To: UI Special Collections

Labor History Resources
in the University of Iowa Libraries,
The State Historical Society of Iowa/Iowa City
and the Hebert Hoover Presidential Library


Located within 12 miles of one another in east central Iowa, the three institutions named in the title, taken together, have long been known as a major repository of source materials concerning the politics of American agriculture, Iowa history, and the Hoover Presidency and Commerce Secretariat. Less well known are the institutions' materials bearing on other aspects of American history, among them original sources of potentially great value to historians of American labor. My main aims are to call attention to such sources and describe them briefly.

The University of Iowa Libraries (UIL) [2]

The UIL's Special Collections Department holds all the original UIL sources mentioned here. Pertinent oral history collections are the Communications Workers of America-University of Iowa Oral History Project, consisting of transcripts of 89 interviews, primarily with full time union officials who had helped build the union movement in Bell Telephone c. 1917-61 (2000 pp. with subject index, conducted 1969-72) and the Quad Cities (Davenport and Bettendorf, IA; Rock Island and Moline, IL) Oral History Project, containing transcripts of interviews with six local leaders in the Davenport-Moline area c. 1940-1970, along with a 1936 typescript history of the area's labor and radical movements by R.F McNabney (107 pp., conducted 1973). [folio xMs Ql1].

All UIL collections listed below are accompanied by finding aids describing materials down to the folder level, except where otherwise noted. Trade unionism in Iowa is the principal focus of the papers of Leroy Jones, an official in the American Federation of Grain Millers (920 items, 1936-54); of Ben A. Henry, a United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) official, a packinghouse organizer, and an Iowa CIO staffer (3 ft., 1933-b2); and of John C. Lewis, a UMWA official, packinghouse organizer, and in 1941 national president of the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (4 ft., 1937-54). The records of the University of Iowa Bureau of Labor and Management (40 ft., 1952-72) delineate labor education efforts in an agricultural state. Grievance arbitration proceedings in farm equipment manufacturing, food pro-cessing, and Iowa and Wisconsin public employment are the focus of the case files of arbitrators Clarence Updegraff (36 ft., 1940-70) and Anthony Sinicropi (80 ft., 1965- ). Similar materials covering a wider range of industries are in the unpublished awards compiled. in the American Arbitration Association Collection (50 ft., 1963-71). Finding aids for the latter three collections are rudimentary, though researchers may enter the Updegraff and Sinicropi files by company name and by union name.

UIL holds a rich vein of papers concerning 20th century agricultural organizations which sought alliances with organized labor and/or aspired toward collective bargaining -- organizations such as the Farmers Holiday Association, the Iowa Farmers Union, the National Farmers Organization, and the U.S. Farmers Association. These include the papers of Milo Reno (3 ft., 1929-3b); of Fred Stover (40 items, 1948-54); of Daniel W. Turner (2 ft., 1928-67); of Clyde Herring (2 ft., 1932-42); of Erik Bert (12 ft., 1918-77); of John L. Shover (200 items including oral history interviews, 1933-64); and of the U.S. Farmers' Association (2 ft., 1919-70).

The main appeal of the UIL's Henry A. Wallace papers (213 ft., 1888-1965), from a labor history standpoint, lies in their elucidation of Federal control of the war economy, in which Wallace was centrally involved from mid-1941 to mid-1943. A published guide/index to the 'Wallace papers is available at many locations, as is a microfilm edition of the papers themselves. UIL is a major repository of materials concerning the Progressive Party, the vehicle of Wallace's 1948 presidential candidacy. Along with the Wallace papers, UIL holds the Progressive Party Records (30 ft., 1946-54), consisting of materials assembled by Curtis MacDougall. These contain much printed material and occasional correspondence concerning those CIO unions which supported Wallace -- and some which did not. The papers of C.B. Baldwin (30 ft., 1933-75), a CIO-PAC and Progressive Party official, are scant concerning labor support for Wallace, but their CIO-PAC materials are substantial.

Portions of the following individuals' papers are of potential interest: Harold E. Hughes, a member of the US. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, 1969-75 (200 ft., 1963-75); Nelson Kraschel, Iowa's governor during the famous 1938 UE-Maytag strike in Newton (4 ft., 1932-50); Robert Blue, Republican governor of Iowa during the Taft-Hartley era (42 ft., 1934-76); Gerald Bogan, executive director of Iowans for Right to Work from 1965 into the 1980s (7 ft., 1912-86); and Wayne Biklen, an industrial efficiency expert concerned with labor dimensions of quality control (3 ft., 1932-81). The papers of Mary Louise Smith (45 ft., 1972-77), head of the Republican National Committee from 1974 to 1977, contain much correspondence from rank and file Republicans concerning the Equal Rights Amendment and union political contributions. The papers of E.T. Meredith (38 ft., 1894-1928), a member of the American Labor Mission which visited France and England in 1918, contain two albums of photographs from the mission.

Institutional collections of interest are those of the Davenport-Besler Corporation (80 ft., 1901-56), a locomotive manufacturer, containing personnel and collective bargaining records from the 1950s; and the Chautauqua Collection (648 ft., c. 1907-1928), containing the largely unprocessed records of the Redpath Bureau of Chicago, booking-employment agents for the Chautauqua and lyceum circuits.

The State Historical Society of Iowa/Iowa City (SHSI)

The SHSI holds a magnificent and in some ways unparalleled collection which, due to staff shortages in recent years, remains largely unprocessed and therefore somewhat difficult to access. This is the collection gathered from 1977 to 1984 by the Iowa Labor History Oral Project, Inc. (ILHOP), a cooperative venture of the SHSI -- which allocated space and much staff processing time -- and the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO (IFL), joined by Iowa's Teamsters and United Auto Worker state organizations -- which committed over $196,000, drawn mostly from special per capita membership taxes. [3] Researchers with specific projects in mind may apply to view the collection, but the lack of descriptive aids has made the formulation of projects at a distance difficult and requests for access therefore rare. The collection consists of:

(a) 953 oral history interviews with Iowa trade union leaders and rank and file workers, representing 35 communities and 80 international unions. Of these, 819 have been transcribed, totaling some 40,000 typed pages; all tapes have been saved: The interviews were conducted by three labor historians, employed successively, who worked with an advisory committee that monitored the quality of the interviews. There was an effort to insure that tough-minded questions were posed con-cerning divisions along race and gender lines, and to insure that comparable data for nearly all interviewees was drawn by means of a standard core of questions -- while enough flexibility remained to allow a free flow of unique material. There are single-page, typed "summary sheets" for about half of the interviews, amounting to topical outlines or tables of contents. There is no subject index or other comprehensive finding aid. Shelving arrangements and typed lists do, however, confer access by community, by union, by broad chronological category, and by the interviewee's name.

(b) 125 discrete manuscript collections totaling 400 linear feet. The majority are the records of Iowa local unions-affiliates of 40 international unions. Also included are the papers of four individual activists, the records of 10 city central bodies, and the records of the IFL (80 ft., 1894-1988). Typical contents are minutes of meetings, scrapbooks, correspondence, memoranda, and grievance arbitration materials. Among the more important local union records are those of the Clinton local of the American Federation of Grain-elevator Employees (46.5 ft., 1937-80), the Ottumwa Carpenters local (12 ft., 1912-80), Waterloo United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) Local 46 (8 ft., 1942-85), Ottumwa UPWA Local 1 (31 ft., 1940-73), Machinists locals in Des Moines (8 ft., 1953-1970s) and Sioux city (15 ft., 1945-82), and several Farm Equipment-United Electrical locals in the Quad Cities (32 ft., ca. 1930s-1950s). Of the 125 collections, only five are accompanied by detailed finding aids. (Among the five are the Waterloo and Ottumwa UPWA locals' records, which are grouped with the ILHOP materials but not formally a part of them -- and not subject to the same restrictions.) The remainder have no finding aids or detailed subject access of any kind, even to the box level. Each collection is, however, usefully represented in a nearby card catalog, classified by union, employer, community, broad occupational grouping, and broad chronological period.

(c) Printed materials, drawn mostly from the manuscript collections. These have been shelved separately in categories: contracts and agreements (6 ft.) and constitutions and bylaws (3 ft.), both arranged by union name; a vertical file consisting mostly of flyers and pamphlets, arranged by subject (25 ft.); and books (25 ft.). These materials are unrestricted.

(d) More than 500 photographs, about half of which have been categorized; 50 films and videotapes; and over 100 sound recordings, drawn mostly from the manuscript collections.

Apart from the ILHOP, the SHSI holds substantial runs of eight Iowa labor newspapers: the Iowa Unionist (Des Moines, 1908-88, incomplete), Labor Leader (Dubuque, 1907-73, incomplete), Labor Voice (Muscatine, 1907-16, incomplete), Tri-City Labor Review (Davenport/Rock Island, 1912-48), Iowa Farm Labor News (Cedar Falls, 1957-63), Tribune (Cedar Rapids, 1907-56), and The Unionist and Public Forum (Sioux City, 1907-51, incomplete).

Unusual in its public-private collaborative origins, the ILHOP materials are also unusual in the complementarity of their oral history and manuscript segments. Because the acquisition of the manuscripts held by unionists was ordinarily the direct outgrowth of interviewers' contacts with those unionists as interviewees, the manuscripts support the oral history to a degree seldom, if ever, found elsewhere. And the density of coverage is, of course, extraordinary. For example, more than 190 interviews and 10 manuscript collections deal in detail with the packinghouse industry in the state of Iowa. The implications for research possibilities are many. To mention one: materials permitting in-depth studies of several communities in a manner consonant with the aims of the "new labor history" are very likely present here.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library (HHPL) [4]

The HHPL, opened to scholars in 1966, holds the Hoover papers, totaling some 2450 linear feet, and the papers of more than 100 of Hoover's associates and contemporaries, totaling over 2200 linear feet. Most boxes contain a combination of correspondence, memoranda, and mimeographed and printed materials. The Hoover papers are at many points supplemented by photocopied files from the National Archives. Excellent finding aids, in most cases providing a subject approach, describe materials down to the folder level in all collections mentioned here, with one exception, noted below.
The following subgroups of the Hoover papers are of particular interest:

(a) Pre-Commerce Period (78 ft., 1895-1921). From 1919 to early 1921 Hoover developed and articulated a vision in which improved labor-management relations would be a key element in a new, more efficient economic system. He did so mainly in two major forums for contemporary views concerning industrial relations and scientific management -- President Wilson's Second Industrial Conference and the Federated American Engineering Societies -- in both of which he emerged as the leading figure. [5] Boxes 33-40 and 43-46 illustrate the thinking of Hoover and other experts, along with their informational milieu.

(b) Commerce Period (385 ft., 1921-28). A proponet of moderation toward organized labor in the Harding and Coolidge cabinets, Secretary Hoover's vision of the worker as a central figure in building an efficient economic order prompted him to intervene often in labor matters (aided by the acquiescence of Secretary of Labor James J. Davis). [6] Substantial materials reflect Hoover's prominence during the 1922 railroad shopmen's strike and in subsequent railway labor relations (boxes 503-08); in the abandonment of the 12 Hour day in steel (boxes 234, 614); in UMWA-operator relations in bituminous coal (boxes 99-113); and in the 1921 President's Conference on Unemployment (boxes 615-73). This conference engendered several useful studies, much un-heeded exhortation, some ideas which arguably found later expression in New Deal legislation, and reports on unemployment from hundreds of cities, written mostly by local officeholders. The latter provide a mass of inchoate information and a huge mosaic of attitudes toward the unemployed. The HHPL holds extensive Hoover correspondence with Davis, Samuel Gompers, John L. Lewis, and other labor figures during the Commerce period (and other periods), some of it photocopied from other repositories.

(c) Presidential Period (693 ft., 1929-33). Sources of potential in-terest include those concerning the Labor Department and Administration relations with organized labor (boxes 27-32, 59, 193, 245); old age insurance (boxes 221-22), and efforts to maintain wage levels in 1929-30 (boxes 91-92). Materials concerning the bituminous coal industry (box 104) are typical of those concerning many industries in portraying depressed conditions among workers, with appeals for aid and other countermeasures, and protests against cuts/in employment and wages. Substantial materials concerning unemployment and Administration attempts to combat and allay it (boxes 76-77, 136-37, 324-48) include material on: the Federal Employment Stabilization Board; the Share the Work effort; reorganization of Federal-state employment services and handling of the related Wagner bill; the 1930-31 President's Emergency Committee for Employment (PECE); and the 1931-32 President's Organization on Unemployment Relief (POUR). These are supplemented by 32 linear feet of photocopies from the National Archives' PECE/POUR record group, with finding aids. Materials concerning ambitious studies whose origins lay in the Commerce period, most notably those of the Committee on Social Trends, are traced by adequate in-house finding aids.

PECE/POUR materials are also among the papers of Arthur Woods (diary, 1930-31), Fred C. Croxton (2 ft., 1871-1939), E. French Strother (7 ft., 1920-33), and Edward Eyre Hunt (3 ft., 1904-57). The latter two collections contain Committee on Social Trends materials, and the Hunt papers contain files on the U.S. Coal Commission (1922-23), employment stabilization (1931-32), and unemployment (1921-40). Further collections of note are the papers of:

(a) Westbrook Pegler (80 ft., 1908-69). The winner of a 1941 Pulitzer Prize for his columns on labor racketeering, Pegler collected some 15 linear feet of material (boxes 19, 77-105) on racketeering, Communist influence in unions, and such other targets of Pegler's attacks as union featherbedding, strike violence, and undemocratic internal governance. Most of the correspondence is an informative if biased post-1941 out-pouring from anti-union businessmen and attorneys, and from persons best described as professional anti-communists; but a large minority flowed from unionists themselves aggrieved by the things Pegler was attacking.

(b) Karl Baarslag (4 ft., 1927-67). Baarslag was a marine radio operator, 1925-39, and a naval intelligence officer, 1941-45. His papers consist mostly of correspondence arid printed and mimeographed minutes of local, regional, and national meetings of maritime labor organizations, particularly the American Radio Telegraphists Association. A major theme is resistance to Communist influence.

(c) Clark Mollenhoff (192 ft., 1947-76). These contain 21 boxes of material, mostly court and Congressional documents, used in preparing his book on Teamster corruption, Tentacles of Power (1965). They are closed pending processing and are unaccompanied by finding aids.

Proximity and cooperative relations among the UIL, SHSI, and HHPL extend the strength of all three institutions' collections. Users primarily focused on the manuscript collections of one institution will often find useful supporting material at another: the UIL and SHSI in combination are a major repository of federal and Iowa legislative and executive agency documents, along with Federal and Iowa census materials; the UIL and HHPL in combination hold extensive microform reproductions of manuscript and archival materials available from the National Archives and from commercial vendors; and the UIL maintains monograph, serial, and reference collections in the depth expected of a major research library. A somewhat outdated but still useful guide to the combined holdings, published by the UIL, is Boyd Keith Swigger, comp., A Guide to Resources for the Study of tie Recent History of the United States in the Libraries of the University of Iowa, the State Historical Society of Iowa, and in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library (283 pp., 1977).

Access: While most of the collections named above are open to researchers, some require special permission to view and/or are otherwise restricted. Researchers should contact the holding institution before travelling any distance to use a collection. Contact: Special Collections Department, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, IA 52242; Special Collections, State Historical Society of Iowa, 402 Iowa Ave., Iowa City, IA 52240; Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, IA 52358.


[1] [2003 Ed. note: John N. Schacht is a reference librarian at the University of Iowa Libraries and author of The Making of Telephone Unionism, 1920-1947 (1985). This essay has been adapted for web presentation in 2003, with the author's permission, from Leab, Daniel J., and Philip P. Mason, ed. Labor History Archives in the United States: A Guide for research and Teaching. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992. pp.195-202. Some portions of the essay, particularly those regarding available finding aids and institutional policies, may be obsolete; readers are urged to check the various institutional web pages for current information].

[2] I thank Robert McCown and Earl Rogers, of the UIL Special Collections Department, for their help in familiarizing me with pertinent UIL collections.

[3] I owe thanks to Mary Bennett and Merle Davis, of the SHSI, for introducing me to the ILHOP materials, and to H. Shelton Stromquist, of the University of Iowa Department of History -- a member of the ILHOP advisory committee and probably the historian most familiar with the ILHOP collection as a whole. My comments concerning the quality and monitoring of the ILHOP interviews, the unusual qualities of the collection, and attendant implications for research are based on an unpublished assessment by Professor Stromquist which he kindly shared with me.

[4] I owe thanks to Dale Mayer and Mildred Mather, of the HHPL, for their guidance and other helpful labors, and to the Hoover Presidential Library Association, for its grant in support of the HHPL segment of this investigation.

[5] Robert Zieger, "Herbert Hoover, the Wage-Earner, and the `New Economic System,' 1919-1929," Business History Review, 51 (1977), 162-73.

[6] Ibid., 173-78. See also his Republicans and Labor 1919-1929 (Lexington, KY, 1969), esp. pp 60-63, and his "Labor and the State in Modern America: The Archival Trail," Journal of American History, 75 (1988), 186.