Skip navigation

The University of Iowa Libraries

Special Collections and University Archives

Finding Aid

Janet Pressley Piper Papers
MsC 308
Collection Dates: 1939-1988

Access and Restrictions: This collection is open for research.

Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.

Copyright: Please read The University of Iowa Libraries' statement on Property Rights, Copyright Law, and Permissions to Use Unpublished Materials.

Use of Collections: The University of Iowa Libraries supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted by their fragile condition or by contractual agreement with donors, and it may not be possible at all times to provide appropriate machinery for reading, viewing or accessing non-paper-based materials. Please read our Use of Manuscripts Statement.

Acquisition and Processing Information: This collection is a gift of Janet Pressley Piper starting in 1987 and continuing until 1995.The collection was augmented by her estate after her death in 1997. Norman Sage, a member of the English faculty at the University of Iowa and proprietor of the Maecenas Press also contributed to this collection.

Photographs: None

Janet Piper , 1940

Janet Pressley Piper, 1940

Scope and Contents

Janet Piper apparently wrote poetry almost compulsively. Her correspondence as well as literary and social criticism are oftentimes expressed in poetry.The collection consists of poetry and correspondence. There are six notebooks and one folder of what one would probably call collage poetry. She has collected items from the press, mostly New Yorker cartoons, and photocopied them, sometimes several to a page, and then typed a poem in response to the item. Due to the nature of the cartoons, these comprise mostly social commentary, oftentimes making literary references. Her correspondence, as well as sometimes being written in poetry, usually includes poetry as attachments. Some of her letters are essays or include long discursive essays. Included in the collection are bound manuscripts that comprise most of her books. Most of these items are photocopies.

Biographical Note

Janet Pressley was born in 1902 in Nebraska. She received an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Nebraska in 1922 and an M.A. in Philosophy in 1923, also at the University of Nebraska. In 1927 she married one of her poetry teachers, Edwin Ford Piper, who was some thirty years older than she. Edwin was a member of the English faculty at the University of Iowa in the early years of the twentieth century, when the New Humanists were displacing the more formal poets of an older generation. Edwin and Janet, who was a graduate student in the department, were caught up in this conflict and Janet believed it contributed to her husband's early death of a brain hemorrhage. Several of the manuscripts in the collection deal with this phenomenon. Feeling unwelcome at the University of Iowa after she received her Ph.D., Janet moved to Texas where she took up a position at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville in 1942. She was to remain in this position for thirty years where, according to Dr. David S. Gallant in his introduction in Behind This Mortal Bone: Poems 1920-1938 " . . . she became a legendary figure among her students and colleagues. Her intellectual brilliance, acumen and training based upon vast reading in several languages made her renowned among the large number of people with whom she came in contact." (p.3) She apparently attempted suicide in 1949 and her son put her under the treatment of Dr. Hauser, who used electric shock therapy on her. This incident alienated her from her son. She died in Huntsville in August 1997.

Norman Sage's Maecenas Press published her Behind This Mortal Bone in 1990. In the early 1980s Janet wrote to him, enclosing poems. Mr. Sage donated these letters and poems, and they form part of the collection.

She read widely and her writings, including letters, are filled with literary allusions, citations, and suggested readings. She could argue a point intelligently and convincingly. Nevertheless, her poetry did find a national publisher. Most of her works are self-published and a great many of them are bound manuscripts.

Related Materials

See the Papers of Edwin Ford Piper, MsC 40

Sam Houston University also has a Janet Piper collection that is not online. This collections contains the names of individual poems (see  Poem Index, below.)

Box Contents List

Box 1

Clippings, including obituary


Letter to Sandra Costich, Associate Director, The American Scholar. July 13, 1987. Attached is an essay titled "Gorham Munson in Iowa City, 1981."

Correspondence with David Diercks. Sometimes written in verse or with accompanying poems. Photocopies

Edwin Ford Piper correspondence. 10 letters. Photocopies, one ALS. Mostly from publishers

The Edwin Ford Piper Memorial Scholarship Fund. May, June, and July 1981. Mostly photocopies

Letter to Edwin Ford Piper, II, June 26, 1955, revised January 20, 1958, and annotated July 8, 1987. (TMS, photocopy)

Miscellaneous correspondence, including a letter from Charles Burns of Look magazine May 18, 1939 sending condolences on Edwin's death (ALS, photocopy);  to Julia [Class?], May 10, 1988 (ALS); and one from Dorothy (ALS, photocopy)

Poems sent to Norman Sage, 1980-1981. 3 folders. Combination of handwritten, typed, and photocopied materials

Jean Wylder. Correspondence to and from, May-July 1973. Mostly original typescript. Includes an essay on her time at the University of Iowa and the struggles within the English department



Note:  All are bound photocopy manuscripts unless otherwise noted

All Sorts of Things and Weather


Behind This Mortal Bone

Conversation and Soliliquies

Conversation and Soliliquies: Reading Notes

An Examined Life. 2 copies

A Familiar Compound Ghost Reconstituted: Two Poems

A Familiar Compount Ghost Reconstituted and A Familiar Compouond Ghost: The Historyof a Lost Manuscript

In Fervor of Sun

Late Word: Poems -- 1976

A Life in Pictures

Miscellaneous poems. 2 folders

Box 2

A New Yorker Scrapbook: The  Very Rich Hours (and Hours and Hours and Hours) of Janet Piper. Volumes I-VI .Photocopied cartoons and covers from the New Yorker magazine, with poems added. Bound in cardboard covers, with one folder of unbound materials. Photocopies.

Proposed introduction to Conrad Aikin Critical Recognition, 1914-1981: A Bibliographical Guies by Catherine Harris. This introduction was apparently not used because it does not match the Introduction in the published copy of the book (Garland Publishing, Inc., 1983). That Introduction is not credited, so presumably Harris wrote it. Includes correspondence with Harris.

Remembering Matthew Arnold and Other Poems. 2 different copies

A Selection of Poems for Julie Ann Claus. 2 different copies


Thoughts and Afterthoughts

The University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in Retrospect: A Repository of Relevant Writing

Index to poems