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Marguerite Cothorn papers

Identifier: IWA0402

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Scope and Contents

The Marguerite Cothorn papers date from 1928 to 1995 and measure 2.75 linear inches. The papers are arranged in three series: Biographical information, Papers and reports, and Photographs. The collection will be of special interest to persons studying the role and activities of African-American professional women in Iowa, particularly in the field of social work.

The Biographical information series (1928-1991) contains copies of newspaper clippings and letters related to Cothorn's professional career and the awards she received. The letters recommending Cothorn to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame provide extensive biographical and professional information. The majority of the material in this series was initially contained in a looseleaf notebook which was disbound during processing. Also included are materials on the Double D Award, an award given by Drake University to young women who excelled in athletics. This subseries includes newspaper articles about the history of the award, Cothorn's participation in sports, and the actual event of her receiving the award.

The Papers and reports series (1956-1978) consists of one paper and three reports. The paper she wrote in 1956 while working at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Knoxville, Iowa, is entitled "Adaptation of Role Playing as a Basic Method in Interdisciplinary Teaching."

One report, "Homes of Oakridge: Survey of Human Resources," (1977) is the result of a study requested by Nate Ruben, the Des Moines director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Cothorn served as the consultant and authored the report

The second report is one that Cothorn wrote in 1960, as chair of the Recreation and Leisure Time committee, for Recommendations of the Iowa Commission for Senior Citizens. The committee, composed of twenty-four citizens from throughout the state, centered its attention primarily on the recreation needs of senior citizens and on available resources in Iowa. The committee report is one of fourteen submitted for this publication.

The third report, entitled, "West Des Moines: Human Services Programs" (1978) was a consultant's review evaluating the human service programs in that community.

The Photographs series (1986, 1994) consists of photographs of Cothorn's induction into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame (including one with Governor Terry Brandstad) in 1986 and portraits of Cothorn from both 1990 and 1994.


  • Creation: 1928-1995


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some 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 the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Marguerite Esters Cothorn was born on December 23, 1909 in Albia, Iowa, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Esters. In 1926 she became the first African-American to graduate from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. In 1930 she received a B.A. from Drake University in Des Moines, two years later a master's degree in sociology from the same university, and in 1954 a master's degree in social work from the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa).

From 1930 until she retired in 1973, Cothorn held a variety of significant positions in the field of social work. From 1930 to 1933 she was a probation officer for the Polk County Juvenile Court in Des Moines. From 1933 to 1938 she served as a case worker in Baltimore, Maryland, one of only five African-American social workers in the city. In 1940 she became acting director of the Negro Community Center (now Willke House) in Des Moines, and from 1945 to 1952, the director of the Booker T. Washington Center in Rockford, Illinois.

She was a psychiatric social worker at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Knoxville, Iowa from 1954 to 1956 and a lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Social Work from 1957 to 1959. In 1956 she was appointed Secretary of the Recreation Division of the Council of Social Agencies in Des Moines and in 1965 she became the executive director of the Council of Social Agencies (now Community Planning Division, United Way of Central Iowa).

Cothorn was widely recognized for her contributions to Iowa, most notably as the recipient of the Drake University Distinguished Alumni Award in 1974 and by her induction into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1986. She appeared in Who's Who of American Women (1967), and Who's Who Among Black Americans (1975, 1976, 1978, 1985). Moreover, she served on innumerable civic, governmental, and political committees among them the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, serving as chair from 1983 to 1984. Cothorn retired in 1973, but remained actively involved in a wide variety of community and social service organizations. Throughout her career she was praised for her innovative ideas, her organizational skills, and her boundless energy.


2.75 linear inches

Language of Materials



Social worker and political activist, who served on the Iowa Civil Rights Commission from 1983 to 1984.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 187) were donated by Marguerite Cothorn in 1993 and 1995.

Related Materials

Verda Williams papers (IWA): The Williams papers contain two interviews [AC382, AC383] with Cothorn conducted for the video "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard"

Natalie S. Brody, 1994 and Lea Keohane, 1995.
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)