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Release: Aug. 28, 2002

Co-Founder Of Iowa Women's Archives At UI Libraries Dies

Louise Rosenfield Noun, co-founder of the Iowa Women's Archives at the University of Iowa Libraries, died Friday, Aug. 23 in Des Moines at the age of 94.

"Thanks to Louise's vision, Iowa has an incredible resource for studying women's history in the 19th and 20th centuries," said Archives curator Kären Mason. "It was only through her hard work, diligence, financial resources and cooperative spirit with co-founder Mary Louise Smith that the Archives came into being."

A social activist, art collector, author and leader in the Iowa women's movement, Noun realized a long-term goal when the Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives opened in 1992. Since that time the archives, located on the third floor of the Main Library, has grown from 30 to more than 850 collections of letters, diaries, photographs, oral histories, speeches, and other materials of Iowa women of diverse backgrounds and occupations.

Noun became aware of the lack of historical sources on Iowa women while doing research for her book "Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa" (1969). In 1990 she and Mary Louise Smith, a prominent state and national leader of the Republican Party, agreed on the need for an archive to preserve Iowa women's papers and together worked to interest others in the project.

Noun endowed the archives by selling from her personal art collection Frida Kahlo's painting Self-Portrait with Loose Hair (1947) for $1.65 million. But Mason said Noun's work with the Archive went beyond the financial endowment.

"Both she and Mary Louise urged women they knew to contribute collections as well as funds," she said. "As a result, the archives acquired papers of some of Iowa's most prominent women. And it was Louise who encouraged us to initiate a project to document Iowa's African-American women. She wanted the archives to be truly representative, and not simply focus on well-known women. "

Louise Noun was born in Des Moines, on March 7, 1908, the daughter of Meyer Rosenfield and Rose (Frankel) Rosenfield. She graduated from Grinnell College in 1929 and earned an M.A. in art history from Harvard in 1933. Noun was a founder and board member of the League of Women Voters of Des Moines from 1944 to 1960, president of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union from 1964 to 1972, and a founder of the Des Moines chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She was a charter member of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus and was instrumental in establishing the Young Women's Resource Center in Des Moines. In 1981 she was elected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. Noun established the Chrysalis Foundation in 1989, which funds such projects as an after-school program for middle school girls and a scholarship program and emergency fund for women students at Des Moines Area Community College.

Among the women currently represented in the Iowa Women's Archives are filmmaker Marian Rees, Nancy Drew author Mildred Wirt Benson, naturalist Shirley Briggs, artist Eve Drewelowe, and legislators such as Minnette Doderer. But the archives also has diaries of farm women, taped interviews with artists, contracts and lesson plans of teachers, letters written by missionaries, adolescent scrapbooks, and photos of 6-on-6 girls basketball players. Noun's papers documenting her historical research and social activism and Mary Louise Smith's papers pertaining to her work with the Republican Party are especially rich sources for researchers.

In addition to her history of women's suffrage, Noun wrote three other books: "Journey to Autonomy: A Memoir" (1990), "More Strong-Minded Women: Iowa Feminists Tell Their Stories" (1992), and "Iowa Women in the WPA" (1999). Her most recent work, a biography of the suffragist Annie Savery, will be published by the Iowa Women's Archives this fall under the title "Leader and Pariah: Annie Savery and the Campaign for Women's Rights in Iowa, 1868-1891." Its publication will coincide with the symposium "Making Women's History: The Louise Noun -- Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives at Ten Years" on Nov. 15-16 in Iowa City.