Sesquicentennial celebration

History of Iowa State: People of Distinction

Sponsored by the University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Copyright 2006



Barbara Ellen Forker

Barbara Ellen Forker was born August 28, 1920 in Kendallville, Indiana. She received a B.S. (1942) from Eastern Michigan University, a M.S. (1950) from Iowa State College (University), and a Ph.D. (1957) from the University of Michigan. 


Dr. Forker started her career as a physical education instructor at Garfield Elementary School (1942-1944) and Roosevelt High School (1944-1945) in Wyandotte, Michigan. During World War II, Dr. Forker left teaching to work for the American Red Cross (1945-1947) in the European Theater. 


Dr. Forker began her career at Iowa State College (University) as a temporary six-month instructor            (1948-1949).  She was promoted to Assistant Professor (1949-1952), Associate Professor (1952-1957), Professor (1957-1990), and Head of the Women's Physical Education Department (1958-1974).  When the men's and women's physical education department were combined to create the Department of Physical Education, Dr. Forker became the first Head (1974-1986). She was named Distinguished Professor in 1986.  In 1990, she retired and became Emeritus Professor. 


Dr. Forker was instrumental in several student groups on campus, including advisor for NAIADS (synchronized swimming) and "I" Fraternity (honorary for outstanding women athletes).  She also taught tennis, golf, swimming, badminton, and bowling. 


Dr. Forker actively participated in numerous professional organizations. On the regional level, Dr. Forker was the president (1958-1959) of the Iowa Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (IAHPER); president (1965-1966) of the Central District Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (CDAHPER); and vice president (1962-1964) of the Central Association for Physical Education of College Women (CAPECW). On the national level, Dr.. Forker was involved in several organizations, including the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (AAHPER), where she was both the vice president (1970-1971) and the president (1972-1973).  She was secretary (1966-1968) for the National Association for Physical Education of College Women (NAPECW). Dr. Forker belonged to three professional fraternities: Phi Kappa Phi (1957), Pi Lambda Theta (1954), and Delta Kappa Gamma (1955).


Perhaps her greatest achievement was her work with the United States Olympics (1975-1984). Dr. Forker was appointed a member of the President's Commission on Olympic Sports (1975-1977).  In 1977, she was a United States Delegate in the Second Educationists Session at the International Olympic Academy, in Olympia, Greece.  Dr. Forker was a also member (1980-1984) of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Executive Board and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Education Council.  In 1984, she was Chairman of the United States Olympic Committee Symposium at the Pre-Olympic Scientific Congress in Eugene, Oregon. 


Dr. Forker presented over one hundred major speeches, and wrote for more than a dozen publications. Her emphasis was on introduction to physical education, diversity, changing philosophies, administration of physical education programs, and the history of physical education.  Major speeches include: "The Historical Development of Intercollegiate Sports for Women", "Title IX, The First Year", Why Our Graduate Programs Need Accreditation", and "Sports Governance: Women in the USOC Political Structure".  Among the publications are "What We Want Our Students To Know, To Be, To Do, Unity Through Diversity;" "Changing Philosophies in Intercollegiate Sports for Women;" "Olympism and Amateurism;" and "Leadership: The Key Ingredient."


Dr. Forker was honored for her many achievements including the IAHPER Honor Award (1961); Professor of the Year, Iowa State University – Outstanding Teaching Voted By Students (1963); CDAHPER Honor Award (1964); Faculty Citation by Alumni (1966); and the AAHPER National Honor Award (1971). She is listed in several biographical sources including: Who's Who of American Women, The Two Thousand Women of Achievement,; The World's Who's Who of Women, Outstanding Educators of America, and Foremost Women of the Twentieth Century.  In 1997, Iowa State University renamed the Physical Education for Women (PEW) Building the Barbara E. Forker Building in her honor. 

Resources available online


Barbara Ellen Forker Papers

RS 10/7/13
University Archives, Iowa State University Library