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Social Documents Collection

Identifier: MsC1075

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Scope and Contents

The Social Documents Collection was originally named the "Tensions File" when it was established by Ralph E. Ellsworth, Library Director, in 1946, because it held print materials produced by both left-wing and right-wing groups. The collecting focus soon centered on right-wing publications, and now occupies over 500 linear feet of ephemera, periodicals, pamphlets, fliers, handbills, leaflets, bulletins, newspapers, and correspondence. These materials are predominantly the gift of publishers and certain titles are actively being sent and added to the collection.

The collection was reprocessed in 2019 to create an updated finding aid that is organized alphabetically, however the materials may lack a strict, alphabetical, physical structure. This was done in order to adhere to the collection’s original order. The original order of the collection was organized in three sequences, boxed materials, non-serials, and serials. Boxed materials refer to publications that are physically larger and contained a magnitude of issues. However, these may be considered a serial or non-serial to modern archival practices. Non-serials and serials referred to materials that were significantly smaller in size (usually a single folder) and were originally housed in filing cabinets.

These categories while physically maintained are no longer relevant to the finding aids structure and ability to access the materials. Patrons may notice that certain folders have (s) or (n.s), which refer to serial or non-serial. These were preserved to capture the progression of the collection and structure of the original order, however there are other serial and non-serial materials that do not contain this folder code and are interwoven in the collection.

Patrons should note that one title may span a range of non-consecutive boxes and should refer to the individual item’s container instead of the title as a whole while requesting materials. This will allow for more accurate box retrieval. Patrons should also note that the microfilm mentioned in the historical note should not be referenced when requesting materials. Please use the supplied container inventory for the collection.


  • Creation: 1918-2022

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research. This collection is housed at an offsite location. Please allow two-three business days for retrieval and arrival to main library.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

The Social Documents collection of the Unviersity of Iowa Libraries is a large assemblage of reserach materials published by conservative organizations, groups general considered to be on the right of the political spectrum. Originally called the "Tensions File," the collection was started to preserve pamphlets distributed by forign governments as propaganda during World War II. Soon the holdings were expanded to include publications of domestic groups interested in shpaing America's foreign policy.

In the postwar period, the focus of the collection was broadened to include conservative and anti-Communist organizations in the U.S. In the 1950s and 1960s, the scope of the collection was again expanded to include materials on integration, taxation, states' rights, fluoridation of water, socialized medicine, and the United Nations. Because libertarians occasionally shared ideas with conservative groups, some libertarian material was included. Periodicals issues by religious organizations with a strong conservative viewpoint were particulary well represented.

A guide was written in 1978 to identify the microfilmed portion of the collection, which covers 1918 to 1978. Materials acquired after 1978 were not microfilmed. The guide, The Right Wing Collection of the University of Iowa Libraries: A Guide to the Microfilm Collection,has call number Z7165 .U5U6. The guide includes a subject index with the following categories: Anglo-Israelite, Anti-Black, Anti-Communist, Anti-fluoridation, Anti-Semitic, Christian Fundamentalist, Conservative, and Libertarian. Other indices include a geographical index by state and a chronological index. Related material is The American Right Wing: A Report to the Fund for the Republic, Inc., by Ralph E. Ellsworth and Sarah M. Harris, with call number in Special Collections x-collection E743.E37 1960.

Other institutions that collect right-wing materials include the University of California at Berkeley through their Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements, established in September 2009. The collection was announced in The Chronicle of Higher Education article, "Taking the Right Seriously." The B'nai B'rith Collection at the Widener Library of Harvard University may be of interest. Northern Arizona University Library, and the Kenneth Spencer Research Library of the University of Kansas, and the Tulane University Library also house right-wing collections. Brown University holds a collection on Nazism. The University of Michigan holds the Labadie Collection of radical material. The University of Arkansas acquired evangelistically-oriented material in 2008.


502 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Mostly right wing social documents from the twentieth century.

Physical Location

This collection is housed at an offsite location. Please allow two-three business days for retrieval

Materials Specific Details

This collection is continuously added too, however materials from a calendar year are not added until the next spring.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)