his widow Ella afterward. They likely continued to grow most of their own fruits and vegetables. In 1897, Kate Merchant won a $10 first prize from the Burpee Seed Company for the best photograph of a cauliflower. This merging of gardening and photography brings up an interesting consideration. Mrs. Merchant's journals frequently refer to Frank and Kate taking pictures both at home and on their travels. However, none of those photos seems to have survived.
Frank Merchant taught at the University of South Dakota from 1890 through 1903. At that point he resigned in order to travel and study in Europe once again. The Dakota Republican, September 17, 1903, reflected the Vermillion community's regret at his resignation:
His retirement means a great loss to the University and State. Our city residents, especially,
are not relishing the idea of permanently parting with Dr. Merchant and the estimable members of his family, for each of whom feelings of warmest friendship and utmost respect are now and long have been entertained. Accompanied by his mother and sister, he will go abroad for a
year to prosecute certain work which he has in hand and will spend a large part of the time in Rome.
A Second Trip to the Continent
Candace Merchant, Frank Merchant, and Kate Merchant left Vermillion, South Dakota, on September 23, 1903. They spent several days in New York City, where they toured the neighborhood in which they had lived back in the 1850s. They saw great changes in the city. Where individual wooden houses once stood, there were now entire blocks of brick buildings. On an automobile trip around the city, they even happened to pass the house where Albert Lavergne Merchant was born. He was Mrs. Merchant's nephew and step-son, who had been killed in the Civil War. They also visited the historic sites in Philadelphia before boarding the Friesland on October 3, 1903, for the voyage to Europe.
The Merchants arrived in London on October 14, 1903. They found rooms for themselves and set up their daily routine. Frank Merchant studied at the British Museum and took French lessons in the mornings, and then he and Kate went sight-seeing in the afternoons.
On one of their expeditions, they did manage to see King Edward VII. Mrs. Merchant, almost seventy-eight years old, joined them for some of their visits around London but found herself getting tired easily. On November 14, 1903, they took a steamer and then a train for Paris, where they found pleasant rooms for themselves. Frank Merchant continued his French lessons and began Italian lessons. They all did some sight-seeing.
On December 23, 1903, the Merchants arrived in Rome, where they would spend most of the rest of their time in Europe. Once again, they found a comfortable apartment in which to live. They were all astounded by what they saw, especially the spectacular architecture of Vatican City and also by the Italian Roman Catholic culture in general. Frank Merchant arranged to attend a series of lectures at the University of Rome and continued his study of Italian. Kate began Italian lessons, attended concerts, and arranged for piano lessons. On January 13, 1904, Mrs. Merchant had a moment of reflection in her journal:
This is my 78th birthday and I cannot realize that I [am] so old. How much I have to be
thankful for. The dear Father who has cared for me all these years and for my two dear
children. No Mother ever had better.
On March 29, 1904, Mrs. Merchant and Kate attended an audience with Pope Pius X. Before the audience, Mrs. Merchant betrayed misgivings about the event. The Merchant family, after all, was Baptist. Mrs. Merchant was the daughter of a Baptist clergyman. And they were patriotic Americans. Despite their endless interest in royalty, they might have had serious doubts about kneeling before a Roman pontiff. But they did attend the audience, and Mrs. Merchant enjoyed it. She and Kate dressed in black, with black veils. They and the others who were present for the audience knelt. The Pope:
went to everyone and held out his hand, and no one minded kissing it. It was so much nicer
than we expected . . . It was a Red letter day to us.
Frank Merchant continued attending his lectures. He and Kate continued their frantic sight-seeing. A typical entry in Mrs. Merchant's journal states: "After supper Frank & Kate went to eight more churches". On June 24, 1904, they left Rome for Perugia, and then went on to Florence, Pisa, Milan, Bologna, Lugano, Venice, Ravenna, and, by late July, Naples. While in Naples, Frank and Kate Merchant visited Pompeii and Herculaneum. In early August, the family secured passage on a ship returning to America.
The Merchants Return to Cedar Falls
The activities of the Merchant family between August 1904 and April 1907 are something of a mystery. Almost certainly the family remained together. And they spent at least of some of that time in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, a Boston neighborhood. There is a hint about what they did from a 1907 letter in which Frank Merchant says simply that "The last four years have been devoted to philological and library work." Certainly, living in or around Boston, with its excellent libraries and universities, would have been a good place to conduct such work. But Mrs. Merchant did not keep a journal during this period, so exactly where they were or what they did after returning from Europe is now unclear.
In May 1907, Frank Merchant applied for an upcoming vacancy in Latin on the faculty of the Iowa State Normal School, now the University of Northern Iowa. Fred Carlos Eastman, who had been on the Normal School faculty for nine years, had resigned to become head of the Department of Latin at the University of Iowa. Professor Eastman had been an able and well-respected member of the faculty whose academic preparation allowed him to teach both Latin and Greek. Homer Seerley, President of the Normal School, was impressed by Professor Merchant's qualifications and experience.
President Seerley quickly responded to Professor Merchant's letter of inquiry, but asked about matters of character: what were Professor Merchant's attitudes and practices toward stimulants, narcotics, and religion, and what was his marital status? Professor Merchant replied with these assurances:
I think, to confine my statement to matters of education, that, when a man is an instructor
in an institution of learning and is engaged in educational work, he should abstain from the
use of intoxicating liquors and from the use of tobacco and other narcotics, and this had
been my own practice.
He went on to state that he was a Baptist and that "My Mother and Sister have always presided over my household and still do so."
President Seerley proposed a total salary of $1900 for the three regular terms plus the summer term. He said that the maximum salary at that time was $2150 and that he could possibly persuade his board to give Professor Merchant the maximum level in his second year. Professor Merchant replied that the $1900 offer was simply not enough for a man of his experience and academic preparation. President Seerley must have had a strong desire for Professor Merchant to join the faculty. He made his case for the maximum salary to the Board of Trustees, and the Board responded favorably. Professor Merchant accepted the offer. He would become a Professor of Latin at the Iowa State Normal School beginning with the 1907 fall term. And, of course, his mother and sister accompanied him back to their old home, Cedar Falls, to keep house for him.
The family likely returned to Cedar Falls for several reasons. First, the position on the faculty was attractive to Frank Merchant. The salary was reasonable and he would have the opportunity to teach both Latin and Greek. However, his academic credentials and experience were exceptional. He could probably have obtained a position at an institution more prestigious than a normal school. So, other factors were probably involved, too. Frank Merchant was fifty-one years old. Kate Merchant was forty-five. Candace Merchant was eighty-one. Perhaps the family wanted to make one last move to a place where they could spend the rest of their lives in comfort. They had lived in Cedar Falls from about 1868 through 1880. They had made many friends then and they had continued to keep up their acquaintance through regular correspondence and occasional visits. Cedar Falls probably looked like a pleasant and comfortable situation.
Whatever brought the Merchants back to Cedar Falls, the whole family seemed to settle in quickly. Professor Merchant jumped right into the academic and service responsibilities of his new position on the Normal School faculty. In 1909, when the school organized formal academic departments, Professor Merchant was named head of the Department of Latin and Greek. He also became involved in professional teachers association matters. In October 1909 he gave a paper at the meeting of the Northeast Iowa Teachers Association in which he outlined a very strong position on the rights and responsibilities of college faculties. Later that year he was named to the college's Committee on Entrance Requirements, which would rule on the credentials of incoming students. In 1910 he was named to a committee that would recommend a Teachers College student for a fellowship at the University of Iowa.
In May 1911, the consistently healthy Professor Merchant developed pneumonia. Mrs. Merchant notes that the house overflowed with "oceans of flowers sent him by his pupils." His recovery was slow, so he received a leave of absence for the summer 1911 term. Professor Merchant had recovered well enough by the fall of 1911 to take up duties as a member of the committee responsible for the school's Lecture Course. President Seerley later praised that committee for its work in arranging an excellent program of speakers and performers. Over the next few years Kate Merchant regularly assisted her brother with arrangements for the Lecture Course. They would, for example, often work all day in preparing tickets for the events. Professor Merchant was named chair of the Lecture Course Committee for the 1912-1913 season. In the fall of 1911 he also joined the faculty advisory committee for the 1912 Old Gold, the school yearbook, and was chair of the Latin section of a professional teachers association. He was an advisor to the Schillerverein, the Chrestomathean Literary Society, and the Sioux Club, an organization of students from South Dakota.
Shortly after their arrival in Cedar Falls, the Merchants began to develop large gardens from which they harvested fruit and vegetables both for their own use and for sale to others. The variety of annual and perennial crops that they cultivated is amazing. The crops included asparagus, mint, parsnips, peas, strawberries, potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, beans, beets, cauliflower, tomatoes, onions, rutabagas, currants, salsify, eggplant, celery, grapes, melons, squash, sweet corn, and popcorn. Occasionally they would hire a young man to help with garden chores for a day, but the Merchants themselves, especially Kate, did most of the work. Of all these crops, strawberries seemed to be their specialty. Many years after the Merchants' deaths, the reputation of their long rows of strawberries survived in the neighborhood. They used a three year cultivation cycle.
- Year 1: set out plants, usually well over 1000;
- Year 2: harvest from Year 1 settings; set out another 1000 plants;
- Year 3: harvest from Year 1 and Year 2 settings; plow under Year 1 settings; set out another 1000 plants;
- Repeat the cycle begun in Year 1.
In their cultivation cycle, the Merchants always had two rows to harvest and one row to set. That scale of planting produced prodigious results. In 1911, for example, Kate Merchant picked thirty-two quarts of strawberries one morning, forty-six quarts several days later, and sixty quarts two days after that. Once they were picked, the perishable strawberries had to be preserved for home use or put onto the market for one of their regular customers. Berry harvest times were very busy for the Merchants.
The Merchants shared housekeeping duties. As noted above, Kate Merchant did a great deal of the garden work. Mrs. Merchant helped in the garden at least to some extent well into her eighties. When Professor Merchant had completed his campus duties for the day, he would spend late afternoons and evenings in the garden, too, where he devoted himself mostly to the perennials and to the longer, less time-sensitive harvests for crops such as potatoes. Kate Merchant and her mother took care of the cooking, as well as the clothes washing, ironing, and mending. They also did most of the routine house cleaning, though Frank Merchant usually cleaned his own room, the cellar, and the attic. The weekly household schedule went something like this:
- Friday was heavy cleaning and scrubbing day;
- Saturday was baking day;
- Sunday was for church and receiving callers;
- Monday was wash day, but the ironing and mending often extended well into Tuesday;
- Wednesday and Thursday were a bit less scheduled, but usually were taken up with additional cleaning.
Kate Merchant also took care of most of the family's shopping and bill-paying.
The Merchants Build a New House
After Frank Merchant had recovered from his illness in 1911, the whole family turned their attention to building a new house. It is unclear exactly where the Merchant family lived when they moved back to to Cedar Falls in 1907, but by February 1910 they were living in a house on 19th Street, probably just west of College Street. The family owned land in the area bounded by College Street on the east, 22nd Street on the south, Merner Street on the west, and 19th Street on the north. So they chose a building site on College Street, a bit south of 19th Street. That area was relatively undeveloped in 1911, so they could build a house fairly close to the college campus and still have plenty of space for their market gardening enterprise. The house would also be on the street car line, so that the family could travel easily to and from downtown Cedar Falls.
In April 1911, before Frank's illness, Frank and Kate Merchant had consulted a Waterloo architect, John G. Ralston, about house plans. Mr. Ralston completed the plans by the end of July 1911. The Merchants then consulted contractors and plumbers. Frank Merchant also consulted James Robinson, the Teachers College Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. Mr. Robinson was an experienced architect and builder whose work included a number of buildings on campus and around town. On October 14, 1911, Kate and Frank Merchant signed a contract with a local builder, Mr. Cotton, to build their new house. Mr. Cotton was responsible for the structure of the building, but not things such as plumbing, heating, or electrical installation. Work probably got under way in the late winter or early spring of 1912. By April, the masons were laying brick. Kate Merchant kept an eye on the work, which was just a short walk from the house on 19th Street. But in a manner that was typical of the Merchants' kindly nature, she usually brought doughnuts, Banbury tarts, or little cakes for the workmen when she made her inspection tours. Kate and Frank both paid special attention to the construction of the large fireplace in the new house. All of the Merchants, perhaps especially the elderly Mrs. Merchant, looked forward to the comfort of that new feature.
The masonry was done by May 1, 1912. Following the completion of the rest of the structure of the house, the Merchants made their final payment to Mr. Cotton on November 19, 1912. The Merchants could then concentrate on the installation of their heating and electrical systems and the interior decoration of their house. However, in contrast to today's practices, the Merchants did not wait until that work had been completed. They started to move into the new house just about as soon as the structural work was done. Frank Merchant began moving his library into the new house on November 30, 1912. By December 7, the plumbing contractor had installed radiators, though it is unclear whether or not they were operational immediately. The whole family moved into the new place on December 14, 1912, even though no electrical work had been done. Indeed, the electrical system was probably not in place until March 1913. During that interim the family likely used kerosene lamps for their lighting.
Life at 1927 College Street, 1912-1916
All of the Merchants--Candace, Frank, and Kate--spent the rest of their lives in their new house at 1927 College Street. Mrs. Merchant did not express any particular pride in their new home. Perhaps that was just her humble nature. However, she did appreciate some of the modern conveniences, such as an improved clothes washing system that would make life a bit more convenient for her and Kate. Frank Merchant appreciated his new library, where he could house his extensive collection of books devoted to the classics.
The Merchants appreciated their enhanced ability to entertain their friends and Frank Merchant's students. The new house was also a better environment in which Kate Merchant could offer piano lessons. Even before the house was completed, guests often wanted a tour of the new place. Once the house was done, there was a regular stream of visitors. On February 21,1914, the family hosted the Cedar Falls chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, of which Kate Merchant was an active member. They provided a sit-down dinner for about fifty guests. Dinner was followed by a literary and musical program. Professor Merchant was apparently a big favorite of the women in the Sioux Club, a group of students from South Dakota. In January 1914 the group gave a banquet in honor of both him and his sister Kate. They enjoyed a dinner of roast mutton with mashed potatoes, peas, perfection salad, and angel food cake.
Occasionally, class-related groups, such as the Classical Club, met in the Merchant home. On March 17, 1915, Professor Merchant hosted the students in his second and third year Latin classes for a four course supper at his home. They played charades on a St. Patrick's Day theme. Despite Professor Merchant's reputation as a serious scholar of difficult subjects, students liked him. In an article in the College Eye in 1915, they teased the nearly bald professor about his haircut.
The year 1916 brought change to the Merchant family. In January 1916, Candace Downs Merchant, the mother of Frank and Kate Merchant, died at the age of ninety. The last years of her journal show that she was gradually slowing down. First, the entries became shorter, sometimes just a note about the weather. Second, where formerly there were entries stating that "Kate and I" washed clothes or baked pies, later entries state that just Kate accomplished the round of household activities. Mrs. Merchant also notes that when both Frank and Kate needed to be away from home at the same time, they arranged for someone to stay with her until they returned. William Wesley Gist, a good friend of the family and a faculty colleague of Frank Merchant, offered Mrs. Merchant's eulogy. Mrs. Merchant was interred in the mausoleum at Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls.
Then, on June 22, 1916, Ella Robinson Merchant died. She was the widow of Frank and Kate's half-sibling, Lorenzo Stoddard Merchant. In the twenty years following the death of Stoddard Merchant in 1894, the Merchants had maintained a close relationship with Ella Robinson Merchant. The implications of the deaths of Candace Downs Merchant and Ella Robinson Merchant will be considered below. But the Merchant family had been reduced to two: Frank Ivan and Kate Matilda Merchant.
The Merchant Family, 1916-1951
By early 1916, World War I had been under way in Europe for a year and a half, but the United States was still a year away from declaring war against the Central Powers. Professor Merchant had lived over five years in Germany. He spoke German fluently and knew the country well. He admired its culture. But in a Teachers College chapel address in February 1916, he left little doubt about where his loyalties stood. Drawing upon his scholarly background, he presented a long case on the value of Roman citizenship at the time of the Roman Empire. He concluded by drawing an analogy with the ideals and values of American citizenship. He said:
We ought to deplore war. We ought to hate war. But we ought not to shrink from war, if that
be the only means of maintaining the ideals that we have been set to defend. It is not enough
to receive gratitude for pouring out our gifts from a golden horn into the laps of the little nations that lie crushed and bleeding. If the ideals of this republic are to be preserved, American citizenship, like Roman citizenship, must command respect on the part of every nation . . .
In performing the peculiar duties that devolve upon us or will devolve upon us in our calling,
let us do our part in fostering, without selfishness and without malice, the spirit of readiness
to make supreme sacrifice, if need be, in maintaining the ideal of our citizenship, the ideal of liberty with justice not only for ourselves but for all nations.
In October 1917, with the United States fully engaged in the war, Professor Merchant gave another strong chapel address in which he reminded students that, once they had rendered unto God the things which are God's, their next duty was to support their country in its war efforts. He had little use for those who failed to support their country. He said:
If we have among us material that the melting pot cannot melt, public safety demands that
the dross be separated and cast out of the pot.
Following the Armistice in 1918, Professor Merchant delivered a lecture to the Student Army Training Corps, which had been receiving military training on campus. In his lecture Professor Merchant stated his belief that the popularized views of certain German philosophers had led the German people to believe that they should use war as a means to take what was not rightfully theirs. Another of his chapel addresses, entitled "Americanism", was printed locally and became very popular.
After the war, Professor Merchant continued his professional duties with a vigor uncommon for a man of sixty-four, who might well have been considering retirement. In December 1918 he was named to a statewide committee that developed standards for academic credit for transfer students. He also assisted with arrangements for the memorial service following the death of former President Theodore Roosevelt in early 1919. Later in 1919 he was a member of an important faculty committee whose recommendations ultimately allowed social dancing on campus, something that students had desired for many years. Early in 1920 he was part of a faculty group that served as host to a Chinese education mission that was touring the United States. During the summer of 1920, Frank and Kate Merchant took a vacation in northern Minnesota. In May 1923 Professor Merchant was one of the judges of the May Festival floats. Later that month his students enjoyed dinner at his house.
There were eleven classical language majors in 1925. In May of that year, Professor Merchant and his sister entertained his students with a Valentine's Day dinner that included fortune-telling and a séance that evoked the spirit of Cicero. Each guest departed with a volume of classical literature. In 1926, one student expressed his special appreciation for Professor Merchant. He said:
In my estimation, Dr. Merchant is the best instructor with whom I have been acquainted.
The scholarly character of his methods, his quiet humor, his sound philosophy, and the
high rank of his educational attainments have made me his admirer.
Professor Merchant showed his interest in students' welfare by serving on the Student Loan Committee. This early form of financial assistance provided needy students with small amounts of money on a short term basis. In the fall of 1926, Professor Merchant received added administrative responsibilities when, following the death of Professor Knoepfler, he became head of the Department of German. When President Seerley retired in 1928, Professor Merchant was selected to make the welcoming address to the new President, O. R. Latham. In 1930 he assisted a member of his department, Josef Schaefer, to obtain his American citizenship. In 1932 he was head of the Curriculum Committee, which was in charge of putting the catalog together. In May 1932 the Faculty Men's Club honored students who had achieved high grades. Professor Merchant addressed the students:
That young men should distinguish themselves in intellectual endeavor in this day and generation . . . we think is an achievement worthy of recognition. It leads us to hope that
we are coming to the end of the period during which young men in college have felt embarrassed and have been made apologetic when caught in the act of showing intellectual interest in their work.
Professor Merchant attended the National Education Association meeting and the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago in 1933. After he returned home, he told his friends that his favorite event at the fair was the performance of the notorious Sally Rand, the fan dancer.
In his spare time in Cedar Falls, he still played golf regularly with his faculty colleagues. In 1934 Professor Merchant gave an address on WMT radio on the value of a liberal education. Clearly, age did not suppress Professor Merchant's enjoyment of life or his devotion to duty.
In 1934 the Teachers College underwent a major administrative re-organization. Several departments were eliminated or combined with larger departments. Professor Merchant's very small department was one of those that were eliminated. His Department of Latin, Greek, and German was combined with the Department of Romance Languages to form a Department of Language. And, probably not coincidentally, Professor Merchant chose to retire from regular service at the age of seventy-eight.
Professor Merchant was not idle even in his retirement. He continued to teach a course in Latin or Greek now and then. And he retained an active interest in his profession. In 1935 he wrote a strong letter of protest when a Chicago school official termed the study of Latin a waste of time. In that same year he gave a paper on Horace at a language study conference. And he continued to play faculty golf matches. He also continued to offer his advice on education through a child study radio series in which he presented his paper, "It is Never too Late to Learn."
Kate Merchant died in late 1943. The Merchant family had been reduced to just one. Jennifer Wellborn knew Professor Merchant at this time. She was the young daughter of Professor Fred W. Wellborn, a member of the Teachers College history faculty from 1926 through 1946. In 1943, her family asked Professor Merchant to be the Baptismal sponsor of their children. Professor Merchant agreed.
Jennifer Wellborn said that Professor Merchant was bereft at the loss of his sister. She remembers him as a small man, about five feet, three inches tall. She also remembers him as:
. . . a huge man intellectually and emotionally. The most wonderful thing about him was that
in spite of a wretched childhood he had a merry outlook on life, on things intellectual and
cultural, and an enormous and undying love of animals. It is no wonder that he left the
scholarship fund to the university.
The children of the Wellborn family visited the Merchant house on holidays to give Professor Merchant a Christmas stocking or an Easter basket. Jennifer Wellborn remembers that even as a lonely and aged man, Professor Merchant retained his kindly, congenial manner. In 1946, Professor Wellborn, Jennifer Wellborn's father, accepted a position on the history faculty of the University of Maryland.
As the Wellborn family was preparing to leave Cedar Falls, Professor Merchant gave the Wellborns a picture of his favorite horse and a copy of the first printing of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty. This gift was special because Professor Merchant loved horses and he knew that the Wellborns did, too. Professor Merchant's library might well have been his dearest possession, but he willingly parted with this valuable book as a special gift to his friends. The Wellborn family, and especially Jennifer Wellborn, treasured this gift.
Professor Merchant lived alone in his house at 1927 College Street after his sister's death, though he quite likely had help with the household work. In 1949 he displayed his usual charitable nature by donating $1000 to the fund for a proposed chapel on the Teachers College campus. And, to the end, he kept himself busy with his beloved classics. A former pupil wrote to him in 1949 to ask if he would consider selling some of his texts. Professor Merchant wrote back to say:
My library for a very good reason is not for sale. I myself am making full use of it several
hours every day.
Since the death of my sister in 1943 I have been living alone. Most of the time since
becoming a professor emeritus I have done part-time teaching.
Frank Ivan Merchant died April 30, 1951, after a short stay in Sartori Hospital in Cedar Falls. He was ninety-five years old. In accordance with instructions from Professor Merchant, his funeral was held at the Dahl Funeral Home. Professor Harold Bernhard, Director of Religious Activities at the Teachers College, conducted the service. Professor Merchant was interred next to his mother and sister in the mausoleum in Greenwood Cemetery, Cedar Falls.
On May 14, 1951, Professor Merchant's faculty colleagues, Irving Hart, Josef Schaefer, and Edna O. Miller, honored him with a memorial statement in the Faculty Senate. Their tribute is worth quoting in its entirety:
In the death of Dr. Frank Ivan Merchant, the Iowa State Teachers College has suffered a
great loss. Long years of faithful and efficient service endeared him to students and faculty,
who recognized and appreciated his thorough knowledge of classical and modern languages and literature.
His unusual knowledge of his chosen field did not prevent him from understanding the
difficulties of a student making his first acquaintance with a new language. By means of clear explanations, patience, and encouragement, he helped his students to learn and at the same time to develop habits of thorough and painstaking work. Admired and respected for his great scholarship and conscientious devotion to his work, he was a constant inspiration to all
students, young and old.
But it was not only to his duties in the classroom that Dr. Merchant gave countless hours of
his life. He was ever watchful for the betterment of the college. Coming here when the institution was still a Normal School, he saw that it was worthy of college rank and he was
one of the first to urge that the change be made. The confidence of his colleagues in his
ability was manifested by his being selected as a member of many important college and intercollegiate committees. In a very real sense he infused his life and spirit into the life of
Faithful to the classical ideal, he cared less for the immediately useful and practical than
for the deeper and more satisfying values; to him, training of the mind for its fullest use and
for independent logical thinking seemed the most desirable goal.
Knowing that a true scholar never considers his learning completed but that he must keep
on ever improving himself, he wished to perpetuate his ideal through the magnificent gift of
the Merchant Fund left for the use of worthy students. He has thus set up a monument that
will remind grateful young scholars for years to come of the ideal of true scholarship. To
speak with Horace, he left a monument 'sere perennius'.
The Merchant Fund
The Faculty Senate tribute noted above does a wonderful job of summing up Professor Merchant's distinguished professional career and his devotion to the Iowa State Teachers College. The final paragraph notes his enduring legacy to the institution: the Merchant Fund. Essentially, Professor Merchant bequeathed his entire estate for scholarships to be given to Teachers College alumni who wished to pursue graduate education.
Professor Merchant set up the plan for his estate when he prepared his will in September 1916. It is interesting to speculate about the motivation for preparing his will at that time. First, the Merchant family lost two members in 1916. His mother, Candace Downs Merchant, had died in January of that year. His sister-in-law, Ella Robinson Merchant, died just a few months later in June 1916. With these two deaths, perhaps Professor Merchant and his sister Kate began to have a sense of their own mortality: he was sixty and she was fifty-four. It seemed likely that Kate would live longer than her brother. They needed to assure that Kate would indeed have the means to support herself in her old age. They had no children and no close relatives. They appreciated that they were the last members of their family line. What would happen to their property after they were both gone? It is possible, though not confirmed, that Frank and Kate Merchant had benefited from the estate of Ella Merchant, the widow of their half-brother Stoddard. Could they have received a significant distribution from that estate that they needed to preserve for future use? Further research is necessary to support that supposition.
Professor Merchant prepared his will in accord with his firmly held values. First, he wished to take care of his family. And, second, he wanted to help others, particularly in furthering their education. In the will that he signed on September 4, 1916, typed on a piece of Teachers College stationery, Professor Merchant left the use of his property and its income to his sister Kate for her lifetime. And, upon her death, the estate would:
. . . be constituted a fund, to be known as the "Merchant Fund," from the income of which scholarships, to be known as the "Merchant Scholarships," shall be awarded to graduates
from the Bachelor of Arts course of the Iowa State Teachers College, whether men or
women. Said scholarships shall be used for the maintenance of the recipients during
graduate work at any institution of their choice, whether domestic or foreign.
Over the years, Professor Merchant added three codicils to his will. First, during the Great Depression, his investments lost value. Consequently, in 1934, the first codicil to his will allowed his sister Kate to draw upon the principal of his estate, not just the income, for her own support. In the second codicil to the will, in 1943, he declared that the fund which his estate would eventually provide should "be regarded as the gift, not of myself alone, but of myself and Sister, Kate Matilda Merchant." The third codicil, in 1948, reaffirmed that the will should be carried out as originally written, even though his sister had predeceased him. The President of the Iowa State Teachers College would be the executor of the estate.
When Professor Merchant died, his estate consisted of his house and household goods; cash and securities; a library of classical literature; and mortgages on real estate near his house. The overall value of the estate was approximately $110,000, the bulk of which was the value of the Merchant house on College Street and real estate along 19th Street. President Maucker was the executor of the estate. However, Professor Irving Hart, in his capacity as the court-appointed Special Administrator for the estate, took care of day-to-day matters until October 1951. The Cedar Falls law firm of Merner and Merner handled legal matters.
By late 1952, the estate was closed and the assets were transferred to the new Merchant Trust. The trust sold most of the Merchant book collection to academic libraries, including a portion to the Teachers College library. The trust initially held the cash and securities, though, eventually, it converted most of the securities into more stable instruments with predictable yields, such as certificates of deposit. The real estate, which made up most of the value of the estate, consisted primarily of mortgages on five houses along 19th Street, as well as some undeveloped parcels of land behind the Merchant house on College Street. The college kept the Merchant house on College Street for several years to be used as the Home Management House, a kind of laboratory space for students in the Department of Home Economics. But, over time, the trust converted all of the real estate into assets that required considerably less care and management. Delta Upsilon fraternity occupied the Merchant house until it became inactive in 2007. According to an article by Tina Hinz in the December 30, 2012, Waterloo Courier, local developer and apartment owner Brian Sires bought the house in about 2008 for $300,000. Mr. Sires proposed plans to renovate the house to accommodate three apartments, with one unit on each level. However, Cedar Falls housing officials stated that those plans did not seem to be in conformity with city codes relating to parking lot and driveway specifications. As of January 2013, the future of the house is in question.
The Merchant Trust was initially administered by Trustees Irving Hart, Philip Jennings, and Fred Kercheval. Mr. Hart was a long-time faculty colleague of Professor Merchant, Mr. Jennings was the Business Manager of the Teachers College, and Mr. Kercheval was a local bank official. The Merchant Trust Board would administer the assets of the trust. The heads of the academic departments, or a committee thereof, would select scholarship candidates. Professor Henry Van Engen was the first chair of the Merchant Scholarship Committee. Professors M. R. Thompson and Lloyd V. Douglas were the other committee members. The committee's first scholarship selection was Dorothy Jean Tostlebe Thompson, later Dorothy Jean Tostlebe Ray, a member of the Teachers College Class of 1941. She received $1800 for the 1954-1955 school year to assist her in completing her Ph. D. in anthropology at the University of Washington. Dr. Ray would become a distinguished scholar of Native American culture in Alaska.
Since that initial award, about two hundred additional young men and women have benefited from Merchant Scholarships, with total awards approaching $300,000.
The Merchants were a remarkable family. Candace Downs Merchant, Frank Ivan Merchant, and Kate Matilda Merchant functioned as a cohesive, supportive, socio-economic unit throughout their lives. Candace Merchant was a woman of great curiosity, fine perception, strong faith, and broad understanding, who taught her children the value of education. Well into her eighties, Candace Merchant read, attended lectures, and continued to learn from her experiences. If she took pride in anything, it was in the achievement of her children. Frank Merchant was a brilliant student who made the most of every opportunity that came his way. He also had the foresight to create opportunities for himself and his family. He was a fine teacher, beloved of his students. He was a man of impeccable character and genial personality. Kate Merchant was a fine pianist and teacher. She was an extraordinarily skilled and productive gardener who managed the Merchant household as her mother grew older. She was an avid photographer and a stimulating traveling companion to her brother. Even Stoddard Merchant, Frank and Kate’s half-brother, was a highly successful businessman, who almost certainly provided substantial support for his stepmother and half-siblings until they were able to stand on their own.
The Merchants were indefatigable. They typically worked all day and well into the evening to carry out the duties of their vocations, keep up their home, and fulfill their responsibilities to their community. Yet they also found time for entertainment and the company of friends. Even during busy times, Frank Merchant managed to play golf regularly with other members of the Teachers College faculty. And, after picking strawberries all day, Kate Merchant remembered to visit someone who was not feeling well. The Merchants were loyal Americans who unashamedly upheld American ideals. They were members of the Sons and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Yet they traveled abroad extensively in order to learn from and appreciate other nations and their people. When they saw differences, they marveled at them rather than deriding them. The Merchants were raised in the Baptist church and held conservative Christian values. Yet they sought opportunities to learn about the religious beliefs and practices of others. They were parsimonious and self-reliant. They walked, rode bicycles, or took public transportation to most of their destinations. They raised most of their own food, made most of their own clothes, and did most of their own home maintenance. They saved rags to be woven into carpets for their home. Yet they always had an abundance to share with friends. And they remembered those outside of their immediate circle when they served as gracious hosts at innumerable dinners for Frank Merchant’s students.
During their lifetimes, the industrious Merchants first assured that they took care of their own family. But their generosity extended easily and gracefully to friends, neighbors, fellow Cedar Falls citizens, and Frank and Kate Merchant’s students. When Frank Merchant, the last of his family, died in 1951, the college community learned that the bounty of the Merchant family would continue into the foreseeable future with generous scholarships for graduates of the University of Northern Iowa. At this writing, sixty years after Frank Merchant's death, about two hundred students have received Merchant Scholarships with a total of over $300,000 dispersed. Many of these scholarship winners have distinguished themselves in their professional fields.
The Merchant Scholarship Fund is a remarkable legacy to have originated with a humble family who came to Cedar Falls with little more than a willingness to work and a desire to learn. That family's hard work and high ideals have made it possible for generations of University of Northern Iowa students to pursue graduate education, to improve the quality of their own lives, and to improve the lives of others.
The source of most of the information and the images in this essay is the Frank Ivan Merchant papers housed in the University of Northern Iowa Archives.
Essay by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, with historical consultation by Mrs. Jennifer Wellborn; scanning by Library Assistant David Glime; technical assistance by Library Administrative Assistant Susan Basye; and research assistance by Student Assistant Kimberly Nurre; December 2009, January 2011; last updated August 1, 2014 (GP).