Publication of Louise Noun’s Strong Minded Women

Cover of Louise Noun's book, Strong-Minded Women. Published by Iowa State University Press, 1969.

“While researching my book Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa, I became aware of how little primary women’s source material has been saved. The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at Radcliffe College, was a good source of information, and I realized that Iowa needed something like that. If we do not consciously collect these bits and pieces of Iowa’s history as seen through women’s eyes, a very valuable part of our state’s heritage will be lost.”

–Louise Noun, Des Moines


Suppport for the idea of a women’s archives grows

Over lunch at the French Quarter, a Des Moines restaurant, in the spring of 1990, Louise Noun and Mary Louise Smith discovered their mutual interest in establishing an archives to collect and preserve the history of Iowa women.

“As an Iowa woman, I take particular pride in the important part that women play in the history of our state. The time has come to establish a special women’s collection so that the wonderful stories of Iowa women can be assembled and given a place of their own. The University of Iowa, as a research University, is clearly the proper setting for such a critical resource.”

— Mary Louise Smith


Sale of Frida Kahlo painting

Louise Noun began collecting art in 1930, and by the 1970s limited her purchases to works by women artists. Of her many important artworks, the Frida Kahlo painting Self-Portrait with Loose Hair was her favorite and the most valuable. She decided to donate it after she and Mary Louise Smith realized how long it would take to raise the $2 million needed for the archives.

“Women do not have the funds that men who are corporation heads do. It’s just very difficult to raise money for women’s programs from the usual funding sources. It was going to be a long, hard job even though both of us were willing to contribute. Meanwhile, I had this Frida Kahlo that was becoming increasingly valuable every year and I just thought, I’ve got an endowment hanging on my wall and I decided to give it.”

— Louise Noun

The painting was auctioned at Christie’s in New York on May 15, 1991, netting $1.5 million to endow the Iowa Women’s Archives. The purchase price set a record for a work by a Latin American artist; the resulting media coverage brought welcome publicity to the Archives and prompted some people to donate collections even before the Archives opened.


Hiring of Kären Mason

Kären Mason

Kären Mason was hired as the first curator for the Iowa Women’s Archives.

October 28, 1992

Opening of the Iowa Women's Archives

Louise Noun, Mary Louise Smith

To launch the Iowa Women’s Archives, the University Libraries held a symposium in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber on Iowa women in political life. Panelists included women who had been active in politics at the local, state, national, and international levels. Afterwards, a ceremony and reception in the Main Library celebrated the new archives. The Archives opened for research the following day.

October 11, 1993

First Anniversary: The Historian and Her Sources

Ann Firor Scott

Anne Firor Scott, a pioneer historian of American women and professor emerita of history at Duke University, addressed the need to collect and preserve primary sources documenting women and their organizations at an event in the Iowa Women’s Archives.

November 14, 1994

Second Anniversary

Mary Louise Smith, Louise Noun, Beverly Everett

Beverly Everett, farm activist and feminist from New Sharon, Iowa, spoke at the University of Iowa Libraries about her involvement in farm organizations and in the women’s movement and her decision to donate her papers to the Iowa Women’s Archives.

December 6, 1995

Third Anniversary: Giving our History a Home: A Celebration of African American Women in Iowa

Girls' Dance Team, Blue Triangle Branch of the YWCA of Des Moines, Des Moines, Iowa, March 25, 1941

This event launched a project to document the lives and experiences of African American women in Iowa by acquiring personal papers and organizational records.  Kathryn Neal was hired as archivist for the project and over the next three years developed a rich repository of primary source materials for this previously under-documented group of Midwestern women.

March 27, 1996

Women's History Month: "Finding Your Way"

In celebration of Women’s History Month, an informal session was held in the Iowa Women’s Archives about ways of doing women’s history at the University of Iowa. Speakers included Professor of History Leslie Schwalm, history grad student Marjorie Levine-Clark, undergraduate Keeley Cain, Iowa Women’s Archives assistant archivist Kathryn Neal, history grad student Catherine Rymph, and Iowa Women’s Archives Curator Karen Mason.

Septebember 27-28, 1996

The Uses of Suffrage: Women, Politics, and Social Change since 1920

Catherine Rymph, Louise Noun, Charles Hawley

The conference highlighted the history of women’s political activism since winning the right to vote in 1920. Distinguished female politicians, activists, and scholars, including Minnette Doderer, Jane De Hart, Sara Evans, and Linder Kerber, spoke on the meaning and uses of suffrage. This was the last event attended by both of the Archives’ founders, Louise Noun and Mary Louise Smith.

March 3, 1997

International Women's Month: Convocation

A celebration of 25 years of the Women’s Resource and Action Center.

August 22, 1997

Death of Mary Louise Smith

Views of  a portrait of Mary Louise Smith, 2975

“Throughout her work, Smith was praised for her grace, intellect, and integrity and her commitment to fairness, human rights and equal opportunity. She was the epitome of a political leader and community activist, inspiring others to work to improve the political process, government and society.”

–Dianne Bystrom, Catt Center for Women in Politics, Iowa State University


Fifth Anniversary

Denise O'Brien

Organic farmer and activist Denise O’Brien spoke about the need to preserve the history of rural and farm women at a reception in Des Moines. O’Brien donated her papers to the Iowa Women’s Archives soon after it opened.


Launch of the Rural Women's Project

Evelyn Birkby canning on her stove, Shenandoah, Iowa, 1950s

Doris Malkmus began work as the archivist for the Rural Women’s Project.  She traveled around the state speaking to rural women and conducting oral histories.  The resulting collections provide rich resources that chronicle the lives and experiences of rural and farm women throughout Iowa’s history.

August 1999

Iowa State Fair Exhibit: Healthcare

The Iowa Women’s Archives created an exhibit as part of the University of Iowa’s display at the 1999 Iowa State Fair. The exhibit featured sections on Childbirth, Providing Healthcare Abroad, and Nursing Education.

March 1, 2001

Prepare our Daughters for Life

A family -centered event that offered children the opportunity to be exposed to various adult mentors and work options. The Iowa Women’s Archives taught young girls about what archives are and how to archives their own lives for future generations.

August 23, 2002

Death of Louise Noun

Portrait of Louise Noun by G.V.A. Roling, January, 1932

“For Louise there was no separation between writing history and doing history. She was, at various times, often simultaneously, an officer in a voluntary association, an art collector, a philanthropist, a civil libertarian, a feminist, a daughter, and a parent. When the histories she needed to read to understand her place in time were not on the shelves, she wrote them herself. When she found it impossible to do her work because no one had respected the documents enough to preserve them, she challenged librarians and archivists to collect these materials…Louise Noun understood out of her own experience why political women had to be “strong-minded.” ”

–Linda K. Kerber
May Brodbeck Professor in Liberal Arts and Sciences
September 14th, 2002

“Dispensing with pleasantries, [Noun] is always incisive and honest, and has an uncanny ability to cut to the nub of every issue… Being with Louise, I didn’t feel as though I were with an older person. Her mind and passion remain remarkable. I always leave her place whirling with the energy of her life and work. A force for social change, she is very much an Iowan- unrushed, methodical, non-confrontational, with a genteel sense of correctness and a scholar’s sense of detail.

–Marlene Booth, 2000

November 15, 2002

Marking Women's History: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Iowa Women's Archives

Karen Mason, Gerda Lerner, and Christine Grant, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, Nov. 15, 2002

Gerda Lerner, Ida Beam distinguished visiting professor and a pioneer in the study of women’s history, spoke on “Archives and Women’s History.” The symposium, “Marking Women’s History,” celebrated the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Iowa Women’s Archives.


Iowa Women's Archives Celebrates Ten Year Anniversary

The Iowa Women’s Archives ended a yearlong celebration of its ten year anniversary with a fundraising dinner.  At the time, the archives held artifacts from more than 850 Iowa women and women’s organizations.

March 4, 2004

Celebrating May Brodbeck

Leola Bergmann in front of her portrait of May Brodbeck in the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, Mar. 4, 2002

An overflowing crowd of friends and colleagues of Leola Bergmann and the late May Brodbeck filled the reading room on March 4, 2004 for an event celebrating Leola Bergmann’s gift of her portrait of May Brodbeck.  Brodbeck was the first woman to serve as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculties of the University of Iowa (1974-1981) and was a strong advocate for women within the university.

March 1, 2005

Women's History Month: Tuesday Video Series

The Iowa Women’s Archives hosted a series of noontime video showings through out the month of March. Videos shown were “Videos from the Iowa Women’s Archives: Women Journalists During WWII,” “Videos from the Iowa Women’s Archives: African-American Women in Iowa,” “Videos from the Iowa Women’s Archives: Nancy Drew and Adult Mystery Writers, featuring Linda Barnes and Nancy Pickard,” “Videos from the Iowa Women’s Archives: Jessie Field Shambaugh and 4-H.”


Mujeres Latinas Project

Esperanza and Cruz Martinez, 1920

The Iowa Women’s Archives received grants from the Iowa Historical Records Development Program, the University of Iowa President’s Office, and the State Historical Society, Inc. to record oral histories and gather written documents that chronicle the history of Iowa Latinas, their families, and communities.  By the end of 2006, more than 100 oral histories had been recorded.

November 2, 2005

Women at the Grassroots: Getting Out the Vote in Eastern Iowa

Charlotte Mohr, Doris Peick, Sister Irene Muñoz, Pat Jensen, Pamela Stewart, Iowa City, Iowa, 2005

The Iowa Women’s Archives, the UI Center for Human Rights, and the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office hosted a celebration of the 85th anniversary of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote.  The League of Women Voters of Johnson County, social justice activist Sister Irene Muñoz, labor leader Doris Peick, and Republican party activist Charlotte Mohr were honored for their efforts to encourage others to participate in the political process.

May 8, 2006

Kids Count! Award

Junior high students using the archives for National History Day project

The 2006 Kids Count! Award for Excellence in Service to Youth Researchers was awarded to the Iowa Women’s Archives for providing outstanding reference services to National History Day students.


University of Iowa President's Award

Janet Weaver, assistant curator, talking with Davenport women about the Mujeres Latinas project.

The Mujeres Latinas project received a University of Iowa President’s Award for State Outreach and Public Engagement for its efforts to document the history of Latinas in Iowa.  This annual award acknowledges the work of faculty, staff, and student organizations for their service to the community, state, and country.

April 13, 2009

Winners All: Women in Iowa Sports

Three women playing tennis

The stories of female Iowa athletes were explored in the exhibit “Winners All: Women in Iowa Sports.” The exhibit featured photographs and artifacts from the collections of the Johnson County Historical Society, the Iowa Women’s Archives, and the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame and Museum, which helped tell the story of the participation of women and girls in organized sports in Iowa.

A panel discussion was held that explored the experiences and observations of a few of Iowa’s female athletes. It featured former UI Women’s athletics director Christine Grant, sports reporter for the Iowa City Press-Citizen Susan Harman, UI women’s basketball associate head coach  Jan Jensen, UI head volleyball coach Sharon Dingman, and UI health and sport studies visiting assistant professor Christina Johnson.

March 3, 2010

Eve Drewelowe Reception

A reception was held to mark the launch of the “Eve Drewelowe Digital Collection,” celebrating the life and work of the first recipient of a studio arts Master’s degree at UI. The reception featured remarks by Professor Joni Kinsey, curator of the Drewelowe art collection.

March 10, 2010

Women's History Month: "Comrades in the Labor Room: The International Story of the Lamaze Method, 1950-1980"

University of Iowa history professor Paula Michaels spoke on the international story of the Lamaze method.

March 2, 2011

We Strive and We Do: Black Sorority Activism and the Black Public Sphere

Deborah Elizabeth Whaley, assistant professor of American studies and African American studies at the University of Iowa, discussed the activism of the oldest historically Black sorority in the 20th and 21st centuries.

March 22, 2011

Tell Me a Story: Making and Learning from Documentary Films

Award-winning filmmaker Marlene Booth, born and raised in Iowa, looked back – with clips from her films – on 35 years of film-making as a woman, a feminist, and a dyed-in-the-wool Hawkeye.

March 25, 2011

Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Fire

Triangle fire poster

A commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in US history. Opening remarks were made by Linda K. Kerber and May Brodbeck Professor of History, University of Iowa. Survivor testimonies were read by members of the UI Theater Arts Department.

March 6, 2012

Women's History Month: "Bread, Roses and Buttons: Pearl McGill and the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike"

(l. to r.) Jean Burns, niece of Pearl McGill; Mary Vasey; Heidi Bibler; Janet Schlapkohl; Janet Weaver; and labor leader Dick Fallow, who suggested a play about Pearl McGill.

The Iowa Women’s Archives offered an Iowa perspective on the centennial of the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile strike when it premiered a play by Janet Schlapkohl based on research by IWA assistant curator Janet Weaver. The play focused on Pearl McGill, a 17-year-old Iowa labor activist from the button factories of Muscatine who was a leader in the “Bread and Roses” strike of 25,000 textile workers.

March 23, 2012

Sisters, There's a Women's Center in Iowa City!


In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Resource and Action Center, a panel of activists recalled their involvement with the Women’s Liberation Front, the fight for childcare centers, and other facets of the women’s liberation movement in Iowa City in the 1970s and 1980s. And the lemon raspberry cake was delicious.

May 1, 2012

"Re-examining the Pelvic: Women's Health from a Recent Historical Perspective"

Photo of event

Wendy Kline, professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, spoke about the late 20th century controversy over pelvic exam instruction in American medical schools and the effort by feminists to overhaul traditional relations between doctors and female patients.

October 25, 2012

The Medicalization of Menopause over the Past 100 Years

Judith Houck, associate professor of medical history, history of science, and gender and women’s studies in the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed how menopause changed from being a natural and welcome end to a woman’s childbearing years to a deficiency disease in need of medical and pharmacological intervention. Judith Houck traced the history of the transformation over the last 100 years, and explored how pharmacological options, cultural ideas, and anxieties of the moment affected medical and popular understandings of menopause at any given time.

November 11, 2012

Celebrating 20 Years of the Iowa Women's Archives

Suzanne O’Dea read from her book, “Madam Chairman: Mary Louise Smith and the Revival of the Republican Part After Watergate,” a biography about Mary Louise Smith, one of the founders of the Iowa Women’s Archives.

October 18, 2013

Eras of Emma: The Emma Goldman Clinic Through Four Decades

A panel discussion that featured founding mothers and other Emma activists to celebrate the clinic’s 40th anniversary.

March 28, 2014

Women's History Month: "Tamales and Juneteenth Cakes: Race, Recipes, and Citizenship"

Katherine Massoth and Sue Stanfield discussed Mexican-American and African-American women’s cookbooks of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

April 18, 2014

Women in Politics Symposium


The Public Policy Center, in partnership and in honor of the Iowa Women’s archives, held a day-long symposium that examined why women do or do not run for political office, how they govern once elected, and documentation of the history of women in politics.

March 25, 2015

Women's History Month: "Light and Letters"

Professor Jennifer Burek Pierce discussed the importance of reading and letters from home for Marjorie McVicker Sutcliffe during her confinement in a tuberculosis sanatorium. Marjorie Sutcliffe’s daughter, artist Judith Sutcliffe, attended this event and contributed her memories to the discussion.

March 5, 2016

Women's History Month: "Mujeres Latinas: Every Woman has a Story"

Over sixty community members attended the event to learn about the rich history of Latinas, their families, and organizations in Iowa. Many brought mementos from their past to share with the group.

March 24, 2016

Women's History Month: "We Did So Much Beyond the Home: Jewish Women and Community Life in Iowa"

A talk given by Jeanette Gabrielle, graduate research assistant, Jewish Women in Iowa project.

July 12, 2016

Launch of the "Migration is Beautiful" Website

The Migration is Beautiful monarch butterfly. Text readings: Migration is Beautiful: Understanding and Interpreting Our Past

Janet Weaver, Mariana Ramirez, and Vitalina Nova attended the national LULAC Convention in Washington, D.C. to launch the Migration is Beautiful Website.

May 12, 2016

Strong Minded Men Make Music for Strong Minded Women

Nashville musician and songwriter Tom Mason and Iowa City’s rock and blues band HomeBrewed contributed their music to the fundraiser.