Skip to main content

Brine, Pelton and Thompson V. The University of Iowa records

Identifier: IWA0495

  • Staff Only
  • Please navigate to collection organization to place requests.

Scope and Contents

The Brine, Pelton, and Thompson v. The University of Iowa records date from 1985 to 1996 and measure 10.25 linear feet. The records are arranged in nine series: Formal documents, Trial transcripts, Defendant exhibits, Unidentified exhibits, Plaintiff exhibits, Appeal documents, Background information, Letters of support, and Newspaper clippings.

The Formal Documents series (1991-1995) consists of testimony and reports collected during the formal review process of the Dental Hygiene Program. Included are the initial legal complaint, briefs, and depositions that the plaintiffs used to begin their lawsuit against the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents.

A record of the trial is located in the Trial Transcripts series (1995); evidence used by both the defendants and plaintiffs is included in the Defendant Exhibits, Unidentified Exhibits, and Plaintiff Exhibits series; and the appeal process in both Circuit and the United States Supreme Court are documented in the Appeal Documents series (1995-1996).

The Background Information series (1985-1995)consists of articles, reports, correspondence, and financial records collected by the plaintiffs to document discriminatory acts, and to demonstrate the academic validity and need for the program to be in a university research setting. Correspondence and administrative papers exchanged during and after the program closure complete the series.

The Letters of Support series (1991-1995) is composed of correspondence from alumni, community and university members encouraging the plaintiffs both before and during the trial, and letters of condolence after the verdicts. Petitions and letters asking supporters to contact university officials are included in this series.

Local and national coverage of the lawsuit are documented in the Newspaper Clippings series (1991-1996), in addition to articles pertaining to gender equality and discrimination.


  • Creation: 1985-1996


Conditions Governing Access

The records 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

The Board of Regents approved the development of a Dental Hygiene Program at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) in 1949; the first class of twenty-four students launched the program in 1953. Students spent two years in this early program and received a certificate in dental hygiene from the College of Dentistry. Students who wanted a bachelor's degree in addition to their certificate could earn a bachelor of arts or science degree with a general science major from the College of Liberal Arts. In 1964, a master of science degree program was started for dental hygiene students. After 1967 all program graduates received the bachelor's degree from the College of Liberal Arts. The Board of Regents approved a dental hygiene major in 1969, allowing students to receive a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene from the College of Liberal Arts. By 1992 the Dental Hygiene Program was the only bachelor's degree program in dental hygiene in Iowa, and one of only six masters programs in dental hygiene in the United States.

In 1986, budget cuts in the College of Dentistry resulted in the loss of some full-time faculty in the Department of Dental Hygiene. In the fall of 1991, an ad hoc committee was formed to review the Dental Hygiene Program. The committee made a unanimous decision to recommend closure of the program; that same month the Iowa State Board of Regents voted to cut the program. The decision was made with the goal of trimming funds from the University budget over four years. Dental Hygiene faculty members were notified that they would be reassigned to other positions within the College of Dentistry.

In response to this decision, three tenured dental hygiene faculty members, Elizabeth Pelton, Nancy Thompson, and Pauline Brine, filed suit against the University claiming that the scheduled closing discriminated against the all-female program. They also contended that after they spoke out about the closing they were subject to retaliation in the form of demeaning treatment and salary raises below the average of the College of Dentistry. The plaintiffs asked for the continuation of the program and compensation.

In April 1995, the Brine, Pelton, and Thompson v. The University of Iowa and Board of Regents case was tried in federal district court in Des Moines, Iowa, before Chief Magistrate Judge Celeste Bremer. The defense declared that the charges of gender bias were unfounded, that the program no longer fit the University's central mission, and that the declining enrollment combined with a pressing need to cut costs, justified the proposed closing. Judge Bremer ruled that the University of Iowa and State Board of Regents were not motivated by gender bias in deciding to close the program; however, the University had retaliated against the professors and denied them their First Amendment rights. The jury awarded plaintiffs Brine, Pelton, and Thompson $227,000 in attorney fees and a total of $214,000 for unfair retaliation for speaking out. As compensation each professor was awarded $65,000 for emotional distress, between $4,000 and $7,800 for lost wages, and for the violation of their constitutional right to free speech $1 each. The jury was not given the option to rule on the status of the program.

The ruling was appealed by the University and overturned by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Brine, Pelton, and Thompson then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the case was not heard. Judge Bremer upheld the University's decision to close the program. The final class graduated from the University of Iowa's Dental Hygiene Program in May 1995.


10.25 Linear Feet

6 audiocassettes [AC1048-AC1053]; Photographs in Box 27 boxes

Language of Materials



Materials relate to the suit filed by 3 dental hygiene faculty members charging that the scheduled closing of the University of Iowa Dental Hygiene Program was discriminatory.


Appeal Documents, 1995-1996 (Boxes 19-20)

Background Information, 1985-1995 (Boxes 20-24, 27)

Defendant Exhibits, 1995 (Boxes 6-10)

Formal Documents, 1991-1995 (Boxes 1-3)

Letters of Support, 1991-1995 (Boxes 25-26)

Newspaper Clippings, 1991-1996 (Box 26)

Plaintiff Exhibits, 1995 (Boxes 11-19, 27)

Trial Transcripts, 1995 (Boxes 3-6)

Unidentified Exhibits, 1995 (Boxes 10-11)

Method of Acquisition

The records (donor no. 293) were donated by Elizabeth Pelton, Pauline Brine, and Nancy Thompson in 2002.

Related Materials

The University of Iowa Dental Hygiene Program records.

Jun-Nicole Matsushita, 2006.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

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)