Edna Griffin’s civil rights activism earned her the title of the “Rosa Parks of Iowa.” Griffin moved to Des Moines with her husband and children in 1947 and by 1948 she was agitating for change. She led a campaign to desegregate the lunch counter at the local Katz Drug Store, organizing picket lines, and filing charges against its owner, Maurice Katz. Her suit went to the Iowa Supreme Court where Katz was declared guilty of violating the 1884 Iowa Civil Rights Act in 1949.
Landon Storrs, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the University of Iowa’s history department has supervised many undergraduate graduate students as they’ve used the Iowa Women’s Archives and the Edna Griffin papers in particular:
IWA has been an indispensable resource for my undergraduate students conducting original research assignments for classes including the Introduction to the History Major (a methods class on how to find and interpret historical documents), US women’s history since 1877, and The Sixties in America. I’ve also supervised many honors theses, masters’ essays, and PhD dissertations that have relied on IWA collections. Topics have included Iowa women’s fight for voting rights and later for AND against the Equal Rights Amendment; women’s war work on the WWII home front, women’s military service, women’s antiwar activism, African American women’s fight for civil rights, Iowa City women’s liberation groups,
and farm women’s activism during the 1980 farm crisis. The archives has rich records of diverse individual women and also women’s organizations.
One example that leaps to mind is the collection of Edna Griffin (1909-2000), an African American who successfully campaigned to desegregate the Katz Drug Store in Des Moines in the late 1940s; one undergraduate from Des Moines wrote an excellent paper explaining the origins and significance of Griffin’s campaign, which preceded the more famous Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott. This is just one example–if time permitted, I’d also discuss Emma Goldman Clinic records, the collections of several Iowa League of Women Voters chapters, and the feminist periodical of the 1970s, Ain’t I a Woman–all these have fascinated the diverse male and female undergrads who learn to find and interpret historical evidence using these locally resonant papers.
— Landon Storrs, University of Iowa, 2017
This post is a part of the Iowa Women’s Archives’ 25th anniversary celebration and exhibition: 25 Collections for 25 Years: Selections from the Iowa Women’s Archives on display until December 29th at the Main Library Gallery. Gallery hours are available on the Main Library website. For more information about events, see our 25th anniversary website.