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Once Upon a January Day: Presidential Politics in Iowa

Are you getting ready for the Iowa Caucuses next Tuesday? The University of Iowa Special Collections has some remarkable holdings of the history of presidential politics. Come visit us to catch a glimpse of caucuses and elections past, and even see the signatures of U.S. presidents!


The Iowa caucuses have been the first major event in the U.S. presidential nomination process since 1972. Would you like to learn more about these early caucuses? Request to look at some of the personal papers in our collections – here are two examples:

Outside of his business interests, W.H. Goodrich (1914- ) has been active in Republican politics at both the state and national levels. He has served as the state finance chairman of the Republican Party in Iowa, he was a delegate to the 1976 Republican National Convention, and was a regional coordinator of delegate operations for President Gerald R. Ford in 1976. The papers of W.H. Goodrich are all related to his work for the Republican Party, especially to his home area of Humboldt and Webster Counties in Iowa. Much of the collection concerns the 1976 election, with materials relating to the national convention, finances, and the national committee. Correspondence with President Ford is found throughout the papers, as well as letters from Wiley Mayne, Robert D. Ray, and William J. Scherle.

From the late 1960s, Paul A. Smith both participated in and shaped the Iowa Democratic caucuses by developing their policies and procedures. His papers include records for precinct caucuses, papers related to setting up precinct caucuses, papers related to platform planks submitted to precinct caucuses, reports of who was elected from precinct caucuses to the Central Committee and Committee on Committees, Platform Committee to the County Convention. (Smith served as Chair in about 1972). At the time of donating his papers, Smith also wrote a personal account of his experience with Iowa Democratic politics.


The Iowa caucuses have also been documented through photography. The Michael W. Lemberger Photography Collection documents the life work of the Ottumwa, Iowa, photojournalist and collector. Lemberger has been an active photojournalist and artist for more than 50 years. In his photography Lemberger captured presidential candidates in the Iowa caucus season.


Do you remember the feverish caucus season of 2007/08? You can relive the personal visits of some of the candidates by watching a recording of their campaign events online:

A number of talks were hosted by the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, a non-profit association interested in learning more about U.S. foreign policy, world affairs, and current global issues impacting society. These presentations were all held in Iowa City and many were broadcast on public radio stations in Iowa and the Iowa City Cable TV Channel 4. The Iowa Digital Library collection brings presentations of these experts on-line to a wider audience.

From 2007-2008, Political Science professor G. R. Boynton collected nearly 2000 online videos posted by eight of the 2008 presidential candidates’ campaigns. Four Democratic and four Republican candidates are represented in this archive featuring videos spanning from each candidate’s announcement of candidacy to their withdrawal from the race (or procurement of the nomination). As a collection, these videos highlight the flurry of regional political activity leading up to the Iowa caucuses. As these videos begin to disappear from their original online sources, archiving them in the Iowa Digital Library will also serve to support their research value through long-term access.


What did would-be-presidents and sitting commanders-in-chief think of Iowa and Iowans? School of Library and Information Science graduate student Julie Zimmerman created an exciting mini-exhibition of materials that answer this question. Julie’s display features presidential photographs and letters written to and about Iowans, and signed by Presidents Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Kennedy, and Reagan. Which presidential letter is a forgery and why? To find out, please come and visit the installation on the 3rd floor of the University of Iowa Main Library during opening hours.

Special thanks to Julie Zimmerman for putting together the display on U.S. presidential materials in our collections!