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“Unbossed and Unbought”: Shirley Chisholm and the Voice of the People

Sunday, November 30 is the 90th anniversary of the birth of Shirley Chisholm. The following blog post was written by Anna Bostwick Flaming.

Chisholm stamp

Image via usps.com

Shirley Chisholm, the “unbought and unbossed” African American congresswoman and 1972 Presidential candidate from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn is the subject of a 2014 limited edition stamp.  Chisholm’s candidacy was remarkable not only because she presented Americans with the prospect of a Black woman in the Oval Office, but also because she promised to wrest electoral politics out of the hands of the rich and powerful.

 

Chisholm campaign flyer

Chisholm campaign flyer.  Lolly Eggers Papers, Iowa Women’s Archives

Shirley Chisholm viewed her campaign as an effort that would give voice to “all Americans.”  In particular, Chisholm opposed incumbent President Richard Nixon as the embodiment of a “minority government” only interested in “representing the wealthy and vested interest.”  The investigation of the Watergate scandal that began with the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and the administration’s cover-up prompted congressional legislation intended to curb abuses in campaign finance.  These reforms were substantially dismantled recently when, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court in McCutcheon struck down limits on the total sum that donors may contribute to candidates and parties.  Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer took the rare step of reading his dissent from the bench:  “Where money calls the tune,” he cautioned, “the voices of the people will not be heard.”  His turn of phrase suggests not just a warning about the future, but also an understanding of the past.  Just months before Watergate, Shirley Chisholm had used similar language to encourage small contributions to her 1972 Presidential campaign in donation envelopes promising to “give voice to that vast segment of the country that has never had national exposure before.”

 

Chisholm contribution envelope

Chisholm contribution envelope.  Lolly Eggers Papers, Iowa Women’s Archives

 In 1968, Chisholm had become the first African American woman elected to Congress.  In Congress, as she had in the New York State Assembly, Chisholm concerned herself with the legal, educational, and employment concerns of women and minorities.  She was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus.  During her presidential campaign, Chisholm told Roxanne Conlin – a Democrat who would later run for Iowa governor in 1982 and for the U.S. Senate in 2010 – that 1972 must be the year that “women, blacks, brown, the young, the old, activists for social change, and just people who are tired of reading the election results before the votes are counted – are going to prove that our candidates and our policies and our government are not the exclusive preserve of the financial community, the political establishment and the opinion polls.”  Chisholm wanted to direct her energies on behalf of the concerns of the people.  She offered her outspoken advocacy on behalf of civil rights legislation, the Equal Rights Amendment, and a minimum family income; she opposed wiretapping, domestic spying, and the Vietnam War.

For many, Chisholm’s candidacy signaled a broader movement for change in America.  In 1972 New York Magazine columnist Richard Reeves warned, “It’s happening in Cedar Rapids, folks.”  Edna Griffin, who in the summer of 1948 had led a successful campaign to desegregate a Des Moines lunch counter (more than seven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama), was “quite surprised” by the support for Chisholm in Iowa.  Griffin, Roxanne Conlin, and Louise Rosenfield Noun, a prominent feminist and civil liberties activist and, later, a cofounder of the Iowa Women’s Archives, spearheaded efforts for Chisholm in Des Moines.  They established a state headquarters for Chisholm supporters in a private residence on Eleventh Street in order to reflect Chisholm’s preference for neighborhoods and community rather than “big business.  Noun later recalled that supporting Chisholm was one of the “most memorable” political adventures of her life.  In Iowa City, Chisholm supporters organized in the days leading up to the precinct caucuses.  They managed to join with the McGovern caucus to elect Sylvia T. Johnson, a Chicago native and part-time member of the Augustana College Psychology Department, as a Shirley Chisholm delegate.

 

chisholm unbossed and unbought

Image courtesy the Lolly Eggers Papers, Iowa Women’s Archives

In campaign literature, Chisholm supporters proclaimed that the presidential candidate transcended categorization as “a woman, and a Black Woman at that;” rather, Shirley Chisholm was a beacon of “new hope for our system.”  Recent events remind us that we must still reckon with the work of the “unbought and unbossed” candidate.

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Election Day! Politics in the Archives

ike day napkin upright

As the site of the Iowa caucuses as well as the home state of countless policy makers and political activists, Iowa is rich with electoral history. As we cast our votes today, we reflect on the decades of campaigning that has brought some of the 20th century’s biggest political names to Iowa, as well as the effect of Iowans in shaping national political life. Above is a napkin from “National Ike Day,” a 1956 event celebrating the 66th birthday of President Dwight Eisenhower. In a letter to event organizer Anna Cochrane Lomas the next day, Eisenhower commented, “I experienced the warm feeling that I was among good and true friends.”

Below are a few more letters and photos that tell stories of the connections between politics and Iowa.

 

roosevelt eleanor to wilma belden-collins

The work of Iowa newspaper columnist and editor Wilma Belden-Collins caught the eye of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote to her about the United Nations General Assembly. Following her husband’s death, Roosevelt became the first chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and remained the U.S. representative to that Commission even after stepping down as chair in 1951, the year of the above letter.

 

bush xmas

Iowa Women’s Archives co-founder Mary Louise Smith was the first woman to chair the Republican Party. Above is a card from the Bush family, written two years before George Herbert Walker Bush’s first term as Vice-President to Ronald Reagan. During his own presidential campaign ten years later, Bush sent a letter to Smith, thanking her for her support: “There is no way I can properly express my gratitude – Barbara’s, too. You worked hard, you stood at my side when the going got tough, and you were with me, your hand on my shoulder, when things looked very gloomy indeed.”

 

clinton gore in cr 1992

hrc note

The papers of state representative Kathleen Halloran Chapman capture a smiling moment with Bill Clinton during his campaign stop in Cedar Rapids in 1992. A handwritten note to professor Suzanne Bunkers the following year comes from first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and reads: “Thank you for sharing your ideas and suggestions. Bill and I welcome your thoughts. They will be carefully considered as Bill begins to implement his agenda for change in America. Best wishes, Hillary”

 

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

For materials on Iowa women’s fight to secure the right to vote, see our digital collection on Women’s Suffrage in Iowa.

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Celebrating LGBT History Month

pink

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.

October is LGBT history month!  To celebrate, we’re taking a look at some of the eye-catching cover art of Better Homes and Dykes, from the Jo Rabenold papers.

 

white

movie

Royal

Better Homes and Dykes was a newsletter published in Iowa City by the Lesbian Alliance between 1972 and 1982. Issues featured editorials, satirical essays, and community information. In the inaugural issue, a welcome message proclaimed:

Who are we? We are those of you that have been working women, old maids, housewives, unmarried aunts, women’s libbers, students, career women, et al. No longer content with being in the Shadows of the Feminist Movement, much less shadows to each other […] Better Homes and Dykes is for all lesbians here in Iowa City and elsewhere.

LGBT periodicals like Better Homes and Dykes were often created by independent publishing collectives, targeted a narrow regional distribution, and often existed for short periods of time. Better Homes and Dykes is one of the many examples of independent LGBT press preserved in the Iowa Women’s Archives. These documents were critical tools in early LGBT community building and remain important artifacts of LGBT history, capturing the birth and growth of the gay rights movement.

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 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Iowans can be found here.

 

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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

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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.

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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.