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.
“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.
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.
Today, at the Iowa Women’s Archives commemorate one of our founders, Mary Louise Smith! Smith was born Mary Louise Epperson on October 6th, 1914 in Eddyville, Iowa. She became involved with the Republican Party in the 1950s and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1974, just after Watergate, she was appointed as the first woman to lead the Republican National Committee. Among her many accomplishments, we’re most grateful for Smith’s part in establishing the Iowa Women’s Archives. Her papers, documenting a long political career, were among the first on IWA’s shelves.
Catherine Rymph was one of the first student hired to work in the Iowa Women’s Archives when it was established in 1992. Rymph earned her PhD in history at the University of Iowa in 1998 and is now a professor of history and director of undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri. Her experience processing the papers of Mary Louise Smith had a profound impact on her:
The Mary Louise Smith papers and the Iowa Women’s Archives changed my life!—or at least they changed my career.
In the summer of 1992, while a graduate student in History at the University of Iowa, I took an extra job working at the IWA (before the archive even opened). I spent the next year and a half processing collections what at the time were the nearly empty stacks. By far the largest collection I worked on was the papers of Mary Louise Smith, one of the IWA’s prescient founders. The collection is rich in correspondence and other documentation of Smith’s many years as a Republican Party official and as an active participant in the 1970s women’s movement. Through the process of sorting through and organizing Smith’s papers, I became
particularly fascinated by her self-identification as a Republican feminist. So fascinated, in fact, that I switched my Ph.D. research focus from the 19th to 20th centuries and wrote a dissertation on women in the Republican Party. I later published Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right (University of North Carolina Press, 2006), which was the basis of my early career as a historian. Although I visited a number of other archives for my research, I never would have landed on the topic at all without that formative experience in Smith’s papers.
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
“We will meet all of us women of every land. We will meet at the center, make a circle. We will weave a world we to entangle the powers that bury our children.” — cover art for WRAC’s December 1978 newsletter
Iowa City’s Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC) opened in 1971 as a place for women to meet about and organize around issues that mattered to them. With support from the University, members of WRAC hosted a rape crisis line, formed anti-racism organizations, and kept track of local LGBT friendly businesses and housed dozens of discussion and support groups for women from all walks of life.
WRAC published monthly newsletters for Newsletters frequently included schedules for women’s events in town, notices for
for discussion and support groups, and opinion pieces on issues important to women. Newsletters also frequently included feminist poetry, such as “A Feminist Prayer,” printed in a 1975 issue.