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!”
It is in part thanks to the Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission that the IWA has such a collection of materials on the suffrage movement in Iowa. The commission, incorporated in 1922, was organized “to commemorate the efforts of the Pioneer Suffragists and the long procession of workers who helped secure the final enfranchisement of women.” In addition to successfully erecting a bas relief memorial by native Iowan artist Nellie Walker in the state capitol building, the commission worked to preserve materials relating to the women’s suffrage movement through 1941. Many years later, Lindsay Shannon, Assistant Professor of Art History at North Central College and author of “Uncharted Territory: The Iowa Suffrage Memorial and the Pioneer Spirit“, found the collection quite useful. Shannon, who received her Ph.D. in American art history from the University of Iowa, had this to say about the collection:
“The Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission records are a true gem! I often begin a research project on a female artist expecting to find very little documentation of their working methods or process, but was delighted to find a detailed account of these politically astute women debating and deciding how best to represent their achievements in a work of public art. This collection has been crucial to my efforts to give the Iowa Suffrage Memorial the recognition it deserves through published research and public presentations, such as the exhibition “Women’s Suffrage in Iowa: 90 Years after the ‘Winning Plan'” at the Blanden Art Museum. What excites me the most is knowing that the Iowa Women’s Archives is custodian to historical collections like this and that it continues to actively seek out new material that represents overlooked or undervalued voices.”
The Iowa Women’s Archives features several collections related Iowa’s rejected 1980 Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was the first state ERA initiative after the passage of the national ERA in 1972. These include the Iowa ERA Coalition papers, and the Iowa Women Against the ERA papers. Both collections were of use to Celeste Campos-Castillo, Assistant Professor at UW-Milwaukee, and stef shuster, Assistant Professor at Appalachian State University, when they were grad students at he University of Iowa and researching social movement activists. Exciting discoveries were made in the research process, which shuster explains.
Celeste Campos-Castillo (Sociology PhD at UIowa, Assistant Professor at UW-Milwaukee) and I (stef shuster, Sociology PhD UIowa, Assistant Professor at Appalachian State University), used the Iowa ERA Coalition and Stop ERA collections to examine how social movement activists pitch their issues to a wide audience in the hopes of mobilizing them to action. We had some pretty exciting results! While social movement theorists tend to assume that activists should present their issues in a way that
resonates with their audience (called frame resonance) to enable a higher chance of success, we found contradictory evidence to this longstanding theory. In analyzing the archival material from the IWA, we found that movement activists might consider pitching their issues in a way that creates dissonance in their audience to improve the chances of mobilization (e.g. like voting for the ERA). These ideas were published in the March 2017 issue of the Social Psychology Quarterly.
We intend to turn our attention next to how issues can be framed in a way that compels certain emotions, and which emotions might be most effective for mobilizing people. Some of the artifacts that we would like to incorporate are the cartoons from both pro- and anti-ERA organizations.
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.
Today, the Iowa Women’s Archives commemorates Lenabelle Bock. Bock, whose name is spelled variously Lenabelle and Lena Belle, was politically active in Iowa for over twenty-five years before her election to the Iowa House of Representatives. Bock, a Republican, campaigned for and won the House seat for Hancock County. She was one of five women elected to the House in 1960. She is often remembered for her statement: “Women in the legislature need to look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, and work like a dog.”
The Lenabelle Bock papers, housed at the Iowa Women’s Archives consist of three scrapbooks covering Bock’s legislative career from 1961-1964.
When I was starting research for my MA on women in politics in Iowa in the 1950-60s, I was delighted by the trove of useful primary sources I found at the Iowa Women’s Archives. One of the best finds of my research there, which in turn helped shape my MA project, was discovering the political
scrapbook of Lenabelle Bock, who served the Iowa House of Representatives from 1961-1965. What struck me most about the Lenabelle Bock scrapbook was its compilation – I saw her constructing a narrative about her political career not just in what she chose to keep and collect in the pages of a scrapbook, but in how she decided to compile it. For example, Bock placed a newspaper article listing her as a candidate at a Republican rally opposite a page describing her as “our state representative” at the same rally the next year, despite the majority of the scrapbook running month-to-month chronologically. She was making a conscious connection between the two events, as if to say that she made good on her candidacy.
Evelyn Birkby began her decades-long careers as a radio homemaker in 1950. Her program, “Down a Country Lane,” focused on her life in rural Iowa. She continued to broadcast as a part of Kitchen-Klatter, a program with listeners in six states. She has written a weekly column for the local paper since 1949 and never misses a week. Her collection of radio homemaker materials in the Iowa Women’s Archives includes magazines, recipes, and audio recordings related to Kitchen-Klatter and other radio homemaker programs. Besides professional papers, the collection also has some of Birkby’s personal scrapbooks containing her correspondence with soldiers during World War II when she was working for the Methodist Church. Students in Matt Gilchrist’s rhetoric classes could see themselves in these personal pieces of Birkby’s life. Gilchrist, a senior lecturer in rhetoric and director of Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning at the University of Iowa, described how his students used Birkby’s papers in the classroom:
My Rhetoric students and I enjoyed so much our exploration of the Evelyn Birkby World War II Scrapbook, a part of the Iowa Women’s Archives. Students were fascinated by the correspondence Evelyn kept with soldiers fighting overseas and awaiting deployment in Stateside camps. Through the letters these soldiers sent back to Evelyn, students felt connected to the experiences of people their own age—in their early 20s—at a time of war many decades ago. The hopes, concerns, and emotions in these letters were similar to my students’ hopes, concerns, and
emotions. They read about dances and concerts, world events, visits home, plans for the future, and daily life as a soldier. Evelyn was a remarkable correspondent, keeping in regular contact with several young soldiers who always answered her letters. We could see friendships and courtships in the letters, and students were so curious to know more about the writers that they went out of their way to learn about Evelyn and the men to whom she wrote. They discovered Evelyn’s life story, including her career as a columnist and radio broadcaster. Through Evelyn’s website and Facebook page, students reached out to her, letting her know they were enjoying her letters in the Iowa Women’s Archives. We scheduled a phone call, and the whole class was enthralled by our conversation with Mrs. Birkby, who was then 94 and living in Sidney, Iowa. Students wrote papers and gave a speech about their explorations in the Archives. They also composed short videos that animated the letters and their research—you can watch one here: http://ir.uiowa.edu/ideal_archivesalive/30/.
I still hear from Evelyn, now 97, who shares her writing and recipes in The Valley News of Shenandoah, Iowa.
Ruth Salzmann Becker’s papers represent several common themes found in IWA’s collections, including Jewish women in Iowa, German immigration, and feminist activism. Elizabeth Heineman, professor and chair of the University of Iowa’s history department, has used Becker’s papers in her classes. She shared with us why she finds the Ruth Salzmann Becker papers so engaging:
“One of my favorite collections at the IWA is the Ruth Salzmann Becker papers. Ruth was born in Berlin to a Jewish Socialist family; both of her parents were medical professionals. With the rise of Nazism, the family fled, though they couldn’t all get visas together. Ruth went to England, and her parents and younger sister Eva sailed to Cuba. In 1940 they regrouped in New York, where Ruth got a degree in nursing. Somewhere along the line she met Samuel Becker, who later founded Communication Studies at UI. They married, settled in Iowa City, and raised three children. Ruth became an activist for disabled children, racial justice, and feminist causes.
One of the wonderful things about this collection is how it shows the blending of cultures that occurs with immigration. For example, Ruth started a recipe book in Germany, perhaps as part of a Home Economics class. The book traveled with her to England, then New York, and finally Iowa. Over the years, the recipes changed, from German classics like Sauerbraten to my personal favorite: marshmallow salad. Ruth switched from German to English, from grams to ounces – even her handwriting changed, from an angular Germanic script to rounded American letters. When we displayed items from the collection in a recent exhibit called “German Iowa and the Global Midwest,” visitors could see how the family tradition of political engagement evolved: from her father’s membership book in the German Social Democratic party to Ruth’s collection of pins from the 1970s, with slogans like “My consciousness is fine – it’s my pay that needs raising!” My only regret in using the collection is that I didn’t do it early enough to meet Ruth herself!”
— Elizabeth Heineman, University of Iowa, June 2017
The Iowa Women’s Archives is turning 25! As a part of our celebration, we’re presenting an exhibit, 25 Collections for 25 Years: Selections from the Iowa Women’s Archives, in the Main Library Gallery. Through December 29th, visitors to the library can see selections from a wide array of our collections accompanied by comments from researchers who have used them. Although these comments were edited for the exhibit, we’ll be posting them in full right here on our blog for the rest of the year!
For our first post, we’ll be looking at the Catherine Snedeker Hill Papers, one of the oldest collections in the Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA). Before Snedeker Hill moved to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in 1870, she attended the Monticello Female Seminary in Monticello, Illinois. Her letters home provide a look into her daily life during the Civil War era.
Susan Stanfield is a professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and earned her PhD from the University of Iowa in 2013. Stanfield had this to say about the Catherine Snedeker Hill Papers:
This was the first collection I worked with at the IWA. I was a new graduate student and visiting the archive was part of an assignment for Leslie Schwalm’s 19th Century U.S. Race and Gender course.
I selected this collection because it is one of the earliest in the archive. Although the collection goes beyond her school days, I was initially interested in the education of an antebellum woman from the Midwest. Instead of being sent ‘back East’ to be educated, Catherine Snedeker attended the Monticello Female Seminary in Illinois. The Snedeker Hill papers include a large number of letters written to Catherine while she was attending school. Her senior year at Monticello was 1862, which coincided with the Civil War. It is particularly interesting to see the Civil War through the eyes of a young woman and her family, away from the conflict.
One of the things that has made this collection so memorable to me is the chance to see Catherine’s life through that liminal time between being a schoolgirl and being a wife and mother. For Catherine Snedeker that liminal moment spanned almost a decade. For me, it clarified the tenuous position many young women were in—those that left school with no defined role for themselves.
I feel fortunate to have used the Archives as both a student and as an instructor. I used a few collections (unfortunately, not the Catherine Snedeker Hill Papers) in my dissertation. My students in two different classes wrote their final papers from collections found in the IWA. It was exciting to see them work with archival material for the first time. I believe that this project not only introduced them to the practical skills of the historian, but also important critical thinking skills, as they constructed an argument from the various letters, diaries, photographs and other artifacts they encountered.
— Susan Stanfield, University of Texas at El Paso, June 2017