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