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Scharnau, Ruth, 1933-



  • Existence: 1933-


Ruth Ellen Cotter Scharnau, teacher and civil rights and community activist, was born in 1933 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1957 with a BS in speech therapy. She married Ralph Scharnau and they lived in DeKalb, Illinois, while he completed his PhD in history at Northern Illinois University. The Scharnaus had three children: Andrea, Keith, and Gregg. In 1970, the Scharnau family moved to Dubuque when Ralph Scharnau took a position in the history department at the University of Dubuque. Ruth Scharnau worked as a speech therapist in the Galena, Illinois, schools for many years and later worked with children who had behavioral disorders.

Ruth Scharnau was very active in her community of Dubuque, Iowa. She served on the Dubuque Human Rights Commission from 1972 to 1973, but resigned to protest the lack of resources committed to the Commission. Scharnau became involved in the women's movement in the early 1970s, and was a charter member of the Dubuque chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which was established in 1974; she served as president of Dubuque NOW in 1978. Working to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was one of Scharnau's main political activities in the 1970s and early 1980s. She was also a proponent of gay and lesbian rights, civil rights, and nuclear disarmament. She participated in the first gay rights rally in Dubuque in the fall of 1988, and attended a protest at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, in 2001. In 2002, the Dubuque branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) honored Scharnau with the Ruby Sutton award.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Ruth Scharnau papers

Identifier: IWA0224

Teacher and community activist who was a founding member of the Dubuque National Organization for Women.

Dates: 1970-2017