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!”
Rachel Black is a graduate assistant in the Iowa Women’s Archives. As part of her graduate work in the School of Library and Information Science she has been working on a project called “@ Your Local Library.”
“@ Your Local Library” is a series of photo essays bringing to life stories of the important work going on behind the scenes in libraries around the area, and posting about them on a WordPress site as well as Tumblr and Facebook.
On the “About” page for her website, Black describes her goals:
“Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t aware of everything their local library has to offer. They see the books and the computers, but not the new programs or initiatives librarians are working to provide in order to create a happy and healthy community. I started this website in order to share with everyone the different ways librarians are working to benefit their communities.”
As part of the project, Black posted a six part series featuring librarians and staff from the Iowa Women’s Archives. The posts are embedded as a series below. Be sure to check out her pages to read all of the compelling stories of work going on in libraries around The Corridor.
“Schöner Bruder,” “Ma Chère Petite,” “Sonny Boy,” Honey Child,” these are just a few of the salutations used by Dorothy and Warren “Jack” Wirtz in their letters to each other. Although their greetings may have been somewhat tongue in cheek, Dorothy and Jack’s correspondence reveals a relationship full of common interests, good humor, and affection. What helps make this so immediately apparent is that Wirtz kept her family correspondence separate from the rest. Additionally, she transcribed over 1000 pages of it, ensuring its legibility. In fact, the order of and attention Dorothy paid to her correspondence gives insight into how she prioritized her relationships and organized her life.
When I began to process this collection, I conducted a quick survey of its boxes and determined that Wirtz’s correspondence and diaries comprised over half of it. Normally, processing these portions of collections for use would involve a straightforward, chronological order. But, Wirtz was a little more complicated than that. She kept letters from her parents and her brother separate from her letters from friends and colleagues, and kept correspondence with students in a box on its own. Additionally, she kept postcards from her family distinct from all other correspondence.
Although the original letters remained, Wirtz also transcribed many of them, occasionally editorializing. After Jack’s “Hello. Hawaii?” she explained, “This must have been a greeting heard frequently on radio.” In a 1934 letter she had written to her brother about the notorious bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd, “At last you are in no immediate danger. ‘Pretty
Boy’ Floyd has been killed.” Next to her transcription of that letter she wrote in red pen “Mother worried about him being at large while Jack hitchhiked to various places.”
Recognizing Wirtz’s arrangement of her letters as intentional, I chose not reorganize them, but instead followed the archival principle of original order. Except in cases where letters are misfiled, I maintained Wirtz’s order rather than imposing an artificial one. Not only is this simpler for me as a processor, but it gives future researchers the benefit of seeing Wirtz’s correspondence as she did, with the spheres of her life distinct from each other. Dr. Wirtz, professor of French is stern, incisive, and businesslike. But the letters of “Dot” to her family are more playful. It’s a delight to see her brother play right along without interruption. The siblings sprinkled their letters with French and German, closed them with phrases like “all agog” and “d’amour,” and generally infused their prose with a mock formality.
“Would it derange you at all if we drop in on Sunday?” Dorothy asked her brother one September while he was living in Grinnell.
“Derange me?” he responded the next day, “Why I should say not. I’ll be tickled to have you come.”
Born one year apart, the siblings were as close in age as they were in everything else. Both pursued higher education, wrote poetry, spoke multiple languages, and traveled abroad. Dorothy outlived her brother by over 40 years. But you can conjure up parts of their relationship by traversing their correspondence, just as Dorothy might have each time she sat down to transcribe one of their letters.
A few years after the Iowa Women’s Archives opened, Dr. Dorothy Wirtz [1915 – 2013] donated some pieces of her college years at the University of Iowa. Dorothy Wirtz’s 1997 gift to the IWA includes her academic articles and a selection of her poetry. However, the papers mostly concern the exploits of Wirtz and her brother, Warren, as students at the University of Iowa in the late 1930s. Both French majors, the siblings balanced classes with extracurricular activities, worried about finances, and wrote home frequently. Dorothy’s letters are especially candid about her determined penny-pinching, and reflect the struggle of affording college during the Great Depression. “Do you realize,” Dorothy wrote to her mother in 1937, “that I am going to be able to maintain myself for the entire year and also probably pay Ed back within the year? What a woman! After this, remember that I am not to be discouraged in anything I want to do.” Her letters also describe an active social life with parties for French and German students and even seeing “the much talked of Black Angel,” a statue at the local Oakland Cemetery rumored to be cursed.
Born in Keokuk, Iowa and a 1939 graduate of the University of Iowa, Wirtz left her home state for an impressive and lengthy academic career. She and her brother Warren “Jack” Wirtz, a composer, led lives that reflected their artistic passions. Professor of French, pianist, published poet, and deputy treasurer of the state of Arizona, Wirtz’s life was full, but her single box of papers at the Iowa Women’s Archives did not match the extent of her accomplishments. We know that the Wirtz siblings made their home together in Phoenix, Arizona from the 1950s until Warren’s death in 1972. But after 1939, the correspondence and their collection nearly stops. Aside from a few poems, compositions, and papers, Dorothy and “Jack” Wirtz might as well have disappeared.
But that is about to change. Dorothy Wirtz bequeathed the IWA approximately 12 linear feet of materials: letters, diaries, and artifacts from an extraordinary life. The materials in these 16 boxes should fill in the gaps, giving a more complete picture of the lives of two incredible University of Iowa alumni. Wirtz’s gift included enough funds to hire me as the Dorothy Wirtz Graduate Research Assistant. This year, I will process these papers for researcher use and share my progress on the IWA blog and tumblr. Stay tuned for updates!
— Annie Tunnicliff, Dorothy Wirtz Graduate Research Assistant