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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Giving voice to their memories: oral histories of African American Women in Iowa

Repository: University of Iowa Libraries. Iowa Women's Archives

Collection Description (Extant): The oral history project "Giving Voice to Their Memories: Oral Histories of African American Women in Iowa" was conducted by the Iowa Women's Archives in 1997 and 1998 with funding from the Cultural Affairs Council of The University of Iowa. The project was part of the Iowa Women's Archives initiative to collect and preserve the history of African American women in Iowa, which commenced in 1995. Archivist Kathryn M. Neal and graduate student Julia Siverls conducted the interviews.

The collection "Giving Voice to Their Memories: Oral Histories of African American Women in Iowa" consists of fourteen oral history interviews on audiocassette tapes, along with transcriptions and associated materials such as biographical information, newspaper clippings, and photographs. The interviews with thirteen African American women were conducted in Iowa and New Jersey by Kathryn Neal and Julia Siverls. They describe the experiences of a broad cross-section of African American women who were either born in Iowa or spent some portion of their lives in Iowa. The majority of the women interviewed had some association with The University of Iowa, as students, faculty members or employees.

Dora Martin Berry was born in Houston, Texas in 1937 and attended the State University of Iowa (now The University of Iowa) between 1955 and 1957. In 1955 she became the first African American to be elected Miss SUI. She obtained her master's degree in 1959 at Rutgers' School of Social Work in New Jersey.

Louise Bolden was born in Centerville, Iowa in 1922. During the 1950s she moved with her son to Iowa City, where she was employed as a custodial worker at University of Iowa sororities and fraternities.

June Davis was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1940. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia between 1957 and 1961, becoming active in the civil rights movement while a student there. In the 1960s she moved with her family to Iowa City, where she became involved in city politics and worked as an administrator for The University of Iowa from 1975 to 1997.

Madgetta Dungy was born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1942. She attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, majoring in political science. She worked as a homemaker and volunteer and was active in the League of Women Voters. In 1997 she received her doctorate from The University of Iowa.

Geraldene Felton was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1926. From 1949 to 1975 she worked for the United States Army Nurse Corps, serving in Japan and Korea and holding a variety of teaching and clinical positions. In 1997 she became Professor and Dean of the College of Nursing at The University of Iowa.

Barbara James was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the daughter of cosmetologist Pauline Humphrey. She attended The University of Iowa in the 1940s, living in the segregated student accommodations of the time, which she was instrumental in changing. Barbara James was also interviewed about her mother Pauline Humphrey, one of the first licensed African-American cosmetologists and founder of the Crescent School of Beauty Culture in Des Moines.

Helen Warren Johnson was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, in 1908. Her father was born into slavery in 1851 and was brought north toward the end of the Civil War. In 1925 she married Frank Johnson and, after raising three sons, became a manager at Younkers Department Store in Marshalltown.

Dianna Penny was born in 1940 in St. Louis, Missouri. She enrolled as an art major at The University of Iowa in 1962 and became active in the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests. She later worked as a secretary at The University of Iowa Hospitals.

Ruby Smith, born in 1911, was the youngest of fourteen children in a family of sharecroppers in Missouri. After a lifetime of caring for others and working in domestic service, she was awarded her GED at the age of 85.

Geneva Southall, born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925, was a civil rights activist and the first woman to receive a PhD in piano performance and music literature from The University of Iowa. She was a professor in the University of Minnesota's Afro-American Studies Department and Music Department and the author of three books on Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins.

C. Vivian Stringer was born in 1948 in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a coal miner. In the early 1970s she began her career as a teacher and coach at Cheney State in Pennsylvania. She brought the The University of Iowa women's basketball team to national prominence during her tenure as head coach from 1983 to 1995.

Adrien Wing was born in 1956 in Oceanside, California, and educated at Princeton University, UCLA, and Stanford Law School. She joined the faculty of The University of Iowa College of Law in 1987.

Mary Wood was born in 1902 in Des Moines, Iowa. She began her career as director of the youth program for the African-American branch of the YWCA in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1925 and was the first African-American woman in the United States to serve as executive director of a metropolitan YWCA.

Access Copy Note: The oral histories are open for research.

Digital photos and audio excerpts of some interviews are available at "African American Women in Iowa Digital Collection" (

Date(s): 1997-1998

Digital Status: No

Existing IDs: AC362-366, AC368-376, AC408-409, AC444-445, AC458-459

Extent: 5 linear inches and audiovisual

Finding Aid URL: External Link

Language: English

Related Archival Items: Geraldene Felton Papers
Geneva Southall Papers
Mary Wood Papers

See also: GRIGGS, CREOLA BAKER (1913-1994) AND MAXINE BAKER (1915-1998). Residents of Clarinda, Iowa. Videocassette, 1990.

See also: "WE ASK NO SPECIAL FAVORS." Interviews with African American families in Clarinda, Iowa. Videocassette, 1993 [V122].

Both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University hold transcripts of Suzanne Schenken's interviews with women who served in the Iowa General Assembly (including A. June Franklin, who served in the Iowa General Assembly from 1966 to 1972). Finding aids for both collections are attached.

Interviewees: Dora Martin Berry, Louise Bolden, June Davis, Madgetta Dungy, Geraldene Felton, Barbara James, Helen Warren Johnson, Dianna Penny, Ruby Smith, Geneva Southall, C. Vivian Stringer, Adrien Wing, Mary Wood

Rights (Extant): Copyright held by the donors has been transferred to The University of Iowa.


African American coaches
African American college students--Societies, etc.
African American college teachers
African American lawyers
African American musicians
African American nurses
African American women civil rights workers
African Americans--Civil rights--Iowa
African Americans--Iowa
College integration
Hairdressing of African Americans
League of Women Voters (U.S.)
Rutgers University
Spelman College
University of Iowa
Young Women's Christian Association of the U.S.A.


Sound recordings


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   September 26, 2018
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