In 1941 Hugh Hammond Bennett, the “father of soil conservation,” and a small group of visionary conservationists began discussions about the need for a society to support their relatively new profession. Those working in conservation had no common meeting ground, no medium for joint expression, and no collective means for advancing their cause. Existing organizations of the time provided little opportunity or encouragement for advancing the science and art of good land and water use.
While these meetings planted the seeds of what would become SWCS, it was not until 1943 that the intent to organize was announced, and in late 1944 a council was formed and membership began to grow. The first meeting of the Soil Conservation Society of America was held in Chicago on December 12-13, 1946.
Soon after, the Society began to publish the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation and a membership newsletter. The organization operated through the efforts of a part-time staff until 1951, when H. Wayne Pritchard was hired as the organization’s first full-time executive secretary, and a headquarters was established on Iowa State University land, just north of Des Moines, Iowa.
As the Soil Conservation Society of America matured as an organization, it changed its name to the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) to indicate a broader mission, including water resources, and an international scope of activity. It also gained a reputation as a source of balanced, authoritative information on land and water conservation issues.
Today, the organization continues to make a difference in conservation policy, research, education, and practice. The Society’s international membership works collectively to identify important land and water conservation issues, to discuss and debate those issues, and to initiate action for addressing them effectively.
The SWCS international headquarters building is located in the heart of the Corn Belt, between Des Moines and Ankeny, Iowa. This historical building was constructed in 1962 on land leased from Iowa State University at $1.00 per year through a 99-year lease. This generous arrangement was made possible because the land was an unused corner of an Iowa State experimental farm with little value for production. Built in a then-modern design, the building was intended to serve as “symbol of men and women dedicated to conservation for the welfare of people throughout the world."
Over the years, the building, which is dedicated to Hugh Hammond Bennett, has served as home to his library of conservation resources and archived documents, housed a full printing press and production staff for the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, and provided a central location for conservation work from around the United States and world.
As Iowa State sold the experimental farm and the surrounding land became urbanized, the SWCS headquarters has remained intact. The six acres on which the building is situated are prairie soils—Nicollet loam and Webster silty clay loam. A small pond and wooded area add habitat to the east side of the property. Wildlife include deer, foxes, turtles, hawks, and an owl.
Visitors often comment on the unusual and striking building among newly developed, suburban surroundings. Please feel free to stop by to see us if you’re in the area!