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Lipsky, Joan (1919-2015)



  • Existence: 1919 - 2015


Joan Miller was born in 1919 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to John and Ruth Miller. Her grandfather, Henry Smulekoff, was an early settler of Cedar Rapids. Joan Miller attended Johnson, McKinley, and Old Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, and graduated from Gulf Park High School in Gulfport, Mississippi. Miller received a BS in psychology from Northwestern University in 1940 and attended graduate school at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa), where she studied clinical psychology in 1940 and 1941. She was the first person to intern in psychology at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she then worked as a clinical psychologist until 1942. She married Abbott Lipsky in 1941. During World War II, Joan Lipsky worked as a consulting psychologist in a private practice while Abbott Lipsky worked as a cryptanalyst for the Signal Intelligence Service. After the war, Joan and Abbott Lipsky moved to Cedar Rapids, where they raised three children, John, Ann, and Abbott, Jr. From 1945 until 2008, Abbott Lipsky served as president of Smulekoff's Furniture, a company founded by Joan Lipsky's maternal grandfather. Lipsky became active in community service and women's clubs. In a 1989 oral history interview, she explained, "When I came back here to Cedar Rapids, I had one little baby, and it never occurred to me that I would continue my career."

Lipsky was involved in a number of city commissions and women's clubs in Cedar Rapids. She chaired the Mayor's Commission on Housing, the Mayor's Commission on Alcoholism, and the Employment Security Advisory Council. She was a member of the Cedar Rapids Women's Club, the American Association of University Women, Altrusa, Delta Kappa Gamma, Hadassah, and Sisterhood of Temple Judah. She served as a trustee and a director of the Cedar Rapids Art Association, and a trustee of Coe College and St. Luke's Hospital. She was a founding member of the Cedar Rapids Women's Caucus, which later became the Cedar Rapids chapter of the National Organization for Women. As her involvement in city associations and clubs grew, Lipsky became aware of the structures that prevented women from being elected to leadership positions. During her bid to serve on the Cedar Rapids School Board, Lipsky learned that most members were grandfathered into the board. Retiring members often appointed men to replace them months before an election; the appointees were then listed as incumbents on the ballots during the next election. After she lost the election, Lipsky organized a coalition of women's groups to pressure a retiring school board member to nominate a woman to replace him before the upcoming election. He agreed reluctantly, and Lipsky's interest in politics grew.

After the Lipskys sent their youngest child to prep school, Joan Lipsky explained, "I couldn't imagine what I was about to do with my life. I was tired of club work, and my children were gone." When she was approached in 1966 by a Republican Party official to run for a seat in the state legislature, Lipsky recalled that it "sounded like a great challenge." In November 1966, Joan Lipsky was the first woman elected to represent Linn County in the Iowa General Assembly. Lipsky's background in clinical psychology shaped her interests in the state legislature, where she participated in a study on mental health and juvenile institutions, the Medical Advisory Council, and the Human Resources Committee. Lipsky led efforts to improve Iowa's institutions for mentally retarded people and increase funding for special education programs in public schools. She took a special interest in working for women's legal, economic, and social equality through her work on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, her support of educational and occupational programs for women, and her interest in reforming women's prisons in Iowa. One of Lipsky's supporters noted, "As an already successful legislator and community pillar, [Lipsky] had nothing to gain in addressing women's issues and much to lose. Yet she never wavered, and indeed, taught the women's rights supporters here [in Iowa] exactly how people of integrity can effect positive change in America." During her tenure as a state representative, Lipsky served as the Assistant Minority Leader of the Iowa General Assembly and a member of the Midwest Conference of State Legislators. She was recognized as an outstanding legislator by the Iowa Welfare Association and the Business and Professional Women. In 1975, she participated in the first World Conference for Women in Mexico City, Mexico. Lipsky served six terms in the General Assembly, from 1967 to 1978.

During Lipsky's final term in office, she began to attend law school at the University of Iowa. After graduating with a JD in 1980, Lipsky practiced law in Cedar Rapids, at the law firm of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, P.C. In 1986, she ran for lieutenant governor of Iowa on the Republican ticket with Governor Terry Branstad. Branstad was re-elected, but Lipsky lost her bid to serve as lieutenant governor. This was the last election when gubernatorial candidates and candidates for lieutenant governor ran separately in Iowa.

In 1976, Lipsky was awarded an honorary JD from Mount Mercy College and she was named the Cedar Rapids Woman of the Year in 1979. Abbott Lipsky died in 2008. Joan Lipsky died in 2015.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

A Political Dialogue: Iowa's Women Legislators oral histories

Identifier: IWA0089

Interviews with Iowa women legislators conducted by Suzanne O'Dea Schenken.

Dates: 1988-1993

Joan Lipsky papers

Identifier: IWA0071

Iowa legislator and community activist from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Dates: 1880-2015

University of Iowa Council on the Status of Women records

Identifier: IWA0338

Women seeking solutions to problems of sexual harassment, violence, homophobia, and childcare at the University.

Dates: 1976-2005

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1981-1990 2
1991-2000 2
2001-2010 2
Archives (groupings) 2
Iowa 2