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  • Remembering a Son of the MidwestEllis Hawley, 1929–2020
  • Jon K. Lauck (bio)

Many scholars of the Midwest will be familiar with the work of the historian Ellis Wayne Hawley, who recently passed away at the age of 91 years. He was a man who graciously granted advice to many scholars who studied the Midwest and who did not shy away from studying midwestern figures and topics. From 1969–1994 Hawley was professor of history at the University of Iowa.

Hawley was born near Cambridge, Kansas in June 1929. His parents, Winfield Scott Hawley and Maggie Logsdon, had earlier moved from West Virginia to South Dakota and then, in the 1890s, settled in Kansas. The wagon they traveled in is now located in the Grenola Grain Elevator Museum in Grenola, Kansas.1 Young Ellis left Cambridge to attend college about an hour away at the recently re-christened Municipal University of Wichita (formerly the Congregationalist-run Fairmount College), now known as Wichita State University, from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1950. At Wichita, according to his college yearbook, he was in the Debate Club and the History Club and on the Dean's Honor Roll. Hawley then earned an MA in history in 1951 from the University of Kansas, where the historian James Malin, originally from Edgley, North Dakota, held court on all matters related to midwestern, Great Plains, agricultural, and environmental history.2 Hawley thought Malin should be considered a midwestern historian "not only in terms of his background, interests and professional activities but also in terms of the kind of history he did, his midwestern values and attitudes, and his notions about paying attention to creative individuals, folk processes, environmental settings, and local differences."3

After his time in Lawrence, Hawley served in the U.S. Army (1951–1953), where he rose to the rank of first lieutenant. While stationed in Germany, [End Page 219] Hawley met Sofia Koltun, originally from Zamosc, Poland, and they were married on September 2, 1953. They would later have a son, Arnold Jay, and a daughter, Agnes. Sofia had been displaced by the German invasion of Poland. "Her village was bombed and she was trapped inside a house while baby-sitting her younger cousins," her daughter Agnes recalled. "She would have been about ten years old. She said the house was on fire on the outside and she couldn't get out because the pressure on the outside kept the shutters closed. Her uncle finally showed up and got them out. She saw some horrible things happen. Her school was closed and used as a stable for German horses. The church was going to be used for the same, so many of the people of the village locked themselves inside to prevent it from being taken, but the Germans just locked them in until they all died, then carted their bodies offto be disposed of somewhere." Sofia was then sent to Germany to work on a farm. after the war she was sent to a Displaced Person camp and ultimately found work on a U.S. Army base. She never heard from her family in Poland again.4

In 1953, after his marriage to Sofia, Hawley enrolled in the famed graduate program in history at the University of Wisconsin. At Wisconsin, Hawley further pursued his interests in Herbert Hoover, trade associations, competition policy, and the National Industrial Recovery Act, subjects he first broached in his work with Malin at Kansas.5 Hawley's advisor at Wisconsin was Howard K. Beale, much of whose work focused on northern business interests during the Reconstruction era. Beale was known as the "most contentious" member of the department, in a striking contrast with his humble student Hawley, but Hawley recalled that "he always treated me well."6 In the end, Hawley's dissertation-turned-book, which was dedicated to Beale, was titled The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly: A Study in Economic Ambivalence (1966) and was published by Princeton University Press. Trudy Peterson, a former Acting Archivist of the United States and a Hawley student with deep Iowa roots, remembers the book as a "staggering achievement" because of all the research...