Selma M. Plagge

Honored by:Doris Burton
Brick location:F:23  map

(1881-1976) Selma M. Plagge arrived in Ames in the fall of 1911, the bride of Herbert J. Plagge, professor in the Department of Physics. She lived in Ames until her death in 1976 and is buried in the University Cemetery. Two children graduated from Iowa State University: Herbert J. Plagge Jr. and Doris P. Burton.

Her many contributions to the cultural life of Ames through her piano teaching and performance and her leadership in the development of music activities in the community, are some of the reasons for honoring her in the Carrie Chapman Catt Memorial.

Selma received the Bachelor of Music degree from the Chicago Conservatory of Music and was active as a teacher of piano and performer for most of her life. Living in Palatine, Illinois before her marriage she taught piano to many young women in several nearby Chicago suburbs and organized and directed the Suburban Orchestra which performed concerts in those communities.

In the spring of 1912 she was introduced as the piano teacher for the coming year in the Music Department of Iowa State College by way of a joint recital with Ingeborg Svendsen-Tune the retiring teacher with whom she had collaborated in several programs. For the next several years she continued teaching on the campus as part of the Ames Conservatory of Music under the direction of Alexander S. Thompson. She taught piano musical history and harmony and accompanied the Men's Glee Club on its annual tour of Iowa towns.

In the custom of the day, Selma left the Music Department when her first child was born, but she continued to provide private lessons in her home to large numbers of piano students from beginners to adults. Recital programs show the names of children of campus and community families for a span of over 50 years.

Before movies, radio and TV people often created entertainment at home. Selma and Herb Plagge (clarinet) had organized a small orchestra by 1918 with players drawn from among many accomplished amateurs on the Iowa State faculty and in the Ames community. The Ames Daily Tribune, Dec. 12, 1923 credited this "group of musicians (who) played for the pleasure of playing good music" with providing a nucleus from which to build a symphony orchestra that "can take rank with any body of players anywhere". Professor Tolbert McRae convinced the ensemble to help in the "making of a splendid orchestra for Iowa State College and the city of Ames". All joined in and Selma served as pianist for many years.

Selma was a member of Collegiate Presbyterian Church. For as many as 25 years she and Ona Searles Lantz church organist provided a concert of piano and organ Christmas music for the combined women's groups of all local churches. Programs for the Priscilla Club Faculty Women's Club and numerous special events continued throughout her life. For some of the annual Faculty Women's Club banquets she organized faculty members and spouses to produce a concert version of "Carmen" excerpts from the "Mikado" and the memorable anvil chorus from "Il Trovatore" with real sparks flying from the wired anvils. She enjoyed ensemble playing and for many years was the stable element in a violin/cello/piano trio that was made up by various string players over time. This group provided many worthwhile programs to campus and town organizations too varied and too many to note.

In 1916 she was initiated into Alpha Delta Pi and served on its alumnae advisory board. She was editor of a revision of the Alpha Delta Pi Songbook. A member of Sigma Alpha Iota music honorary for women she participated in their activities and programs. She was a member of Chapter HN P.E.O. and of the Tuesday Club and Hearth and Heather.

Selma was a talented musician... one who might have achieved distinction on the concert stage. When Ames and the Iowa State campus became her stage she shared her talents generously and with enthusiasm. She was one of many unsung heroines who contributed cultural riches to life on campus and in Ames in an era when the character of the community was being formed. That Ames is a place where the quality of life is envied may in part be due to such women who "without portfolio" nevertheless created an atmosphere where good music and its enjoyment could thrive.