Ethel McKinley Bliss

Honored by:Vince Branigan
Brick location:F:6  map


Ethel Eveleth McKinley was born in March, 1881, on the McKinley family farm in St. Ansgar, Iowa, which was later to be named an Iowa Century Farm. She died at the age of 64 in Ames, Iowa, in July of 1945.

The descendant of pioneer Iowa farm families, she completed her high school education at a seminary in Nora Springs, Iowa, in 1899 and taught in a rural St. Ansgar school for two years, then spent a year at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. She came to Ames College (later to become Iowa State College) to complete her college work, and met a young man who graduated in her class, Ralph K. Bliss, from a family farm near Diagonal in southern Iowa. He would, in later years, become her husband.

She taught English to Iowa State College undergraduates, earned honors as a student, and received a bachelor of science degree in English in 1905. Ethel McKinley then moved to South Carolina where she was employed by the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) as a literacy tutor for children and adults in an impoverished rural area for about four years. After a serious illness, she returned to St. Ansgar in 1911 to recuperate and became reacquainted with her Iowa State College classmate Ralph K. Bliss, who was on the Iowa State faculty. She became his bride in 1912, and the couple moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, and Mr. Bliss headed the animal husbandry school at the university. They returned to Ames and Iowa State College in 1914 when her husband was named director of the new extension service.

Mrs. Bliss was active in the Iowa State College faculty, women's club, and the Ames Women's Club, and was a charter member of Chapter AA of P.E.O. She served as radio chairman for the Iowa Federation of Women's Club's for several years, broadcasting news and statewide club information on WOI Iowa State's pioneering public service radio station.
Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were parents of three sons: Robert M. (born 1916, died 1994); William R. (born 1918, died 1992); and Richard K. (born 1923).

During the Great Depression years, Ethel Bliss opened her Ames home to many Iowa State College students arriving from the St. Ansgar area, providing living quarters every year for a student or two, finding campus jobs for those who were working their way through college, and offering emergency shelter or meals for young men or women in need of help. Taking a personal interest in their studies and well-being, she became an advocate for men and women students needing tutoring or her personal encouragement to obtain their degrees. Many of them kept in close touch with Mr. and Mrs. Bliss in following decades, and those in the armed services wrote to her from Europe and the Pacific during the war years.

Ethel McKinley Bliss typified the dedicated women homemakers of her era who readily contributed their skills and untiring efforts toward bettering their communities, devotedly serving their families, and unselfishly helping needy young students reach their educational goals. The greatest contribution Ethel McKinley Bliss made to the Ames area was three outstanding sons. Robert married Clara Mae Sims of Grundy Center. He was a professor of journalism at Drake University for many years. William married Jane Helser of Ames. He was a surgeon and staff member at Mary Greeley Hospital in Ames. The Bliss cancer clinic at the hospital is named after him. Richard married Patricia Lounsbury of Des Moines. In the construction business in Ames for years, he built many fine homes. Now retired in Sedona, Arizona he enjoys living in an area where he can play golf every week of the year. Many of Ethel's grandchildren have outstanding careers here and abroad.

Ethel McKinley Bliss was a truly great woman.