Iowa history images from PBS documentaries including Carrie Chapman Catt, Governors of Iowa and the Farm Crisis

Watch Iowa's History On Demand

Iowa History Month is the perfect time to dive into the rich history of Iowa. From stories of pioneers and settlers to the struggles and triumphs of civil rights activists, we have an incredible lineup of shows that will take you on a journey through Iowa's past. Watch documentaries on influential Iowans who changed the world around them, learn about pivotal points in Iowa's history and better understand Iowa's veterans through the stories they brought back with them. Look for Iowa history documentaries from us on the PBS Video App on your phone, smart TV or OTT device. 


Influential Iowans

Carrie Chapman Catt

Carrie Chapman Catt was a prominent suffragist and political activist who played a key role in the women's suffrage movement in the United States. We trace Catt's journey from her childhood in rural Iowa, to her education at Iowa State University, and her leadership of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Meredith Willson

He performed under Sousa & Toscanini. He scored films for the likes of Chaplin and wrote popular songs performed by Sinatra & The Beatles. And when the River City boys band marched on Broadway, Meredith Willson caught the whole world’s ear. Watch one of our newest documentaries, Meredith Willson: America's Music Man, for the story behind this Mason City native.

George Washington Carver

We explore the life and achievements of George Washington Carver, an African American scientist, and inventor who made significant contributions to agriculture and science. Follow Carver's journey from his birth into slavery in Missouri, to his education at Iowa State University, and his groundbreaking role in promoting sustainable farming practices, improving soil fertility through crop rotation, and discovering hundreds of uses for peanuts, including peanut butter, oil, and soap.

Alexander Clark

Alexander Clark was an African American civil rights activist and entrepreneur played a key role in desegregating education in Iowa. Our documentary traces Clark's journey from his birth in Pennsylvania to his settlement in Muscatine, Iowa, where he became a successful businessman and community leader.

Governors of Iowa: Ray and Hughes 

Governors of Iowa: Harold Hughes provides a comprehensive portrait of the former governor's life, work, and legacy. We explore Hughes' role as a leader who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Iowans and left a lasting impact on the state's politics and culture.

Governors of Iowa: Robert D. Ray provides an overview of the life and political career of Robert D. Ray, who served as Governor of Iowa from 1969 to 1983. We explore Ray's upbringing in Des Moines, his experiences as a World War II veteran, and his early political career as a member of the Iowa House of Representatives and the Iowa Republican Party.


Pivotal Points in History

Searching for Buxton

This feature documentary explores how one Iowa town in the 1900s became the oasis for racial harmony in an era where segregation was the common practice. The program is narrated by international opera star Simon Estes, an African-American Iowan whose father was a coal miner.

The Farm Crisis

Narrated by NBC News reporter Harry Smith, The Farm Crisis examines the tragic circumstances faced by farmers for most of the 1980s, when thousands were forced into bankruptcy, land values dropped by one-third nationally, and sky-high interest rates turned successes into failures seemingly overnight. Original music by Iowa-based recording artist Chad Elliott sets the tone throughout the program.

A Monumental Journey

A Monumental Journey discusses the history of the National Bar Association, which was founded in 1925 by a group of Black lawyers in Des Moines, Iowa. They founded the organization to improve justice and civil rights for all. The American Bar Association at the time had a history of denying entry to Blacks, including six African American lawyers from Iowa.


Iowa Veterans' Stories

Iowa's WWII Stories

Iowa's World War II Stories chronicles the experiences of Iowans during World War II. The film features first-hand accounts from Iowa veterans who served in different branches of the military, as well as civilians who contributed to the war effort. The veterans share their personal memories of enlistment, training, combat, and life after the war, while discussing the challenges they faced, including homesickness, developing camaraderie with fellow soldiers, and the war's impact on their lives.

The Forgotten War: Iowans in Korea

Between 1950 and 1953, nearly 1.8 million soldiers from 21 nations fought side-by-side in a combat zone smaller than the states of Iowa and Missouri combined. During the conflict, 33,000 Americans, including 508 Iowans, lost their lives. But there was more to the conflict than just numbers. Lives were changed forever. Some never recovered. Watch The Forgotten War: Iowans in Korea to hear from veterans share their stories and explore their battlefield experiences, including the long-term effects on soldiers’ lives more than six decades after they came home.

Iowans Remember Vietnam

Iowans Remember Vietnam examines one of the most turbulent times in American history from the perspective of those who were there. This documentary also chronicles the simultaneous battle at home, where thousands of young people took to the streets to demonstrate their strident opposition to the war. Iowans Remember Vietnam explores the causes – and outcomes – of both conflicts.

Soldiers Remember Afghanistan

Iowa Soldiers Remember Afghanistan dives into the firsthand experiences of Iowa veterans who served in the War in Afghanistan. Through personal interviews, the soldiers share their training, deployment, and combat experiences, as well as the emotional and psychological tolls of serving in a warzone. They also reflect on the relationships they formed with their fellow soldiers and the Afghan people they encountered. We examine the challenges of readjusting to civilian life after returning from combat, including coping with PTSD and adapting to everyday routines.

USS Iowa

The USS Iowa, one of the most formidable battleships ever constructed, and its contribution to American military history are recounted in one of our newest documentaries USS Iowa. The film includes interviews with veterans who served on the vessel, historians, and experts, as well as archival footage and photos, covering the ship's construction, design, and service in World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War.