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!
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 collections in the Iowa Women’s Archives feature women from all walks of life. For Karissa Haugeberg, Assistant Professor of History at Tulane University, the papers regarding nursing and nurses are of special interest. Collections in this broad topic include papers authored or co-authored by Geraldene Felton, Professor and Dean of the
College of Nursing at the University of Iowa from 1981 to 1997, newspaper clippings and letters of support concerning Iowan Barbara Fassbinder, who advocated for the rights of AIDS patients from 1990 to her death in 1994, and records pertaining to the involvement in professional organizations of Myrtle Aydelotte, the Director and Dean of the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) College of Nursing from 1949 to 1957. Haugeberg, who worked as a graduate assistant at the Iowa Women’s Archives while she was a student at the University of Iowa, comments on her use of all of these collections for her latest project.
The records of nursing organizations and the papers of key nurses are fueling my research on the history of American nursing. The papers of Geraldene Felton, who served as the first African American dean of nursing at the University of Iowa, include her reflections on the women’s liberation movement and
her scholarship on topics ranging from nurses’ work with abortion to the physical demands of working night shifts. Barbara Fassbinder’s papers include newspaper clippings, speeches, and correspondence about one of the first nurses to contract HIV on the job. After she disclosed her illness publicly, Fassbinder traveled the nation, often speaking before church groups, in an effort to destigmatize the illness. Finally, Myrtle “Kitch” Aydelotte’s papers and the records of UI’s College of Nursing illuminate the relationship between nursing education and larger movements for social justice during the twentieth century. The breadth of IWA’s collections is
enabling me to offer new insights about the history American nursing.
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.
“Diversity in Dance.” This was the motto of Edna Dieman and Julia Bennett when they founded the Dieman-Bennett Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres in 1951. The Cedar Rapids dance school operated until 1997, with classes in classical ballet, as well as dance styles from Spain and India. Miss. Dieman and Miss. Bennett, as they preferred to be called, donated the records to the Iowa Women’s Archives in 1996 and later years. Since then the photographs of dances, choreography notes, costume designs, and scrapbooks documenting Dieman’s and Bennett’s international training among many other items have been used by students and researchers alike.
Jane Nesmith, an assistant professor of rhetoric and director of the writing center at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. She explains her interest in the Dieman-Bennett Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres.
For the past few years, I’ve been doing research on Edna Dieman and Julia Bennett, who ran the Dieman-Bennett Dance Studio in Cedar Rapids from 1951-1997. They taught my dance teacher, so I think of them as my “dance grandmothers.” I began visiting the Iowa Women’s Archives, which holds their collected materials, to do research in the summer
of 2013, and I have been thrilled to find so many rich and interesting materials: diaries, manuscripts, newspaper articles, photos, recital programs, video footage and more. These items help the story of Miss Dieman and Miss Bennett come alive for me, and for the groups to whom I’ve given presentations. The librarians here are so welcoming: they find materials, make copies, and
have even connected me with others who are interested in the Dieman-Bennett papers. I don’t know what I’d do without this resource that preserves and shares materials important to the story of these two important women.
– – Jane Nesmith, Coe College, 2017
University of Iowa associate professor and chair of the dance department Rebekah Kowal likewise found the records helpful for her research. Over the years, she has brought many of her dance students into the Iowa Women’s Archives. Here, she describes some of what her students have loved about using the Dieman-Bennett materials:
I was first introduced to the Dieman-Bennett collection my first semester at The University of Iowa. An MFA student in dance had encountered the collection as part of an assignment given to her by Professor Linda Kerber in a women’s history class. The assignment was to find a topic of interest in the Iowa Women’s Archives and explore the resources accordingly. The MFA student was thrilled by the idea that there was a Cedar Rapids based dance company devoted to the teaching and performance of global dance, and that Edna Dieman and Julia Bennett had been so generous to leave their materials to the Iowa Women’s Archives. At the time, I had not begun my current research project, which is investigating the significance of international dance performance during the postwar period, so I shelved away the information about the collection as something I would explore when ready. Flash forward 15 years, and the Dieman-Bennett collection has provided a wellspring of materials for my current book project as well as for several undergraduate dance researchers to discover. For the past two years, I have been working with several dance
major honors students to examine the legacy of Dieman’s and Bennett’s mentor, La Meri, in southeast Iowa, including the inspiration to inaugurate the Dieman-Bennett
Dance Theater of the Hemispheres and related school. My students have thrilled at the opportunity to study Dieman and Bennett, poring through their records, especially diaries and Bennett’s unpublished autobiography “A Chest of Jewels.” They have taken the initiative to design and build a website to document their research, and to provide a lens onto the legacy of international dance performance in our region. We have all also appreciated the chance to view related videotapes, which are unique among repositories across the U.S. in demonstrating the educational lecture-demonstration format preferred by Dieman and Bennett as an approach to community engagement and education.
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.
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.
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.