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University of Iowa News Release


March 21, 2008

Image: Mary Louise Smith giving a speech, 1975,,4625

UI Libraries' online collection highlights Iowa women

As women's history month comes to a close, the Iowa Women's Archives (IWA) goes online. To mark the occasion and unveil the digital collection, the University of Iowa Libraries will celebrate with a reception from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 26 in the North Exhibition Hall of the Main Library.

Through the new digital collection, students and other researchers can now discover stories of remarkable Iowa women from the comfort of home. They can learn about civil rights activism through Fort Madison NAACP newsletters typed by Virginia Harper in the 1960s. The photograph collection of Estefanía Rodriguez reveals life in Holy City, an early 20th century Mexican barrio in Bettendorf. Audio clips and newspaper columns of radio homemaker Evelyn Birkby capture rural life in southwest Iowa at mid-century.

This academic year marks the 15th anniversary of the Iowa Women's Archives, which was founded by Louise Noun and Mary Louise Smith. Two new online resources celebrate their vision: the Iowa Women's Archives Founders Collection at and the Iowa Women's Archives Timeline at The Founders Collection includes a scrapbook that chronicles Smith's early involvement in politics, which culminated in her appointment as chair of the Republican National Committee in 1974. Louise Noun's scrapbooks document many aspects of her activism, including her leadership of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union.

These materials are part of the Iowa Women's Archives Digital Collections, a new portal that provides access to the 1,400 Archives items in the Iowa Digital Library. The site, which allows users to browse by subject, time period or document type, is available online at It will be regularly updated with new items drawn from the IWA's 1100 manuscript collections, which have provided valuable primary source materials for books, articles, theses and class projects.

"Not everyone can visit the archives in person. The online collections are a great way to open the archives to a much broader audience, like K-12 students across the state and beyond our borders," said Kären Mason, curator of the Iowa Women's Archives. "It's so cool that a girl in Algona can turn on her computer and find a newspaper clipping about the Des Moines women who supported Shirley Chisholm's presidential campaign in 1972."

The Founders and Iowa Women's Archives collections are the latest additions to the Iowa Digital Library (, which contains more than 98,000 digital objects, including photographs, maps, sound recordings and documents from libraries and archives at the UI and their partnering institutions. The Iowa Digital Library also includes faculty research collections and bibliographic tools.

"The Iowa Women's Archives is a gem -- not only for researchers, who can conduct research in a wide range of primary sources, including collections that represent the experiences of African-American and Latina Iowans -- but also for teachers," said Leslie Schwalm, associate professor of history at the UI. "Students in my American history and women's history courses have found the Iowa Women's Archives a wonderful gateway to the past and to the work of the historian. My undergraduate history majors gain a semester's worth of learning in an hour spent at the Iowa Women's Archives: they get to touch and read the letters and diaries and photographs that capture the American past. There is an excitement of discovery and of connection to the past that no textbook or lecture can convey. The Iowa Women's Archives is one of my most valuable resources as a teacher at the University of Iowa."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Kristi Bontrager, University of Iowa Libraries, 319-335-5960; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,

PHOTOS/GRAPHICS: Images from the collection include:
"Wearin' pants and boots and smokin' pipes and runnin' for president," editorial cartoon, 1972,,255

Louise Noun with Gloria Steinem, 2002,2902