In 1930, the Stratemeyer Syndicate published the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. Since then, Nancy Drew has become known around the world. But who was behind Carolyn Keene? The mystery of the pseudonym persisted until a 1980 court case identified Mildred Wirt Benson, a journalist and Iowa woman, as the original ghost writer. Benson began working as a ghost writer for the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1927 when she was still a student at the State University of Iowa. Eventually, she wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew mysteries. The Iowa Women’s Archives received Mildred Wirt Benson’s papers in 2013.
In The Mysterious Mildred Wirt Benson, you can learn more about Benson’s papers, her legacy, and her adventurous life as a ghost writer, an airplane pilot, and a journalist. Benson was an alum of the University of Iowa. She became the first person to receive a master’s in journalism from the State University of Iowa in 1927.
In the 1990s, she was inducted into the University of Iowa’s journalism schools Alumni Hall of Fame and received the University’s distinguished alumni award. The site includes pages dedicated to biography, the University of Iowa Nancy Drew Conference in 1993, the story of the custom made cabinet that houses 146 of Mildred Wirt Benson’s published works, and resources for Nancy Drew and Mildred Wirt Benson scholarship.
Have you ever heard a story that your grandparents, for example, told you and you were so fascinated to hear the story that you still remember it? With oral histories, a person is able to travel through time and imagine all the events and experiences that the narrator was living in those years. My name is Lupita Larios. I am an undergraduate student double majoring in Portuguese and International Studies with a track in Latin American Studies. I have been working at the Iowa Women’s Archives for almost two years, transcribing the Mujeres Latinas oral histories. I have really enjoyed listening to and transcribing the interviews. I have learned about the Mexican-American culture, the Mexican society of the 20th century, the transitions that a person has to face to belong to a new society, and how the Mexican-American community tries to put in practice their version of Mexican traditions.
I am fluent in Spanish and am able to understand most of the Mexican slang and Mexican colloquial language in the interviews. On occasion, I had to search for the meaning of some Mexican regionalisms like bolillo or words that are used in other countries like cipota, used in Honduras. Many of these interviews address issues such as migration and race. Some of the interviewees talk about the Mexican Revolution, discrimination, sexual assault, sense of community, LULAC, bilingual education, college experiences, and Mexico’s earthquake of 1985. My favorite parts of this project are the stories of how interviewees’ parents met or how they met their loved one, stories that made me laugh, or made me feel empathy for the person experiencing a difficult event in their life. Here are a few of my favorites:
Irene and Jose Guzman’s story
They are husband and wife residing in Des Moines, IA. Irene was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Jose was born in Kennedy, Texas, both with Mexican ancestors. What I liked about this oral history is that they were involved in the Migrant Action Program. This organization advocated for the rights of the Latinx migrants especially farmers, to have better housing, childcare and medical assistance. Most importantly, to let them know that they had rights and that they employers could not ignore them. I also appreciate listening to their stories of success and advocacy with the Latinx community through this program.
Berta Murillo’s story
Berta was born in Mexico City in the metropolitan area of Coyoacán in 1946. What is fascinating about this story is that her descriptions of the streets of Mexico City transported me there. I was able pass the Hernan Cortez headquarters on her way to school; she described museums, baroque churches, and the Casa Azul, which is the Frida Kahlo Museum. In addition, it was very interesting to learn that her grandfather, Mardonio Magaña, was an important sculptor in the Mexican arts that gained the respect and support of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. When Berta and her brother visited some family in Des Moines, she met Eddie. Eddie was learning Spanish and Berta was learning English. They kept in touch through letters to practice until their friendship grew into romance and they married.
Ana Ahern’s story
Ana was born in San Buenaventura, Honduras in 1929 where she grew up on a farm. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to go to school in Honduras, because her father was afraid that she would run away if she fell in love. However, she still wanted to learn how to read and write, so she paid a teacher until her father found out and prohibited her from studying. After she moved to the United States, most of her employers abused of their power by making her work long hours without liberty or benefits. One employer even took her passport so that she could not look for other jobs or go back to Honduras. After she had saved enough money to open a convenience store in Honduras, she decided to go back. The most heartbreaking part of her story is that when she returned, she discovered that her sister wasn’t taking care of her children like she had promised. The most devastating thing Ana recalled was that her daughter was living in rags and her ex-husband had taken their son to the banana plantations. Ana had to pay three hundred dollars to her brother in law to get her son back.
These are just a few stories that I had worked on, but I always find something that is very interesting and that as Latina I can identify with. Even if people are not doing research for a paper, or looking for primary sources, I recommend that they take some time to come and read a little bit about the lives of some Latinas that arrived in Iowa. Read about the hardships and stigmas they faced, the new changes that they had to make, the racism they faced, their education and employment experiences, and their communities. Enjoy the ride and visit Iowa Women’s Archives!
Lupita Larios, student worker in the Iowa Women’s Archives
In 1916, a young doctor by the name of Myrtle Hinkhouse stepped onto a ship heading toward China. Years earlier, the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions appointed her to serve in Tengchoufu and, after studying at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, she was ready to begin her work. Hinkhouse worked in China for three decades, helping patients, training nurses, and teaching at medical academies before returning to family in West Liberty, Iowa. Her great-niece, Ann, grew up listening to her stories.
I met Ann while working as the director of an ESL program at a local church. She contacted me with the hope of meeting my students from China. She thought they would like to see and even keep some of the items Myrtle brought back from her travels. I set a meeting up with her and about five students, not really thinking anything of it. I assumed, mistakenly, Ann mostly had art or jewelry, maybe a fan or two. I was astonished when she instead pulled out folders of hand-written letters, photographs, and a journal. This wasn’t pieces of art. This was a history collection.
Feeling sick, I watched the students pick out which papers to keep. I knew once the collection was separated, it would be almost worthless. “Ann,” I said, “have you considered donating this to an archive?” She told me she had asked a local historical society, but they weren’t interested. She didn’t think anyone else would be, either. “Ann,” I repeated, “did you ask the University?” The University of Iowa was only a couple blocks away. That fall, I had started the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. Nestled in the same hallway as my classes sat the Iowa Women’s Archives. It seemed if Myrtle’s papers belonged anywhere, it was there, kept together, and accessible to everyone. The challenge was convincing Ann of that.
I’ll spare you the details of how I begged Ann to leave the collection with me, the time spent relocating the items given away in that first meeting, or my devastation upon learning that one student went back to China with most of the photos, even after promising them to me. It was that last event that prompted me to run to IWA, clutching what I did have of the collection. I knew what I had was important; I didn’t know what to do with it, and I was afraid of losing more. But it all worked out. Ann visited IWA later and agreed to donate the collection. I volunteered to process it myself, determined to learn and to see the project through. Around the time I was hired as a student worker, Ann discovered a travel trunk full of Myrtle’s papers. I spent a year piecing through those items, adding the new material into what had already been organized.
Over one hundred years after Myrtle’s departure for China, I’m glad to announce the Hinkhouse collection is finally processed. The finding aid has been published and researchers finally have access to her letters, books, and photographs. As happy as I am, though, the moment is bittersweet. Processors, I think, always feel a connection to the people whose collections they are organizing. It’s hard not to, especially after delving through diaries, letters, childhood essays and recent memoirs. With Myrtle Hinkhouse, though, it was always more than that. She feels like an old friend, one I’ve cared deeply about and worried over, one that brought me Ann’s companionship, and one that pushed me into a new (and happy) path at the IWA during my graduate career. I can only hope she’ll inspire the students and researchers who study her collection as much as she inspired me.
In the window of the Main Library Gallery sit two bags, a trunk, an Army uniform, and the navy nurse’s cape that Evelyn Crary Bacon wore as a student at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa.) What do all of these items have in common? They belonged to members of “The Greatest Generation,” a cohort of Americans that came of age during the Great Depression and rose to the occasion of World War II. The Gallery’s current exhibition, “Stories Worth Telling: Marking 20 Years of “The Greatest Generation,” commemorates the bestselling book by Tom Brokaw as well as members of the generation that inspired it.
The exhibit is centered on a massive ceiling to floor art installation made from copies of enthusiastic letters Brokaw received from fans of the book. It is as if a bag filled with stories is being poured out onto the floor. Around this are cases filled with the stories of individual Iowans, including many women (and one man!) whose materials reside in the Iowa Women’s Archives. Here are just some of our collections you’ll see represented when you visit:
Evelyn Crary Bacon
Born in 1916 in Grundy Center, Iowa, Evelyn Crary Bacon made her mark in Europe where she participated in the invasion of Normandy as a captain in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. After the war, Bacon embarked on a teaching career. She held positions in nursing colleges from California to Virginia. Besides her nurse’s cape, a WWII military helmet and a canteen from her papers are present in the exhibition.
During World War II, Dick Hayashi’s family was sent to live in Japanese internment camps while he spent the war as a member of the Armed Forces. As a soldier, Hayashi met Evelyn Corrie, an Iowa woman who would go on to become columnist and radio homemaker Evelyn Birkby. A photograph of Hayashi and a letter he wrote to her survived in one of her scrapbooks and are now on display.
Blanca Vasquez Gaines
Vasquez was born in Puerto Rico in 1918, but military service took her to Iowa. She joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and trained at Fort Des Moines just south of the state’s capital. There, she met her husband, Harold Gaines. Blanca Vasquez Gaines and her husband lived in Iowa until 1956 when she returned to Puerto Rico to teach English and American Literature at the University of Puerto Rico.
All in all, “Stories Worth Telling” has materials from nine IWA collections and much more from the University of Iowa’s Special Collections & University Archives, and the African American Museum of Iowa. You can see the exhibition in the Main Library Gallery until January 4, 2019.
As of August 23rd, 2018 the Iowa Women’s Archives has started using Aeon, a new reading room management system! Thanks to Aeon, visitors to any of the special collections reading rooms will be able to:
Set up an online account in advance of their visit.
Schedule upcoming visits
Order scans or photocopies
Keep track of past visits and requests
Patrons can expect a few changes in the reading room the next time they visit. There will be much less paper work, and first-time researchers will be asked to present a photo ID.
We expect that after they register, using Aeon will help researchers maximize their time in our reading rooms and make it easier for them to manage their requests.
Ready to set up your Aeon account? You can start by clicking here. And, of course, if you have any questions along the way, our staff will be happy to help!
Maritza Lopez- Campos joined the IWA student staff to work on the Mujeres Latinas Project. Since then she’s learned about processing, written finding aids, and been an invaluable member of the team at several 25th anniversary events. We’re all wishing her the best as she leaves the archives and begins her career in social work! Here is Maritza’s reflection on her time at IWA:
“I am very grateful to have spent a year and a half working with the amazing individuals at the Iowa Women’s Archives. I was mostly involved with the Mujeres Latinas project, but I found myself also working with other materials and at various events, including the Feminist Reunion in 2017. On one special occasion, I found an album with newspaper clippings about a friend I made during my first job at a retirement home in Sioux City, IA. The Iowa Women’s Archives connected me with people whose lives had much in common with mine. As a Latina, I found similarities between the oral histories I reviewed and transcribed and the story of my family as they navigated a new home country. My hope for these materials is that others will also know women have been persevering for many, many centuries. What I will miss most about IWA is the tranquility inside the archives and working with my caring colleagues.”
Thank you, Maritza, for all of your hard work, and good luck in your future career!
In 1972, the University of Iowa’s Manuscript Librarian, Robert McCown, wrote a letter to Nora Leander. He hoped that she would donate the papers of her aunt, Esther Bacon, an Iowan and missionary to Liberia from 1941 – 1972. In 2018, Leander’s niece, Ann Prekker, found the letter among Bacon’s papers and decided to contact the Iowa Women’s Archives. She knew it had been almost 50 years, but were we still interested? Oh yes, we were!
Originally from Sioux City, Esther Bacon was a medical missionary in Liberia from 1941 – 1972 where she worked in the hospital at Zorzor. Through her work as a midwife, Bacon delivered over 20,000 babies and provided medical care to people of all ages. She died in Liberia after succumbing to Lassa fever in 1972. The collection includes photographs of Bacon’s time in Liberia, missionary newsletters, and many moving tributes to Bacon describing the lives she saved and the children she brought into the world. Bacon’s papers will join the papers of other Iowa women who chose to be missionaries such as Myrtle Hinkhouse, Marian Farquhar, and Marianne Michael.
Prekker, her husband, and their two daughters traveled to Iowa City this week to donate Esther Bacon’s materials and we are so glad they did. It may have taken 46 years for the papers to get here, but they were worth the wait!
Our 2018 Linda and Richard Kerber Fund travel grant recipient is Ezra Temko, a Sociology PhD candidate at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The Linda and Richard Kerber Fund was established to help researchers travel to the Iowa Women’s Archives. Temko has come to Iowa City from the state of Delaware, where his research investigates how cultural power and ideology are navigated around issues of racial and gender representation.
Temko became interested in Iowa after learning that in 2009, it became the only state in the U.S. to require gender balance for state and local boards and commissions. After interviewing proponents of the 2009 law, he discovered its roots went back to 1986, when a law requiring gender balance on only state boards and commissions was first passed.
Temko hoped that the papers available at the Iowa Women’s Archives would provide context for the 1986 law and the efforts to extend it. For the past week he has accessed a wealth of useful materials in the Iowa Women’s Political Caucus records, the Minnette Doderer papers, the Johnie Hammond papers, and Governor Ray’s Commission on the Status of Women records to name just a few collections.
After four days in IWA, Temko says the highlights of his research include reading constituent letters to Iowa politicians and learning more about ERA campaigns in the state. Most of all, he’s enjoyed learning about about the feminist victories of the 1970s and 1980s that we take for granted today such as the right of a married woman to have her name in the phone book without paying for it, or women’s ability to change their names after divorcing. Iowa, he says, is unique, but through his research he’s seeing connections to the feminism of the 1970s and 1980s everywhere. We can’t wait to see the results of his work!
This week, Anna Tunnicliff joined the IWA staff as Processing Librarian. Tunnicliff earned her MLIS with a Certificate in Book Studies from the University of Iowa earlier this May. She has been a graduate research assistant at the Iowa Women’s Archives for the past three years and is very excited to continue working here in a new position.
If you see her around the archives, be sure to say, “Welcome back!”
What makes this night different from all other nights? That’s a good question, and one that has been asked by generations of children celebrating the Passover or Pesah, the Festival of Spring. According to the Reuben family’s 1958 copy of The Jewish Home Beautiful, “Pesah tells of the rebirth of a nation, the redemption from slavery to freedom, the restoration to the disinherited among men of their God-given rights to life and liberty. […] Pesah is so called because of the Biblical account regarding the angel of Death who passed over the homes of the Israelites” (28).
Sandra Reuben recalls Passover fondly in her article, “Recollections of Growing up Jewish in Forest City, Iowa”:
“My Mother, Lillian Reuben, usually hosted our extended Iowa family for seders in Forest City. . . With my Dad and two sisters, Marlene and Joanie, we fit 16 people around tables that filled the entire living room. Then add Jenny and Meier Friedman, the only other Jews in our small “Norwegian” city. It was a challenge for my Mother to cook the traditional foods as Forest City had no stores that carried Passover foods. The matzo, matzo meal and other foods were brought from the Kropman grocery store in Mason City. . .some 30 miles away. Grandma came from Mason City to help Mother make gefilte fish from scratch, clean and roast the chickens, make the haroses, simmer the chicken soup band matzo balls and produce the rest of the traditional dishes. Years later my cousin Elinor (Elly) remembers these seders as an important foundation for our Jewish family.”
Reuben’s account of the Passover seder is not so unusual for residents of Iowa in the 1950’s. To this day, Jewish communities still make up a relatively small percentage of the overall Iowa population, but this has not deterred the traditional celebrations from taking place with ample amounts of attention and preparation. Throughout Iowa history, Jewish women have played important roles in community and family life, maintaining cultural and religious traditions, working in businesses and on farms, and participating in civic life. The documents and images included here were gathered from 2014-2017 as part of the Jewish Women in Iowa project at the Iowa Women’s Archives.