Inspired by the vision of its founders, the Louise Noun – Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives nourishes creative research, learning, and teaching by providing collections and a separate space dedicated to the women of Iowa and their history. The Archives fulfills its mission by collecting and making available primary sources about the history of Iowa women from all walks of life. It undertakes a robust outreach program to gather and preserve the history of groups underrepresented in archives. Through its programs and online resources, the Iowa Women’s Archives serves a broad audience ranging from students and scholars to the general public.
Established in 1992, the archives is named for its founders, two prominent Des Moines women who conceived the idea of a repository that would collect solely on Iowa women and who worked to bring it to fruition. Louise Noun was an art collector, historian, social activist, and philanthropist. Mary Louise Smith was a Republican Party activist and the first woman to chair the Republican National Committee, serving from 1974 to 1977.
Louise Noun first recognized the need for a women’s repository as she researched her 1969 book on the history of women’s suffrage in Iowa, Strong-Minded Women. She later shared with Mary Louise Smith her frustration about the scarcity of primary sources by and about women, and the two determined to establish a repository to document the experiences and achievements of the women of Iowa. In 1991 Louise Noun auctioned the Frida Kahlo painting “Self-Portrait with Loose Hair” to permanently endow the archives. The Iowa Women’s Archives is supported by that initial gift and by the generosity of donors who continue to contribute to the archives fund.