Uncategorized Category


Ivory Winston, Iowa’s Own First Lady of Song

Ivory Winston Green Brochure-1

This post was written by Christina Jensen, Student Assistant in the Iowa Women’s Archives and graduate student in the UI School of Library and Information Science.

Known as ‘Iowa’s own first lady of song’, Ivory Winston was born in 1911 in Ottumwa, Iowa. The daughter of a Baptist pastor, she grew up in a strict religious household and remembered church as the place that awoke her interest in music and fostered her developing talent. As a teenager, she dreamed of becoming a concert pianist, though she confessed to The Ottumwa Courier that she had little interest in vocal work.


Ivory Winston Newspaper-1

Winston made her professional debut in 1946 to great acclaim, having waited until her mid-thirties to begin her musical career, a decade into her marriage and well after the birth of her two children, Berta Lou and Byron. A 1947 article in The Ottumwa Courier addressed this balance of family and career, describing Winston as a ‘busy singer’ and ‘a busy housewife and mother’, and asking, “Can marriage and a career mix?” Winston raised musical children who often joined her on stage during performances close to home.


Ivory Winston Truman-1

In 1950 she performed for President Truman on his birthday during a stop in Iowa and led the crowd of 20,000 in a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. Despite her professional success, the Winston family faced racial prejudice in Ottumwa, including a neighbor’s unsuccessful petition to bar the Winston family from moving into a new neighborhood. Winston’s son Byron later recalled the petition going unsigned, and the family moving into the neighborhood without incident.


Ivory Winston State poster-1

Winston’s voice was widely praised throughout her life, yet no known recordings of her singing survived.  The Des Moines Sunday Register put out a call in 2006 to its readers to keep an eye out for these missing performance recordings. If you have a recording of Ivory Winston, please notify the Iowa Women’s Archives!

Want more? Visit the Iowa Women’s Archives!  We’re open weekly Tuesday-Friday, 10:00am to noon and 1:00pm to 5:00pm.

A list of collections related to African American women in Iowa can be found here


Shirley Briggs and the Iowa Connection to “Silent Spring”

Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring,” a lyrical and compelling book about how DDT and other pesticides were damaging the environment and human health. The book called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world and became an inspiration for the environmental movement. One of Carson’s staunchest advocates and closest friends was Iowan Shirley Briggs, who met Carson when they worked together at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1940s.  To recognize this Iowa connection to “Silent Spring,” the University of Iowa Libraries and Office of Sustainability are presenting a symposium and exhibition opening on November 15, inspired by the extensive collection of Briggs’ diaries, letters, photos and artwork in the Iowa Women’s Archives.

The symposium begins at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15, in Phillips Hall Auditorium (100 PH), followed by an opening reception in the UI Sciences Library, where an exhibit of Briggs’ photos, writings, art work and memorabilia will be on display through Jan. 7.

Shirley Briggs

“A Sense of Wonder,” a short film about the last days of Rachel Carson as she struggled with cancer, will be shown from noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 14 at the Iowa City Public Library.

Speaking at the symposium will be Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability, who will read from “Silent Spring” and tell about Carson’s legacy to the environmental movement. Kären Mason, curator of the Iowa Women’s Archives, will talk about Briggs and her connection to Carson’s work. Brief clips from “A Sense of Wonder” will also be shown.


100 Years of Girl Scouting!

Girl Scout reading room exhibit

We created a small display of Girl Scout memorabilia from Iowa Women’s Archives collections. Did you attend Girl Scout Camp? What is your favorite memory? Come see our display or type a memory here.