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.
Ernest and Estefania Rodriguez’s father, Norberto, migrated to the United States from the state of Jalisco, Mexico in 1910. He met their mother, Muggie Adams, an African-American woman from Alabama in Iowa. The Rodriguez family lived in Holy City, a box car community in Bettendorf, Iowa for several years, and Ernest and Estefania both worked in the onion fields in nearby Pleasant Valley. As adults, both siblings were active in the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 10 in Davenport and Ernest promoted civil rights through his work with the Davenport Human Relations Commission and the Quad City Grape Boycott Committee.
Maritza Lopez-Campos is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in social work. She began working at the Iowa Women’s Archives last spring. Since then, she has read oral history interviews and delved into the collections that make up the Mujeres Latinas project. She connected with the stories of immigrants and their families that she found and recently shared some of these in a presentation at Muscatine Community College. Here, Lopez-Campos explains what working with the Mujeres Latinas project has meant to her:
As a student worker at the Iowa Women’s Archives, I have had the pleasure of working on a project that speaks to me, the Mujeres Latinas in Iowa. Through this, I have realized the
commonalities I have with the women who contributed their oral interviews. The celebrations of la Virgen de Guadalupe, strict parents, not knowing English when beginning school, and the experience of discrimination told within them, I have also experienced. Perhaps the stories that most inspire me are the ones of growing up with non-English speaking, immigrant parents who spend their entire lives working so their children can have better lives. As a daughter of immigrant parents, their resiliency (perhaps the most common theme of the Mujeres Latinas project) is contagious; this makes me able to navigate being a proud Latina in the United States. These are not only stories of Latinx people immigrating to Iowa, but of living lives worthy of admiration, respect, and celebration.
CHICAGO – Janet Weaver, assistant curator of the Iowa Women’s Archives at the University of Iowa, is the winner of the 2017 Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Women and Gender Studies Section (WGSS) Award for Significant Achievement in Woman’s Studies Librarianship. The WGSS award honors a significant or one-time contribution to women’s studies librarianship.
A plaque will be presented to Weaver at a WGSS event during the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.
“The Awards Committee was greatly impressed by Weaver’s creation of the Migration is Beautiful website, which is a project constructed from oral histories and other archival material housed at the Iowa Women’s Archives,” said award chair Stacy Russo, librarian and associate professor at Santa Ana College. “Migration is Beautiful was developed from the Iowa Women’s Archives’ Mujeres Latinas project that launched in 2005. The committee especially noted Weaver’s level of collaboration with her colleagues and undergraduate students. The students selected documents for the website and also wrote vignettes. The introduction on the website reads: ‘Migration is Beautiful highlights the contributions Latinas and Latinos have made to Iowa history. Migration is central to understanding and interpreting the past, shaped first by Native Americans, and later by immigrants from around the world.’”
The Migration is Beautiful digital humanities project highlights the contributions of Latinas, their families, and their organizations to Iowa history. Visitors can navigate the site in multiple ways to access hundreds of digitized primary documents and audio clips from oral history interviews through historical topics, life stories, and a migration map.
“Weaver’s work has brought accessibility to primary source documents that were previously only available to visitors at the Iowa Women’s Archives,” continued Russo. “After its launch in 2016, Migration is Beautiful debuted with a travelling exhibit at the national League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) convention in Washington, D.C. In her continued emphasis on outreach, Weaver has made presentations to Latino groups around Iowa regarding the project. Her work has also been featured on Hola Iowa, a news outlet that focuses on Latinos in the Midwest.”
Weaver received her M.A. in Modern History from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
From October 24th – 27th Trudy Huskamp Peterson, the former Acting Archivist of the United States, and Jane E. Schultz, Professor of English and Medical Humanities at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis, will visit the University of Iowa.
A longtime friend of the Iowa Women’s Archives, Trudy Huskamp Peterson has made an international career of archives and human rights. Besides serving as the United States’ Acting Archivist, Peterson has consulted with truth commissions in South Africa and Honduras and worked for three years with the police archives in Guatemala. She is currently the chair of the International Council on Archives’ Human Rights Working.
On Monday the 24th Peterson will host an archival workshop for graduate students and researchers from 4:00 – 5:30 in 302 SH Commons. She will follow this on Tuesday the 25th with a public lecture entitled “What Every Citizen and Historian Should Know: How Governments Shape Archives.” The lecture will take place in 302 SH Commons from 12:30 – 1:45 and will include a light lunch.
Finally, on Thursday the 27th, the Universty of Iowa History of Medicine Society and the Iowa Women’s Archives will jointly present Jane E. Schultz. Schultz, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis, formerly consulted for the PBS miniseries “Mercy Street” and has written extensively about women and the Civil War. Her lecture “Civility on Trial: Nurses, Surgeons, and Medical Extremity in Civil War Hospitals will take place in the Medical Education Research Facility (MERF) 2117 from 5:30 – 6:30.
As you had hoped, I have found your questionnaire interesting to answer. However, I cannot refrain from expressing my resentment at the phrasing of certain statements, which seem to me to reflect discrimination on the basis of sex.”
So begins Dr. Dorothy Wirtz’s 1969 letter to The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. She followed her opening statement by citing precisely when the Commission assumed that the professors they surveyed would be men. She told them, quite directly, that “Women are people, too, and even manage to exist in the profession.” By 1969, Wirtz knew about existing in “the profession” as a woman, and had been a professor of French at Arizona State University for 10 years.
Dorothy Wirtz had been an outstanding student with a talent for writing and linguistics. While still an undergraduate at Culver-Stockton College, she won the Vachel Lindsay prize in poetry. After transferring to the University of Iowa, her letters home displayed focus and diligence concerning her studies in French and German. She packed her bags for the University of Wisconsin almost immediately upon graduation. There, after writing a dissertation on Flaubert, she received both a Master’s and a PhD in French by 1944.
The path from school girl in Keokuk, Iowa to doctoral candidate in Madison, Wisconsin was exceedingly unusual for a woman in the 1940s. According to a National Science Foundation report from 2006, women received only 27% of doctorate degrees from 1920 – 1999, and 43% of those were issued in the 1990s. As an aspiring professor of French in a field dominated by men, Wirtz must have known she did not exactly meet prospective employers’ expectations.
This fact was made clear when, after a few years at the University of Minnesota, she tried to join her parents and brother in Arizona. In 1950, Wirtz’s brother, Warren, sent her a list of colleges where she could apply including two Catholic institutions, jokingly adding “if you’d buy a rosary.” Dorothy noted her progress on the job search in pencil with check marks, but had no luck. A friend of Warren’s made inquiries on Dorothy’s behalf but confessed in a letter “The trouble was simply (with some question about ‘research’) that there was not a position open in the upper brackets to a woman. I doubt very much that they would appoint a woman assistant professor in our department. She probably knows this.” He went on to suggest that she try “various junior colleges” in Los Angeles. The job market wasn’t just tight. It was practically impassable.
Without a job offer and only vague plans to teach, Dorothy Wirtz moved to Arizona. For several years she worked outside of academia, eventually serving as the Deputy State Treasurer of Arizona. But the tenacious Wirtz never gave up and in 1959, she secured a position at Arizona State University. She was four years from retirement when the Carnegie Commission sent her their biased survey. Although she did not shy away from making a political point in her letter, true to her field of study, she ended her letter by suggesting that the impersonal pronoun would have been the best choice linguistically and wished them well in their survey.
On June 28th, 1914, Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip. One month later, war broke out across Europe between two alliance systems. Britain, France, Russia, and Italy comprised the Allied powers. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire constituted the Central powers. As war raged abroad, the U.S. wrestled with the politics of neutrality and intervention. In April of 1917, President Wilson was granted a declaration of war by Congress. The United States thus officially entered the conflict alongside Allied forces.
To mark the occasion of the World War I centennial, we’re remembering Iowa women whose lives were shaped by the war.
One such woman was Clayton-native Louise Marie Liers (1887-1983), an obstetrics nurse who enrolled in the Red Cross and served in France as an Army nurse.
Before her deployment, however, Liers was required by the American Red Cross to submit three letters “vouching for her loyalty as an American citizen.” All nurses, regardless of nationality, were similarly required to provide three non-familial references testifying to this effect. While questions of loyalty and subversion are exacerbated in any war, America’s domestic front was rife with tension driven by geography, class, and ethnicity that raised fears and stoked national debate in the years leading up to America’s engagement in the Great War.
Arriving in 1918, Liers was stationed in the French town of Nevers where she treated wounded soldiers. During this time Liers wrote numerous letters home to her parents and brother describing her duties and conditions of life during the war.
In a letter to her brother, featured below, Liers described her journey to France from New York City, with stops in Liverpool and Southampton.
When Liers arrived in 1918, Nevers was only a few hours away from the Allied offensive line of the Western Front. She was assigned to a camp that served patients with serious injuries and those who required long-term care. Liers noted in a 1970 interview that, by the end of the war, as fewer patients with battle wounds arrived, her camp began to see patients with the “Asian flu,” also known as the 1918 influenza outbreak that infected 500 million people across the world by the end of the war.
In letters home, and in interviews given later, Liers described pleasant memories from her time in service, including pooling sugar rations with fellow nurses to make fudge for patients. Nurses could apply for passes to leave camp and Liers was thus able to visit both Paris and Cannes. In an interview Liers recalled that, serendipitously, she had requested in advance a leave-pass to travel into town for the 11th of November, 1918. To her surprise, that date turned out to be Armistice Day, and she was able to celebrate the end of the war with the citizens of Nevers.
“…devised such tortures and called it warfare…”
Along with her cheerier memories, however, Liers’s papers also describe the difficulties of caregiving during war. She described Nevers as a town “stripped of younger people” due to the great number of deaths accrued in the four years of war. In later interviews Liers offered many accounts of the grim surroundings medical staff worked under, from cramped and poorly equipped conditions, to unhygienic supplies, such as bandages washed by locals in nearby rivers, which she remembered as “utterly ridiculous from a sanitary standpoint…they were these awful dressings. They weren’t even sterilized, there wasn’t time.” Due to the harsh conditions and limited resources, nurses and doctors gained practical knowledge in the field. Liers recalled frustrating battles to treat maggot-infected wounds before the nurses realized that the maggots, in fact, were sometimes the best option to keep wounds clean from infection in a field hospital.
On a grimmer note, Liers wrote to her parents the following:
“As I have told you before, the boys are wonderful- very helpful. When I see their horrible wounds or worse still their mustard gas burns or the gassed patients who will never again be able to do a whole days work- I lose every spark of sympathy for the beast who devised such tortures and called it warfare- last we were in Moulins when a train of children from the devastated districts came down-burned and gassed- and that was the most pitiful sight of all.”
By the time the “final drive” was in motion, Base Hospital No. 14 was filled with patients to nearly double capacity, and doctors and nurses had to work by candlelight or single light bulb. Liers’ wartime service and reflections suggest a range of emotions and experiences had by women thrust into a brutal war, remembered for its different methods of warfare, inventive machinery, and attacks on civilian populations.
Liers worked in France until 1920, and her correspondence with friends and family marks the change in routine brought on by the end of the war. With more freedom to travel, Liers and friends toured throughout France, and like countless visitors before and after, Liers describes how enchanted she became with the country, from the excitement of Paris to the rural beauty of Provence.
Following the war, Liers returned to private practice in Chicago, and later Elkader, where she was regarded as a local institution unto herself, attending over 7,000 births by 1949. She was beloved by her local community, which gifted her a new car in 1950 as a sign of gratitude upon her retirement.
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 Iowa women and war can be found here.
This post was written by Jessica Lawson, Graduate Research Assistant in the Iowa Women’s Archives.
The Iowa Women’s Archives had an exciting visit at the end of July! Five women who were active in the feminist community in Iowa City in the 1970s and were early supporters of the Emma Goldman Clinic for Women visited the archives. Dale McCormick, Sondra Smith, Gayle Sand, Barb Yates, and Francie Hornstein reunited to look through this feminist health clinic’s records and share memories of its early days. The Emma Goldman Clinic (fondly known as “Emma”) is a not-for-profit healthcare and family planning provider whose records are housed at the Archives. Barb Yates was a “founding mother” of Emma, along with Ginny Blair, Robin Christensen, Melissa Farley, Diane Greene, Darca Nicholson, Deb Nye, Patty Pressley, Carmen Salas, and Roxie Tullis.
The collections we brought out for our visitors and the stories they shared reflect the rich interconnections among women’s organizations and social justice movements in Iowa City in the 1970s. In addition to the material in the Emma Goldman Clinic Records themselves, the history of the clinic is woven through the personal papers of two of the visitors (Dale McCormick and Sondra Smith), as well as other local activists like Jill Jack and Linda Yanney and organizations such as the Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC). The women laughed as they told stories about staging a feminist revision of Taming of the Shrew, proudly compared their work on Ain’t I a Woman (the newsletter of the Iowa City Women’s Liberation Front) to the work of women’s groups in New York City in the 1970s, and paused to celebrate the memory of Iowa Women’s Archives co-founder Louise Noun. They even found time to help us identify some of the faces in the old photographs.
The University of Iowa History of Medicine Society & the Iowa Women’s Archives invite you to:
Nineteenth Century Davenport as a Hotbed of Controversial
Alternative Medicine Schools
Featuring Greta Nettleton, University of Iowa author and historian
Thursday June 19, 2014, 5:30-6:30 PM
MERF Room 2117 (Medical Education and Research Facility across from Hardin Library)
Mrs. Dr. Rebecca J. Keck was a controversial, self-taught eclectic physician and the owner of Mrs. Dr. Keck’s Infirmary for All Chronic Diseases in Davenport, Iowa. Although forgotten today, she served up to 15,000 patients in her itinerant circuit. She successfully defended herself in court five times in Illinois for practicing medicine without a license from 1879 to 1900. How does her career illuminate the birth of other alternative medical theories such as Chiropractic?
If you are a person with a disability requiring an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Donna Hirst, Hardin Library for the Health Sciences (email@example.com), 335-9154. The UI Histort of Medicine Society website is located at http://hosted.lib.uiowa.edu/histmed.
This post was originally written by Jen Wolfe, Digital Scholarship Librarian, for the UI Libraries Digital Research & Publishing Blog. It is re-posted here with minor modifications.
University of Iowa faculty, students, and staff discussed a curriculum project that combines historic documents with digital tools and methods as part of the Irving B. Weber Days local history celebration. The one-hour presentation “Archives Alive!: Teaching with WWII Correspondence” took place on Wednesday, May 7 at the Iowa City Public Library.
Iowa Women’s Archives Curator Kären Mason provided background on the IWA and its mission to chronicle the history of Iowa women, their families, and their communities by collecting personal papers, organizational records, and oral histories. IWA artifacts on display at the event included a World War II correspondence scrapbook, donated by author and radio personality Evelyn Birkby, upon which the Archives Alive! project was based.
Matt Gilchrist and Tom Keegan, Rhetoric faculty and co-directors of the Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning (IDEAL) initiative, spoke about using digital humanities methods to engage undergraduates through hands-on learning and technologically innovative assignments. For Archives Alive!, they developed a four-week curriculum module that required their Rhetoric students to participate in DIY History, the UI Libraries’ transcription crowdsourcing project. After transcribing, researching, and analyzing digitized correspondence from the Birkby scrapbook, students conveyed their findings in a variety of ways; this includes three-minute video screencasts uploaded to YouTube that form a collection of open-access works of original digital scholarship based on primary sources.
The event also featured presentations by Rhetoric students James Burke, Jessica Graff, and Zach Stark. For those who couldn’t make it in person, “Archives Alive!: Teaching with WWII Correspondence” will be archived at the Iowa City Public Library web site.
The Archives Alive! spring 2014 student works are available on the IDEAL website, and a letter from Evelyn Birkby to the students is included in the IWA Tumblr post about the project.