The Louise Noun – Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives

A common thread throughout many of the oral histories and interpretations presented in Documenting Women in Iowa is the role of the Iowa Women’s Archives, located on the third floor of the University of Iowa’s Main Library. The Louise Noun – Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives, established in 1992, is the first repository solely focused on the preservation of women’s documents and a separate space for the history of women in Iowa. The archive provides a space for preserving, teaching, researching, sharing, and nourishing the women of Iowa and their history. Womanned by Kären Mason and Janet Weaver, along with student staff, the archives serves as the archival repository of the documents, photographs, and ephemera related to Iowa’s women and their family. Open to students, faculty, scholars, and the general public, the IWA collects and makes available primary documents about the history of Iowa Women, broadly defined.

The archive is named after its founders – Louise Noun and Mary Louise Smith, whose story Kären Mason shares here. Moreover, the archives aims to collect the varied histories, through documents and oral history projects, of all Iowa women across race, ethnicity, class, nationality, and sexuality. This includes projects like Mujeres Latinas, which Janet Weaver discusses here. The Iowa Women’s Archives is also a space for many budding and senior scholars who seek a place on campus to explore their research and engage in lively discussions, and it is also a space for sharing and collaborating on research through various guest lectures and events each year, such as the Women’s History Month Annual lecture. Many Iowa undergraduate and graduate students visit, research, or work at archives and these experiences are foundational in their careers, such as Karissa Haugeberg’s experiences shared here.

The IWA houses many collections, some uniquely out of the ordinary and others mundanely significant. Here are some recommended collections if you are just beginning your search into Iowa Women’s History:

Jo Rabenold Papers – a great collection for someone interested in the LGBTQ history at Iowa.

Ruth Salzmann Becker Papers – the papers and political buttons of an Iowa City community activist.  

Polk County Women’s Political Caucus Papers – an intriguing collection if you are interested in women’s politics and voting in Iowa.  

Maria Mercedes Aguilera Papers – the papers of a Latina Factory Worker in Rock Island.

Inés García Papers – the papers of an Iowa-born woman born to Mexican immigrants.

Also see Women and Politics in Iowa for more on the type of research coming out of the Iowa Women’s Archives.


Katherine Massoth