Dr. Barbara Forker came to Iowa State in February 1948, taking over the Women’s Physical Education Department in 1958. She replaced Dr. Germaine G. Guiot, head of women’s athletics since 1940.
Before coming to Iowa State, she received her bachelor’s of science degree from East Michigan University, her masters at Iowa State, and her doctorate at the University of Michigan. During World War II, she traveled across the United States and Europe as a member of the American Red Cross, which she had joined at the age of twenty-four, one year shy of the required age of twenty-five. In Europe she was stationed in France and Germany for eighteen months. She wrote, “I wanted to contribute to our war effort and I felt I could give more to the Red Cross than to the Armed Forces.” She ran clubs in Germany for servicemen stationed there and later escorted war brides and wives of servicemen from inland cities, such as Berlin, to harbor cities. She traveled for six months upon her return to the United States and finally joined the Iowa State staff in 1948, teaching a full schedule of physical education classes for women and advising the Naiads for ten years.
Barbara Forker, Standing, Teaches Women's Swimming in 1958
When physical education became a major for women at Iowa State in 1958, Dr. Forker became the head of the Women’s Physical Education Department of the College of Home Economics. Five years later, in 1963, Forker won Professor of the Year. Initially, she refused her invitation to the banquet planned in her honor because she just could not believe that she had actually won the prestigious award. Finally, the banquet chairman, Charlee Swartz, assured her that she had in fact won the award, and she accepted her award at the banquet. “I was very surprised when I realized I really had won the honor, but I felt as if I were receiving it on behalf of all the deserving instructors in home economics,” she said.
The awards and accomplishments bestowed on Forker continued into the 1970s. She was president of the American Association of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation in 1972. After heading the Women’s Physical Education Department for sixteen years, she became the first head of the newly created Department of Physical Education in 1974. This honor should not be underestimated; she was chosen to lead the coed department over her qualified male colleagues. A year later, she was named president of the Commission on Olympic sports and was one of five educators to receive the Distinguished Professor Award at Iowa State in 1978. In 1980 she was named to the United State Sports Academy of Visitors. On June 30, 1985, after thirty-eight years at Iowa State, she retired at sixty-five years old. Throughout her tenure at Iowa State and with all the accomplishments bestowed upon her, Forker remained a modest person throughout her life. She enjoyed spending her free time bowling or golfing, and she made it a point to bike two miles to Iowa State in good weather.
Even though Forker became one of the most decorated professors at Iowa State, she never forgot that the reason she taught was to educate female students about physical education. In 1974, Forker observed, “I have seen how student interests and needs change and the way WAA, Women’s Athletic Association, has attempted to bring satisfaction to these demands.” She went on to say that the W. A. A. “should be an outgrowth of the instruction programs where girls may perfect and improve upon skills taught in the classrooms.” She also looked to the future of women’s athletics, particularly a future where Title IX guaranteed equal athletic opportunities for women and men. “We are looking to the future with co-recreational activity in mind,” Dr. Forker said. “I feel a real need for this.”