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Dada collection grows

The following is written by Tim Shipe, curator of the International Dada Archive

Two recent acquisitions by the International Dada Archive illustrate the diversity of Dada and its connection with the developing Central and Eastern European Constructivist movement of the 1920s.

Veshch Gegenstand Objet

With its trilingual title and multilingual content, Veshch Gegenstand Objet is, essentially, a migrant publication, representing the presence of 300,000 Russian emigrés (both White and Red) in Berlin in the 1920s and their interaction with German and Central European avant-garde artists and writers, especially the Berlin dadaists. Edited by the Russian artist El Lissitzky, Veshch displays the sort of radical typography that remained popular in the early years of the Russian Revolution until Stalin crushed the avant-garde arts in the new Soviet Union. With three of the four issues published, Iowa now has the most nearly complete run of Veshch in North America.

Anleitung zum Unterricht im Zeichnen für textile Berufe

One of the founding members of the Dada movement in Zurich, and best known for her geometric paintings and puppets, Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s educational background was in the “practical” or “domestic” arts. Women dadaists like Taeuber-Arp and her similarly educated Berlin counterpart Hannah Höch raise serious questions concerning the place of stereotypically female endeavors like fabric arts in the context of the interwar avant-garde. Taeuber-Arp’s Anleitung zum Unterricht im Zeichnen für textile Berufe (Guide to instruction in drawing for textile professions) was published in 1927 by the Trade School of the City of Zurich. The color samples Taeuber-Arp created for this instruction manual are clearly reminiscent of her better-known abstract paintings and her costume and puppet designs for Dada’s Cabaret Voltaire. Iowa has the only known copy of this significant work in the U.S.

Buttons, Buttons, Buttons!

The following is written by Academic Outreach Coordinator Kathryn Reuter

On a college campus, chances are high that you will encounter at least one button during the course of your day. Pin back buttons – sometimes called “badges” – have long decorated the tote bags, backpacks, sweaters, and jackets of university students. Buttons proclaim allegiance to a politician, to a band, or to a cause. They can commemorate an event and serve as a handy collectable souvenir.

The pin-back button as we know it today was first patented in 1896 and was manufactured by the Whitehead & Hoag Company, a business based in Newark, New Jersey. While there are earlier surviving examples of slogans and images on wearable medallions and badges (like this 1860 Presidential campaign button for Abraham Lincoln), the 1896 patent included two key innovations: a transparent cover of celluloid to protect the button design and a metal pin on the back to act as a fastener. The essential components of this 1896 design have endured to the present day, although most buttons now have a closed pin in the back to prevent pokes – and the plastic covers are made from mylar, not celluloid. A number of pin-back buttons are tucked away in different archival collections here at the University of Iowa Special Collections and Archives. Representing events and issues from over twelve decades, these buttons speak to the age-old appeal of this simple object.

Before the Button – Some History:

Before the Whitehead & Hoag company began producing pin-back buttons as a standalone product, they used celluloid badges as an element of their popular ribbon badges. An example of a ribbon badge can be seen here in Figure 1.

Fig. 1 “Masonic Lodge Souvenirs” from the John Springer Printing Ephemera Collection MsC 0202

This ribbon badge is from 1894 and is preserved (along with many other ribbons and buttons) in the John Springer Printing Ephemera Collection. This ribbon was manufactured by Whitehead & Hoag for the 25th Annual Session of the Le Mars, Iowa Knights of Pythias organization. As it predates the 1896 patent, the button has no pin backing but dangles from the ribbon, the whole ensemble designed to be fastened from the gold top onto a lapel.

Fig. 2 “Volunteer Fire Dept. Conventions” from the John Springer Printing Ephemera Collection MsC 0202

Also in the John Springer Printing Ephemera Collection is an envelope from the Whitehead & Hoag Company. This envelope describes the firm as “Makers of Ribbon, Metal, Celluloid & Enamel Ivory Badges”. The illustration on the envelope shows several ribbon badges, and the reverse of the envelope notes the design for this “Tension Envelope” was patented March 13th, 1883. This envelope is remarkable because it shows the Whitehead & Hoag Company branching out into different materials for their badges, but still primarily selling ribbons.

From Ribbons to Buttons:

In 1896 the pin-back button became a smashing success and quickly outpaced ribbon badges as the main product for the Whitehead & Hoag Company. From the start, people pinned buttons onto their hats and their clothes – and the buttons, well, they stuck! As Christen Carter and Ted Hake, the authors of Button Power: 125 Years of Saying It with Buttons, write: “[Whitehead & Hoag] succeeded in producing a low-cost, wearable, and visually appealing mass-produced novelty.” Not only did the button find fast success with businesses wishing to advertise their products and services, but they were immediately leveraged in political campaigns. Carter and Hake explain: “(the button) …debuted just a few months prior to the 1896 presidential nominating conventions and November’s election day; W&H created over two thousand distinct button designs for (presidential candidates) McKinley and Bryan.” Seen here are a number of campaign buttons from the John Springer Printing Ephemera Collection:

Fig. 3 “Unidentified Buttons” from the John Springer Printing Ephemera Collection MsC 0202

Competing firms soon began producing their own buttons – either by licensing the Whitehead & Hoag patent or by making slight modifications to the design. Another unique piece of button business ephemera in our collections is a price guide and product sample set from the St. Louis Button Co. The advertisement reads:


With Pin Backs


Celluloid Buttons with your very own special design in one or more colors can be furnished at very low prices. Send us a description or a sketch of what you want and we will understand your requirements and will be able to arrange your wording and the design so as to please you.”

This advertisement was mailed to the Redpath Lyceum Bureau in 1925 as an appeal to order buttons through the St. Louis Button Company. Now over 100 years old, the sample buttons that were mailed out are still vibrantly colored and very well-preserved.

Fig. 4 “St. Louis Button Co.” from the Redpath Chautauqua Collection MsC 0150, Series V Business Files

Also in good shape considering its age is this button from the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha. The exposition apparently featured an Ostrich Farm!

Fig. 5 “Expositions” from the John Springer Printing Ephemera Collection MsC 0202

In addition to serving as campaign materials and souvenirs, buttons became a way to display allegiance to a fandom or to signal your taste in music. In the Lynda Mendoza Collection of David McCallum Memorabilia, there are a number of buttons from the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Fig. 6 “Buttons and Pins” from the Lynda Mendoza Collection of David McCallum Memorabilia MsC 0895

And from the same collection is a “Listen to this Button” button (a promotional item for John Lennon’s 1974 album Walls and Bridges) and a “Long Live the Beatles Fan Club” button, which has a manufacturing mark from the Asco Company of Winona, Minnesota.

Fig. 7 “Listen to this Button” and “Long Live the Beatles Fan Club” Button the Lynda Mendoza Collection of David McCallum Memorabilia MsC 0895

Buttons also appeared across university campuses pledging school spirit – and a number of University of Iowa branded buttons exist in our collections. Seen here is a button from Iowa’s 1930 Homecoming, as preserved by State University of Iowa student Frances Louise Fourt, who pinned it in her scrapbook along with football game ticket stubs.

Fig. 8 Scrapbook, Frances Louise Fourt Papers. RG 02.0009.008

Today, you can order buttons in bulk through a number of online vendors – or, you can make your own bespoke buttons if you have access to a button maker. Preserved in the Iowa Women’s Archives is the Unbuttoning Feminism collection (IWA 0977), a collection of buttons made by University of Iowa students in the spring of 2013 at button-making workshops at the Women’s Resource and Action Center.

Fig. 9 Unbuttoning Feminism Collection IWA 0977

If you enjoyed this look into button history and are inspired to give button making a try, come join Special Collections and Archives and the Art Library in Study Break: Button & Collage Making, a free activity on Monday, October 16th, 2023! The event will be held at the Iowa Memorial Union, First Floor Info Table (by Hubbard Commons) 1:00PM – 3:00PM.


Carter, Christen and Hake, Theodore. Button Power: 125 Years of Saying It with Buttons. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2021.

10 Ye Old Banned Books

The following is written by SLIS graduate student Madison Knupp

From October 1st through October 7th, the American Library Association (ALA) is celebrating Banned Books Week. The ALA first started Banned Books Week in 1982 due to a rise in book banning. However, the practice of book banning is not a new concept and has a long history.

There are many books in Special Collections and Archives that have been challenged or banned historically from various corners of the world, including the 10 below.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

1886 copy of Alice in Wonderland, bound in a red cover with gilt pages

While Alice in Wonderland is now considered a classic by book and movie lovers alike, it has been challenged and banned several times throughout the world. In 1900, a U.S. school banned the book for obscene language, sexual themes, and disrespecting authority figures. Sometime around 1930, it was banned in the Hunan Province of China because the governor believed that animals speaking human language was harmful for society. The book and Disney’s 1951 movie adaptation also received criticism due to the belief that it was portraying the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Despite the bans, Alice in Wonderland has inspired several films, plays, songs and much more in pop culture.

Ulysses by James Joyce

First edition copy of Ulysses, number 412 out of 1000

Ulysses has been banned in several countries, including the United States, England, and Australia due to sexually explicit scenes portrayed in the story. First published in 1920, Ulysses was seen as incredibly obscene and was a massive target of censorship throughout the first half of the 1900s. Areas in the United States, Ireland, and Canada even burned the book. Even with many campaigns to censor this book, it continued to draw readers and praise from literary critics. It’s even been called “the most prominent landmark in modernist literature” by the New York Times.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

First edition copy of the English translation of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank’s diary is a view into the life of a young Jewish girl living in Nazi Germany. It documents her life in hiding, before her and her family were caught and sent to a concentration camp where she would be killed. Her diary was published by her father in 1947, and while many believe it is a necessary book to be on library shelves, it has faced several challenges. Common reasons for the challenge of this book include the tragic events of her life and the topic of puberty. One challenge from an Alabama school in 1983 claimed that the book should be banned because it was “a real downer.” Anne’s diary, however, has impacted readers all around the world, being translated into 70 languages.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from 1885 which includes 174 illustrations

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned by many starting from the year it was printed in 1885, attacked because of language and rude nature of the main character. Huckleberry Finn was accused of setting a bad example for young readers with its “inappropriate” narrative. It was also challenged in the early 20th century for depicting a friendship between a white boy and a Black man. Today, however, the book is often challenged because of it is seen as containing racist content.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Privately printed copy of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. There are only 250 copies of this edition

The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a children’s classic that is loved by many. In the 1980s, however, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, as well as Benjamin Bunny, was banned by London schools for only portraying “middle-class rabbits.” These rabbits were seen as having too much privilege according to its critics. Peter and his friends, however, have been translated into several languages, featured on TV and in film, and have become one of the biggest literature-based licensing organizations of its day.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

1856 edition of Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman released Leaves of Grass in 1855 and would continue editing and expanding the book of poetry until his death in 1892. This work created an uproar with many readers due to the sexual nature and celebration of sensual pleasures discussed in many of the poems. Whitman was even fired from his job at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. as a result of his boss finding a copy of the book on Whitman’s desk. Though controversial, even up to and after Whitman’s death, Leaves of Grass has entered popular culture, and is now often considered by scholars as a cornerstone in American poetry.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

1969 edition of Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhourse-Five has faced several bans and challenges since being published in 1969, not to mention a history of even being burned. Much of the controversy around the book has been due to offensive language, sexual scenes, and violence. Many of those who challenge the book thought the book promoted deviance and needed to be kept away from younger readers. Considered Vonnegut’s most iconic work, this banned book has sold over 800,000 copies and is considered one of the best antiwar novels by many critics.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway

1926 edition of The Sun Also Rises

Hemingway is no stranger having his work banned, facing international book bans for many of his works throughout the 20th century. Some schools went as far to ban all of his books, while others took specific titles off the shelves. The Sun Also Rises was often banned due to foul language and sexual themes. The book, however, was incredibly popular with readers in the latter half of the 20th century. It was also Hemingway’s first book, and it certainly made the author famous.

Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

First edition of Origin of Species

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species angered many people and faced extensive banning throughout the UK and the U.S., as well as Greece and former Yugoslavia. In Tennessee the book was banned from schools, along with the teaching of evolution as a whole from 1925 to 1967. Despite the bans, Origin of Species is still considered to be a highly influential book that changed the study of biology.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence

Privately printed copy from 1928, number 546 our of 1000 and signed by the author

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was considered obscene because of its explicit sex scenes and language. In 1960, the popular publishing company Penguin Books was prosecuted for publishing it. However, Penguin Books won the case and was allowed to continue publishing the book in England. The court case cased such a stir that Penguin Books actually sold over three million copies of the book after the trial to readers eager to see what had caused all the trouble.

10 Adolescent books to read at Special Collections & Archives

The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant Kaylee Swinford

Recognized as a powerful force, the Young Adult genre of fiction has taken the literary world by storm. With cultural phenomena like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and almost any book by John Green, it is difficult to imagine a time when there wasn’t YA. Developing near the mid-20th century, adolescent fiction originally primarily consisted of “problem novels”, sports, and romance. It would not be long, though, before innovation and experimentation worked its way into the genre with authors such as S.E. Hinton and her novel, The Outsiders. These novels dove into the mature, contemplative, and serious themes of youth.

A transformative genre, Young Adult fiction has found itself welcoming all sorts of writing that perhaps wouldn’t have been welcomed elsewhere. Here, writers explore fantasy, sci-fi, romance, horror, and more; sometimes all in the same book! The beauty of the genre is the knack for connecting to realistic themes, emotions, and tackling difficult problems. Here readers can often find relatable protagonists going through tribulations of their own, often overcoming these obstacles. Though once minimized by many, the YA genre is certainly not one to be dismissed.

Highlighted are 10 adolescent novels from our collection. Spanning over 80 years, each novel gives us a glimpse of popular reading at the time. Even though these books focused on pertinent issues of their day and age, they still portray emotions, experiences, and similar conflicts that are important to the youth of today.

1. A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter (PZ5.A365 L3 1928)

Born in Cedar Falls, Iowa in 1881 to pioneering parents, Bess Streeter found herself writing stories of the Heartland and pioneer history, reflecting on the environment of her childhood.A Lantern in Her Hand follows protagonist Abbie Deal (modeled after Bess’ mother) who travels by covered wagon to the Midwest. Wildly popular with teenagers, Bess Streeter’s books excelled at conveying strength in everyday things and portraying an accurate depiction of early frontier life.

2.Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume (PZ5.B6314 T5 1981)

Beloved author Judy Blume is a household name with the ever-timely novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Blume excels at touching on themes young adults and children can relate to, with Tiger Eyes being a moving example. Reflecting on the death of her father, Judy poured her emotions into protagonist Davey, who also loses her father in a violent attack at a gas station in Atlantic City. Frequently challenged and even banned for teenage depression, mild sex attitudes, religious debates, and underage drinking, Judy affirms the importance of writing realistic experiences for teenagers and the value of writing honestly. Though faced with challenges, Tiger Eyes resonated with many adolescents, including Judy’s son, prompting him to write a screenplay with his mother and make a film released in 2013.  

3. Bonnie Jo, Go Home by Jeannette Eyerly (PZ5.E98 B65 1972) 

Acclaimed for her sensitivity, Jeannette Eyerly solidifies herself as a pioneer in dealing with controversial topics in novels with sympathy and understanding. Bonnie Jo, Go Home follows the pregnant, sixteen-year-old titular character on a trip to New York City seeking an abortion. According to Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book Publications, despite the apprehension and attempts at challenging the novel, this story proved to be an example of what “teenage girls were actually reading, despite what their teachers said.”  

4. Breaktime by Aidan Chambers (PZ5.C375 B7 1978) 

Breaktime centers on protagonist Ditto on a journey to sort out his life. Literature obsessed, Ditto is searching for meaning and connection between the fiction he reads to the life he sees. Breaktime has been heralded for its use of postmodernist conventions that are approachable to a young adult audience.  


5. Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan (PZ5.D912 D3 1979) 

Dubbed the “Queen of Teen Thrillers”, Lois Duncan is considered a pioneering figure in YA fiction, particularly in genres of horror, thriller, and suspense. One shining example of this can be found in, Daughters of Eve. This novel centers on a group of high school girls in a small town who are convinced by a teacher that the men in their life are oppressing them, and they should seek vengeance. Due to themes of sexual assault, feminism, and domestic violence, this book was banned in several states.  

6. Claire Ambler by Booth Tarkington (PZ5.T1755 C44 1928) 

Known for depicting characters living a carefree bliss, Booth Tarkington’s Claire Ambler follows the titular character through her life as a flapper girl from her teens to her mid-twenties in the “Roaring Twenties”. A 1928 Atlantic Monthly review from R.M. Gay suggests Booth has “never written better” and “never with such precision” than in Claire Ambler.  


7. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (PZ5.W377 D3 1912) 

The widely adapted novel, Daddy Long Legs follows Jerusha “Judy” Abbott as she leaves an orphanage and is sent to college by a benefactor whom she has never seen. Though predating the adolescent fiction genre, Webster’s 1912 novel was considered a “college girl” book, a type of novel featuring a young protagonist dealing with post-high-school concerns like college, career, and marriage. The story has been adapted into stage musicals, countless films from around the world, and even an anime serial. 

8. A Separate Peace by John Knowles (PZ5.K757 S4 1960a) 

In this American classic, John Knowles explores the darker side of adolescence and loss of innocence for the central character, Phineas, during his time at boarding school. Set against the backdrop of World War II, themes of morality, patriotism, and trauma are explored, heralding this novel as significant for adolescents and one certainly worth reading.  

9. Miriam by Aimée Sommerfelt, translated by Pat Shaw Iversen (PZ5.S6956 M5713 1963) 

Aimée Sommerfelt was a Norwegian writer concerned with social justice, often placing protagonists in difficult circumstances and settings, like poverty and wartime. The novel Miriam centers on two teen girls living in Nazi-occupied Norway during World War II. Throughout the novel they are forced to face the reality of prejudice and the impacts it can have on those in a variety of circumstances.  


10. Face the Dragon by Joyce Sweeney (PZ5.S975 F33 1992) 

I will admit, I wanted to feature this book primarily for the cover – though after looking into it, a protagonist who is influenced by Beowulf really sealed the deal. Eric is struggling in high school; the pressures of relationships and academics are crushing him. Reminded of the heroic poem Beowulf, Eric learns to “face the dragon,” his arrogant debate teacher, Mr. Drake. Author Joyce Sweeney, a prior teacher of 20 years, was encouraged to write stories for kids and teens with themes they can actually relate to. Marking it as a representative novel for youth, Face the Dragon touches on topics like queer identity, disordered eating, and ableism.  

Come check out these and other YA books at Special Collections & Archives!

Beauty in Breathing: An Exhibit

The following was written by Rich Dana, Sackner Archive Project Coordinator

Marvin and Ruth Sackner were the world’s foremost collectors of “visual poetry,” artwork that combines visual elements and text. Dr. Sackner was also an internationally respected pulmonologist and inventor of many medical devices. In 1992, the Sackners created a unique exhibition of work by an international selection of artists entitled The Beauty in Breathing,  as a special event at the annual meeting of The American Lung Association & American Thoracic Society.

Visual poetry is, among many things, the depiction of the sounds made by the air moving from our lungs and across our vocal cords. It’s not surprising then, that breath is one of the common themes found in the Sackner’s vast collection of artists’ books, images, and 3D objects.

“It was a scientific meeting,” recalled Dr. Sackner in a previous interview. “And in the middle of it, here is this exhibition. A lot of people got exposed to ‘art and poetry’ for the first time. It was really great fun to observe them. A lot of doctors aren’t necessarily art-inclined, but here, over a thousand people got to see this exhibit over a three-day period.”

Presented in the UIHC exhibit is a small selection of the 167 works included in The Beauty in Breathing show,  but the other works, along with copies of the exhibit catalog, original photographs from the event, and the Sackners’ curatorial records are all part of Dr. Sackner’s donation to the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.

“Concrete Poetry conveys a visual image to the reader through the arrangement of words or typefaces on the page; there may or may not be additional meanings to the poem in the abstract sense which relate to its content as in a conventional poem. Visual poetry is a form of concrete poetry that integrates visual imagery with the text.” —Dr. Marvin Sackner

The Beauty in Breathing: Selections from The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry will be on display through this fall through January 24th at the UIHC John Colloton Pavillion, located on the 6th floor, as part of their Project Art initiative. The exhibit is curated by Rich Dana, Sackner Archive Project Coordinator.

Welcome Rachel Poppen, new collections archivist

We are pleased to welcome Rachel Poppen as our new collections archivist in Special Collections and Archives. 

Rachel, a young woman with long blonde hair, stands in front of grey hollinger boxes
Rachel Poppen

Rachel joined the department in mid-July. Raised in Sibley, Iowa, Rachel received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish from the University of Iowa. She then went on to receive her Master of Science in Information Science from the University of Texas at Austin in spring 2023. Rachel is already busy digging into the University Archives.

When asked about what excites her about this position Rachel stated, “I am looking forward to interacting with the history of the University and helping preserve the historic events happening now for future generations.” As an archivist, she looks forward to connecting people and records of the past to people looking for information in the present. 

When away from work, Rachel enjoys exploring state and national parks, cooking new recipes (she’s going to love our Szathmary collection), and solving puzzles.

In Memory of Kirby Congdon, an Unsung Hero of American Poetry

The following is written by Rich Dana, Sackner Archive Project Coordinator Librarian

Black and white photo of a young man sitting in a chair, wearing all leather and sunglasses
Image of Congdon in 1966 from issue of Juggernaut, Sackner Archive

On June 3, 98-year-old Kirby Congdon passed away in Key West, Florida, a town that had recognized him as its first poet laureate. Although the arts community of Key West understood the importance of Congdon and his work, much of the rest of America’s literary establishment is yet to recognize him.

According to his obituary, he was born in Pennsylvania in 1924 and was drafted at age 19, serving with valor as an Army sharpshooter in Europe during WWII.  “At a time when the United States government and its military were enacting criminalizing edicts against gay service personnel, Kirby fought Nazi snipers to defend and expand the democratic freedoms that he would, only by virtue of his longevity, see come to fruition 70 years later with the establishment of equal rights and protections for LGBTQ+ citizens, such as gay marriage.”

With the help of the GI Bill, Kirby attended Columbia University where he studied philosophy and literature, earning a Bachelors degree… despite his rebellious nature. During this time in New York City, he became part of the Beat poetry scene, along with Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jack Kerouac. There he gained notoriety as both a writer and indie publisher as part of the “Mimeograph Revolution.”

Cover page of Juggernaut by Kirby Congdon
Cover page of Juggernaut, Sackner Archive

Stunningly handsome, a motorcycle enthusiast and leather fetishist, Kirby was a flamboyant and fearless gay man during a time when homosexual activity was still illegal and most of his beatnik compatriots opted  to seek refuge in tweedy intellectualism and academia. Although he was published in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor, his own Interim Books imprint and ground-breaking publication Magazine (a storehouse for ammunition) published work that was cutting-edge, sexy, and transgressive.

Later in life, Congdon divided his time between Key West and Fire Island, New York. His works included Aipotu (1998), Poems from Fire Island Pines and Key West (1999), Novels, prose poems of people, Old Mystic, Connecticut Sixty-five Years Ago (2003), and Selected Poems & Prose Poems (2006). His work has been anthologized in Gay Roots (1991) and Inside the Outside (2006). (Source: The Poetry Foundation)

He is survived by his husband, the art critic, Darren Jones.

Works by Kirby Congdon from The Ruth And Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry can be found at UI Special Collections.

Professional Attention: The World of Labor

The following is written by Matrice Young, student life archivist and curator of Professional Attention: The World of Labor. 

Extra Extra! Read all about it!
Jobs in America are varied and should be valued!
Whether it be workin’ the field, fixing railroads,
tightening locs or crocheting braids.
Be it acrobatics, magic, music, or ballet.
Librarians, nurses, comic artists, lecturers—No,
All professions deserve praise!

– Poem written by curator Matrice Young

From 2021-2023, before my current job as Student Life Archivist, I worked as an Olson Graduate Research Assistant for University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections and Archives. This position allowed me to learn by hands on experience about several aspects of special collections librarianship. For two years I provided reference services, assisted with instruction, processed collections and worked on descriptive language projects. As a culmination of my time as Olson Graduate, I curated an exhibit that is an homage to labor in the United States. While the exhibit does not feature everyone, it does shine a spotlight on the importance of several different professions, providing samples of our work force that we think about in relation to labor, and the ones we do not. I’ve included samples of our work force that we think about in relation to labor and ones we do not.

This exhibit features nurses, librarians, Black hairstylists, farmers, aviators, railroad workers, comic book creators, and different types of performance artists. However, because of space and material constraints, I was unable to fit all of these stories. While the exhibit only allows so much to be displayed, more stories of American workers can be found in Iowa Labor History Oral Project (ILHOP)!. You can also hear recordings from the project on the Iowa Digital Library.

I hope that from this exhibit people understand that labor is not just physical, but also mental and emotional. I want people to see that all jobs are valuable and that they have more to them than we may see on the surface. Below are some highlights from the exhibit.


Dora MacKay was a Black hairstylist from Des Moines who was part of the first graduating class of Crescent School of Beauty Culture. Beauty schools today still do not spend much time on Black hair, and Black women are often turned away from beauty shops because of lack of knowledge on how to do Black hair.

In my undergraduate career, I had to travel over 43 miles to find someone who could do my hair. In Iowa City, I still frequently go up to Cedar Rapids to find someone to do my hair. Black hair typically is tighter coiled and requires more to take care of it, and Black hair does not operate the same as loosely textured hair. You have to consider everything from protecting it at night to using different creams and oils to promote hair health and growth. 

Dora learned from Pauline Humphrey, the first Black woman to open a beauty shop for Black women in Iowa. Pauline was denied business loans, property rentals, and rejected from suppliers because of her race. She created Crescent School of Beauty Culture in 1939 after opening the first Black Beauty shop in Iowa in 1935. The racism that Humphrey and MacKay faced in creating and maintaining shops and schools to teach their hair cultures and do their own hair is its own form of labor, an emotional and mental one, not including carpal tunnel and back pain as physical pains that come with the profession.

Image of Helen Knievel during her retirement party, IWA0718

Helen Knievel was a rural librarian. She grew up on a farm in Cherokee County, Iowa and made sure to carry the voices of the individuals from her communities into her later work. She made sure that the farming and rural area communities knew what the library could do for them, including resource guides on fixing machinery and growing certain crops. She also connected with other small-town libraries to further the outreach that they could provide for their communities as a whole.

Alonzo Moore, Redpath Chautauqua Bureau Records MsC0150

Alonzo Moore was a Black Moroccan magician who started out as an apprentice beneath the great magician Edward Maro, Moore studied magic for 15 years before setting out on his own. At the time (early 1900s) he was known as the only Black magician in the world, and his performances were a mixture of studies “in the history of magic in the land of his ancestors” and brought “forgotten mysteries” to the Americas.

Andre Drew, Redpath Chautauqua Bureau Records, MsC0150

Andre Drew at 16 years old was hailed as one of the top Black tap-ballet dancers in the United States. Drew began to dance almost as early as he began to walk, studying acrobatic and tap dancing at the age of 5 under Essie Marie, and continued his studies. After successful solo performances in tap and Indian interpretive dance, Drew decided to concentrate on ballet under William Sena at the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company, and carved his way as a Black dancer in the world of ballet.

Come visit the exhibit in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room on the 3rd floor of the Main Library! View the different forms of labor and share your appreciation for all of the workers you know.

Welcome Matrice Young, new student life archivist

We are happy to welcome Matrice Young as our new student life archivist in Special Collections and Archives.

Young Black woman in yellow shirt in front of a grey wall
Matrice Young

Matrice joined the Libraries at the beginning of summer. Hailing from Chicago, Matrice received her BA in creative writing with minors in educational studies and Africana. She received her MA in Library and Information Science from University of Iowa in May 2023. After spending two years working as the Olson Research Assistant in Special Collections and Archives, Matrice dove into her new role with the University Archives, ready to make connections with student groups on campus.

When thinking about this position, Matrice states that she looks forward to making sure that student groups, particularly and especially marginalized ones, continue to be seen, heard, and given the historical spotlight they deserve. “I’m looking forward to making the connections and processing the collections of groups that we don’t have yet and the ones we do! I want people to know that their stories and their groups and organizations matter, and I want to be part of making sure that we continue to record that.”

Away from work Matrice enjoys playing a variety of games, from video to board to card. She enjoys drawing, writing, and embroidery, while also watching horror/thriller movies. Spending time with her loved ones, including an adorable cat named Melvin, is also important to Matrice. And of course, she loves reading a good book!

Mary Shelley’s Greek Odyssey

The following is written by graduate student worker Sydnee Brown

It is usually a shock when we realize that famous historical figures and celebrities struggle with everyday things like chores or math and language homework. Well, what if we told you that the iconic Mary Shelley also struggled with learning a new language?

Mary Shelley, “The Mother of Sci-Fi” and renowned author of Frankenstein, was born in 1797 to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, who were both known political philosophers in the latter half of the 18th century and early 19th century (de Bruin-Molé). Shelley, unfortunately, did not get to know her mother, as Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever merely eleven days after giving birth. Godwin then took up the task of raising his and Wollstonecraft’s daughter, as well as Shelley’s five other siblings—all of whom were either illegitimate or siblings through marriage (Bennett).

Shelley was educated early on at both a dame-school as well as a short spell with Miss Caroline Petman at her school for daughters of dissenters. However, her primary educator was her father who prioritized his children’s education highly. Godwin nurtured the imaginative minds of his children, and he gave Shelley the skillset and conviction to be able to instigate change as an activist. He provided Shelley a well-rounded education in history, mythology, and literature—including the Bible. Not only was Shelley educated in English literature, but she was also tutored in several other languages, being fluent in both Italian and French, as well as Latin, Greek, and some Spanish. It has been said that, when she married Percy Bysshe Shelley, he tutored her in both Latin and Greek as well (Bennett).

Inside page of Shelley's Greek notebook
Inside look into Shelley’s Greek notebook

As a scholar in classical languages and mythology, it is no surprise that Shelley would have read from classical authors such as Homer. In the Leigh Hunt collection where we have an assortment of books and manuscripts by and about English writer James Henry Leigh Hunt, we have one of Shelley’s notebooks where she is working through translations in Ancient Greek (Leigh Hunt Collection, Ms S54G). In this notebook, Shelley is reading Homer’s Odyssey and working through a translation. She wrote down names of significant characters early on—Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus—and other line translations indicate that she was working through Book I, lines 114-387 (Bowers 514). This manuscript of Shelley’s has received very little critical attention—Will Bowers’ 2017 article appears to be the only comprehensive study done about the notebook.

While the majority of this notebook is dedicated to Shelley’s translations of Homer, there are also two pages containing an Italian transcription of Marco Lastri’s L’osservatore fiorentino sugli edifizi della sua patria (3rd edition 1821), specifically the section where he quotes Bendetto Varchi’s Storia fiorentino (Bowers 515). Though these transcriptions are interesting, Shelley’s Homer deserves a bit more scrutiny.

According to Bowers’ research, this notebook can be dated back to Shelley’s stay at Pisa from 1820-1822, where one of her primary tasks was to learn Greek. If she was dedicating two years of her life to the study of Ancient Greek, we can assume that she might not have been proficient in the language at this time.

close up of Greek text in Mary Shelley's hand
Mary Shelley’s Greek notes

Looking at her notebook, she is working her way through the text as though she is either a beginner or, at the very least, she is struggling with Homer’s dialect. The pages of this notebook are filled with basic Greek words such as ουκ (not), παντας (all), γαρ (for), and διος (god/godlike). This vocabulary is taught to beginner Greek students early on, so it would not be a stretch to assume that Shelley was either a novice or struggling. However, it appears that she becomes more comfortable as she moves through the translations, only writing down difficult vocabulary or working through their grammatical peculiarities.

Along with her vocabulary glosses, Shelley also works through sentence structure in order to translate both full and partial lines of the Greek. She parses verbs and nouns to see how they grammatically work together in the sentence, such as “μεμνησκο a.2.mid part. n.s.f. remembering” in order to fully translate the sentence, “for I desire such ahead – remembring always.” From this moment, it is clear that she is attempting to reinforce grammatical concepts and better understand Homer’s Greek.

Shelley’s translation process throughout the notebook remains much the same, and it is intriguing to watch her learn and grow from a language-learning perspective. From her notes, she seems to be reinforcing her vocabulary and grammar knowledge, and she is consistent with her methods. While Mary Shelley might have been the master and mother of sci-fi, it doesn’t look like she was a master of Greek—at least, not yet.

Works Cited:

Bennett, Betty T. “Shelley [née Godwin], Mary Wollstonecraft (1797–1851), writer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 29. Oxford University Press. Date of access 4 Mar. 2023,

Bowers, Will. “On First Looking into Mary Shelley’s Homer.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 69, no. 290, 2017, pp. 510-531.

de Bruin-Molé, Megen. “‘Hail, Mary, the Mother of Science Fiction’: Popular Fictionalisations of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in Film and Television, 1935–2018.” Science Fiction Film & Television, vol. 11, no. 2, June 2018, pp. 233–55. (Crossref),