Skip to main content

Spencer, Lonabelle Kaplan, 1925-2011



  • Existence: 1925 - 2011


Lonabelle "Kappie" Kaplan Spencer, political activist and women's rights advocate, was born in 1925 in Owatonna, Minnesota, to Reuben and Florence Kaplan. Kaplan became involved in the Girl Scouts of America in 1932 at the age of seven. She attended Grinnell College, graduating in 1947 with a degree in physical education. Kaplan married Grinnell graduate Mark Spencer and the couple moved to Des Moines where they had four children: Greg, Gary, Carol, and Dane.

Kappie Spencer served in leadership roles in Girl Scouts for more than thirty years. In 1965 she was selected as a participant to the International Conference of Girl Scouts/Guides held in Acapulco, Mexico. She also served as a board member and in several leadership positions in the Moingona Council of Central Iowa Girl Scouts. In 1974, when Spencer learned that a hog lot was to be built near a Girl Scout camp, she supported efforts to regulate livestock odors and air quality. Through this activism and lobbying, she became more interested in state politics. Although Spencer lost a bid for the Iowa Senate in 1976, she became a successful lobbyist.

A prominent member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Spencer served as chairwoman of the legislative program committee at the state and national levels. Through the AAUW, Spencer worked for many women's causes including the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the late 1970s and the Iowa ERA in both 1980 and 1992. Spencer gave speeches across the state and wrote many letters to the editor in support of the ERA. Spencer worked for several years to promote dual listings for married women in Iowa telephone directories. She also influenced Iowa newspapers to include the first names of husbands and wives in obituaries, anniversary announcements, and wedding announcements. She founded an organization called the National Gender Balance Project to encourage states to appoint equal numbers of men and women to boards and committees.

When Spencer's mother died in 1965, she and her sister were not allowed to access their inheritance as it was put into a trust, while her brothers received their inheritance outright. For thirty years Spencer publicized this form of sex discrimination and eventually lobbied for an amendment to the federal banking services bill that banned discrimination against women by financial planners, which passed in 1999. In 1985, Spencer bought a second home in Sarasota, Florida, and continued her activism for women's rights in both Florida and Iowa. In 1990 Spencer won the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice, an award given by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Lonabelle Kaplan Spencer papers

Identifier: IWA0160

American Association of University Women member and advocate for women's issues including dual listings for married women in Iowa telephone directories.


1997 ACCESSION: Boxes 1-11

2007 ACCESSION: Boxes 12-41

2008 ACCESSION: Boxes 42-65

Dates: 1931-2007