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Jewish Life & History in Iowa: UI Archival Collections: Home


Jewish Life & History in Iowa


This LibGuide brings together a list of collections at the Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA) that contribute to our understanding of Jewish life and history in Iowa. It also highlights selected material from the UI Special Collections and UI Archives, including the papers and records of Jewish individuals and organizations, as well as other collections that may contain only a few items or folders relevant to the study of Jewish life.  While the LibGuide is primarily focused on materials that reflect the experience of women and men who spent at least part of their lives in Iowa, it also includes content from individuals who lived and worked across the U.S. and the world.


Members of the Sigma Delta Tau sorority, University of Iowa. Chapman Family papers.


The Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA) at the University of Iowa (UI) is home to over 40 collections documenting Jewish women and their communities in Iowa, from the late 1800s to the present.  Much of this material is the result of the Jewish Women in Iowa project, funded by a generous donation made by former Iowa legislator, attorney, and longtime IWA supporter Joan Lipsky.  Lipsky was a political leader and community activist from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who became the first woman elected to represent Linn County in the Iowa General Assembly and served in that office for six terms between 1966 and 1978.  Joan Lipsky grew up hearing about how her grandfather, Henry Smulekoff, emigrated from Russia to the United States in the 1880s, settled in Cedar Rapids with his wife, Emma Rasen, and purchased a furniture store that would become a centerpiece of the downtown landscape for over a century.  Lipsky had heard other stories like her grandfather’s, but worried about losing sight of the lesser-known stories of Jewish women who also built lives and communities in Iowa.  In 2013, Lipsky made a gift of $50,000 to establish the Jewish Women in Iowa Project in order to gather and make known the history of Jewish women in Iowa, past and present. Jeannette Gabriel was hired as a graduate research assistant at IWA with a mandate to build relationships, gather collections, and record stories that illuminate the rich history of Jewish women in the state.


Jewish women have always been part of the history that the IWA is committed to preserving.  The Jewish Women in Iowa Project built on ten existing collections of Jewish women’s personal papers that were already a valued part of the repository, including the papers of Joan Lipsky; activist, author, and IWA co-founder Louise Noun; and Ruth Salzman Becker, a nurse and community activist in Iowa City who fled Nazi Germany as a young woman.  The Project has now added many more names and an increasingly rich body of sources to its early holdings.  These collections include correspondence, organizational records, scrapbooks and photographs, speeches, political campaign records, the founding documents of religious institutions and organizations, and much more.  They document the lives of Jewish women who built families and communities; belonged to sororities and college theater groups; dedicated their time and expertise to countless causes and organizations; and built careers in politics, medicine, education, and the arts.


The collections featured here are organized according to six topics: Jewish Religious and Community Life; World War II in History and Memory; Politicians and Community Leaders; Professionals and Entrepreneurs; The Arts; and University of Iowa Affiliations.  Individual collections are sorted based on biographical details and the content and particular strengths of collection materials.  The descriptions for each collection seek to provide a brief overall description of the individual person or organization, along with a more specific description of the biographical details and collection material that speak to a particular topic, such as community activism or professional life.  Some collections are listed under multiple topics and descriptions may vary.  

About the Iowa Women's Archives

Mary Louise-Smith and Louise Noun, Des Moines, 1996.


The Louise Noun – Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives is named for its founders, who established the archives in 1992 as a repository dedicated to collecting the history of Iowa women. The Archives fulfills its mission by collecting and making available primary sources about the historical experience of Iowa women throughout the state and beyond its borders from the nineteenth century to the present, reflecting the diversity of Iowa women across race, class, ethnicity, and gender identity.  It undertakes a robust outreach program to gather and preserve the history of groups underrepresented in archives. Some of our collection strengths include materials relating to rural and farm women, women in politics, LGBTQ individuals, African American women, Latinas, and Jewish women.


Interested in learning more?

Click here to read more about our mission and explore a timeline of events and special projects at the IWA.

In 2017, the IWA celebrated its 25th anniversary. The accompanying exhibit, 25 Collections for 25 Years: Selections from the Iowa Women’s Archives, provides an excellent introduction to the ways our collections have been used by researchers, students, and professors. 

Contact Information for the Iowa Women's Archives

The Iowa Women’s Archives is located on the third floor of the Main Library of the University of Iowa.

Open to Researchers: 

Tuesday-Friday, 9:00-12:00 and 1:00-4:00

Mailing Address:

Iowa Women’s Archives

100 Main Library

University of Iowa Libraries

Iowa City, Iowa  52242-1420

Campus Mail: 3094 LIB

Phone: (319) 335-5068


Social Media: Facebook

Associate Curator, IWA

Profile Photo
Anna Holland
Iowa Women's Archives
Main Library 3094