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Diaries, Memoirs & Oral Histories: An Iowa Women's Archives' Autobiographical Resource Guide: Home

An Introduction

Autobiographical Resources: Diaries, Memoirs & Oral Histories

This guide brings together the collections in the Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA) that contribute to our understanding of Iowa history across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The collections featured here are organized by format.  The descriptions for each collection provide a brief overview of the individual or community. A more detailed account of the collection and its format is included in the finding aid in ArchivesSpace.  

The Iowa Women’s Archives holds a variety of autobiographical materials by Iowa women, including diaries, memoirs, and oral histories.  The following lists, which are by no means exhaustive, have been created to help researchers locate materials that might otherwise remain obscure.  For further information about these materials contact the Iowa Women’s Archives.

"A Trunk and Its Chips", Elizabeth Fagan Lynch memoir, Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Diaries: The diaries held in the Iowa Women’s Archives illuminate the daily lives of Iowans from a variety of social and economic backgrounds and occupations.  Dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, the majority of the diaries are preserved alongside other primary source materials within the manuscript collections of Iowa women and their families. Together, these documents provide a rich context for understanding and interpreting the past.

Memoirs: Over one hundred memoirs and reminiscences of Iowa women are preserved in the Iowa Women’s Archives.  The majority are unpublished or self-published works in formats ranging from books to binders, spiral notebooks, and looseleaf paper. They vary from just a few pages to several hundred pages in length and span the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The memoirs reflect a range of geographical locations within Iowa and beyond its borders, and their authors represent a variety of occupational, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.

Oral histories: Many of the oral histories preserved in the Iowa Women’s Archives are found within larger manuscript collections or were conducted as part of oral history projects initiated by the Iowa Women’s Archives or other organizations.  Occasionally interviews resulted from the research of independent scholars that was later donated to the archives. The narratives encompass a wide range of topics from rural Iowa women to Iowa police women, artists, feminists, and civil rights activists.  Often they provide insight into aspects of Iowa history for which there is relatively little written documentation. For example, many of the interviews shed light on the history of previously marginalized populations in Iowa including African American and Latina women.

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.

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

Guide Authorship

The content of the LibGuide was assembled and created by IWA Graduate Assistant Emma Barton-Norris in 2022.


Latinas Legacy Fund

The Latinas Legacy Fund supports the mission of the Iowa Women’s Archives, specifically as it relates to preserving and disseminating the history of Latinas in Iowa.

In 2005, the Iowa Women’s Archives initiated the Mujeres Latinas Project to preserve the history of Iowa Latinas, their families, and their communities. Oral history interviews are a major component of the project. 

You can learn more about the continuing legacy of the project here. 

You can donate to the Latinas Legacy Fund here.