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.
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!
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.