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Jewish Life and History in Iowa: UI Archival Collections: Professionals & Entrepreneurs

Professionals and Entrepreneurs: An Overview

Professionals and Entrepreneurs


This section highlights women and men who owned & ran businesses or who embarked on professional careers.  Some Jewish families new to Iowa took the opportunity to be their own bosses and set up businesses that enriched their growing communities.  This section highlights some of these, such as Harriet "Sissy" Silber, who ran Katelman Hardware in Council Bluffs with her mother, Rose and the Chapman family in Iowa City, who for many years owned and operated the Englert Theater.  This section also highlights the lives and accomplishments of other professional careers including Ruth Salzmann Becker, who earned two degrees in nursing after escaping Nazi Germany for a life in the United States; Mildred Lavin, who began her career in education after twenty-two years as a homemaker and became the head of the Outreach Education Program at the University of Iowa; and Judith Brodkey, whose career as a social worker led her to two international UN Conferences on Women.


Check out the individual collection descriptions below to learn more!  The title of each collection links directly to the full finding aid for more complete details on biography/history, scope and contents, and collection material.

From the Greenberg Family papers

Isabella Greenberg Alt studied theater and had a career on the radio in the 1940s.

From the Harriet "Sissy" Silber papers

Katelman's Hardware, featured in a 1970s issue of a small business magazine, was an important feature of the Council Bluffs community.

From the Ruth Salzmann Becker papers

Ruth Salzmann (left) with colleagues at Mt. Sinai Hospital School of Nursing in New York. Salzmann was an instructor of medical nursing there, 1950-1952.

Professionals & Entrepreneurs: An Overview


Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1931-1984. 7 linear inches. 

Mildred Altman Plotkin’s parents immigrated from Russia to Sioux City, Iowa, where Mildred was born in 1912. Her parents owned grocery stores in Sioux City. In 1937, Plotkin and her husband, Samuel Bailen, got into the grocery business as well. These papers document Samuel’s part ownership of S and S Supermarket in Hawarden, Iowa.    



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1858-2012. 4.75 linear feet. 

Ruth Salzmann Becker was a nurse and community activist in Iowa City who, as a young Jewish woman, fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and emigrated to the United States. Becker came from a family of medical professionals. Her parents, Hans and Kaethe were a physician and physical therapist, respectively. The Hans Salzmann series contains documents related to his medical practice in both Germany and the United States.  

After arriving in the United States, Ruth Salzmann began pursuing her own career in nursing. The Ruth Salzmann Becker series has several subseries related to her professional career including education, professional activities, and writings. In her papers, researchers will find newspaper clippings, diplomas, and other items from Becker’s years as a student at Mt. Sinai Hospital School of Nursing and Columbia University. They will find professional registrations, licenses, and articles she wrote about nursing care. Becker’s career informed her community activism, particularly with the Johnson County Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC).  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1925-2016. 7.5 linear inches. 

A philanthropist and member of the Jewish community in Sioux City, Iowa. The papers primarily concern Bernstein’s family life and include obituaries, newspaper clippings, and family photographs of multiple generations. A biography of Gussie Bernstein’s husband, Sam Bernstein, provides insight into the couple’s life together and Sam Bernstein’s business, Sioux City Compressed Steel and State Steel. 


BOOTH, MARLENE (1948- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1951-2009. 5 linear inches. 

Jewish independent filmmaker raised in Des Moines, Iowa. Includes family photo of women, Jewish children’s books. 


BRODBECK, MAY (1917-1983) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1917-2012. 29 linear inches. 

May Brodbeck had a distinguished career in academia and left a legacy of women’s empowerment behind her. Brodbeck began her career as a professor of philosophy and later held administrative positions at the University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa. Notably, when she was appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties in 1974, she held the highest academic position of any woman outside of women only institutions. Most of her collection concentrates on her professional career. Her papers include articles she authored along with several folders of correspondence related to her appointments to and work in several academic positions at the University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa. There are a small number of letters related to the creation of the Council on the Status of Woman at the University of Iowa, which she founded in 1976.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1977-2016. 1.5 linear feet. 

Judith Brodkey was born in Sioux City, Iowa, but spent most of her professional life in Portland, Oregon. She received a BA in Social Work from the University in Iowa and an MSW from Bryn Mawr College before embarking on a career at the Oregon Mediation Association. Her professional series is one of the largest in the collection and includes details from mediation conferences she planned, presentations she gave and workshops she led. Brodkey’s concern for women’s issues showed up in her work, when she co-managed Oregon’s Prenatal Smoking Cessation Project. It also appeared outside of her job, where she put her professional organizing skills to work promoting Oregon’s involvement in two UN Conferences on Women, in Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995). The collection includes two large folders with papers from these efforts.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1896-2016. 1.5 linear feet. 

The Chapman Family papers describe multiple generations of one Iowa City Jewish family. Nathan Chapman, a Russian immigrant, and his wife Dora arrived in Iowa City, Iowa in 1920. For several years they managed and operated the city’s Englert Theater, a vaudeville and movie theater. Eventually, Nathan purchased the theater from one of its original owners, Etta Englert. After Nathan died, his wife Dora and then his son Ansel, helped to run the theatre. The collection has only a small amount of material related to the family’s movie theater business, including leases, a few newspaper clippings, and some 100th anniversary publications. The collection also includes one undigitized interview with Ansel Chapman about Johnson County, IA theaters.  

Nathan and Dora’s son, Ansel Chapman had a career in law and eventually became the first Jewish person to be a judge in Iowa’s State District Court. The collection includes only one newspaper article about his law career.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1922-2015. 5 linear inches. 

The Fish Family papers chronicle a Sioux City Jewish family over several generations. Ben Fish, an immigrant from Russia, operated Ben Fish Tire, an auto repair shop in Sioux City. The shop passed down to his son, Louie and then to his grandson Ron and great-granddaughter Sarliye Atlas. The papers focus heavily on the 100th anniversary of Ben Fish Tire, and include promotional materials such as a branded beach ball and t-shirt along with newspaper articles.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Oral history, 2016. 0.25 linear inches. 

The Miriam Gelfand papers consist of one transcribed oral history interview. After a life that took Gelfand from China to the United States, she settled in Iowa City with her husband, historian Lawarence Gelfand, and taught French and Russian at the University of Iowa from 1962 to 1964. The oral history discusses her career but focuses more on her early life in China during World War II.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1918-1975. 2.5 linear inches. 

Isabel Greenberg Alt was a Des Moines, Iowa community activist whose husband, Don D. Alt, served as a State House Representative. Alt’s father, Joseph Greenberg, owned an auto supply business in Algona, Iowa and Alt herself was briefly a performer in theater and radio and a newscaster in western Iowa. However, material in this collection is scattered and there is very little about their respective professional lives, or Alt’s activism. Related materials are limited to a few newspaper articles and photographs.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1912-1988. 5 linear inches. 

Deborah Mezey Hirsch was raised in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Her parents and grandparents owned two grocery stores in town, the Lincoln Market and the Beehive Grocery. The Deborah Mezey Hirsch papers have several folders that allude to the Lincoln Market and her parents, Sol and Ruth. Throughout the collection, researchers will find newspaper clippings and pictures of the store along with a short feature on it in 1949’s Iowa Food Dealer convention report.  


JACOBS, RICHARD (1924-2008) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1935-2015. 5 linear inches.  

Richard Jacobs began his professional medical career as a Polish Army Medic in World War II. After immigrating to the United States, in specialized in dentistry, eventually becoming the Associate Dean of the College of Dentistry and Professor of Orthodontics at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. His papers document his career though his licenses, awards, and association memberships. There is also one resume, and a smattering of related correspondence in Hebrew.  


LAVIN, MILDRED H. (1924- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1942-2015. 5 linear inches. 

Mildred Hanzel Lavin was raised in a Jewish community in Chicago and taught science in a junior high in Evanston, Illinois for several years before pursuing a masters at Illinois State College and a doctorate in Education at the University of Iowa. After graduating, she became a professor of instructional design and outreach education at the University of Iowa's College of Education from 1972 to 1987. Lavin developed and directed the Saturday and Evening Class Program at the University of Iowa from 1971 – 1978. After that, she transitioned to the head of the University’s Outreach Education program from 1978 – 1987.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1900-2018. 1.5 linear feet. 

The Ohsman-Berg family papers cover the lives of several members of the extended Ohsman family. Of these family members the most entrepreneurial may have been Ann Ohsman Katzenstein (1900 – 1994). Ohsman started selling insurance for the Yavitz Insurance Agency in Cedar Rapids and then eventually St. Louis. A career woman, she continued in her work into her 90s. Researchers can find her mentioned in the Family Records series. She also appears in the Who’s Who of St. Louis Business, 1983 in the Printed Works series.  


REUBEN, SANDRA (1941- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1900-2000. 2.5 linear inches. 

Sandra Reuben, originally of Forest City, Iowa, had a career as a library director. However, most of the professional materials in the collection relate to her parents’ business, Reuben’s Department Store. Through newspaper clippings and store ephemera, as well as Reuben’s own recollections of growing up Jewish in Forest City, Iowa, researchers can learn about this entrepreneurial family and the impact their business had on the city.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1913-2015. 10 linear inches.  

Harriet “Sissy” Silber and her mother, Rose Katelman, owned and operated Katelman Hardware in Council Bluffs, Iowa from 1962 to 1981. Prior to 1962, Rose and her husband, Louis Katelman, had run the store together since the 1930s. The papers have a small series, Katelman Hardware, with newspaper clippings and a small amount of correspondence and ephemera relating to the store. The majority of the clippings deal with the store closing in 1981.