The Ruth Scharnau papers date from 1973 to 2013 and measure 5.6 linear feet. The papers are arranged in five series: Personal, Issues and activities, Correspondence, Photographs, and PFLAG.
Scharnau is a subject in Louise Noun's book, More Strong-Minded Women: Iowa Feminists Tell Their Stories (1992).
The Personal series (1973-1997) includes correspondence between Scharnau and Louise Noun, and a draft of Noun's chapter on Scharnau. This series also contains the obituary of Louise Herron Halliburton, an artist and activist from the Dubuque area with whom Scharnau was friends.
The Issues and activities series (1973-2009) is arranged alphabetically and contains many documents such as meeting minutes, notes by Scharnau, brochures, general information, newspaper clippings, flyers, and newsletters related to Scharnau's involvement with local groups and issues. Also included are many published letters to the editor written by Scharnau, and some newspaper clippings include photos of, or quotes from, Scharnau.
The focus of Scharnau's activities was largely local. For instance, the environmental folder contains information on protests against large hog confinements in eastern Iowa. The gay and lesbian rights folder includes a letter Scharnau wrote to the proprietor of a local restaurant; Scharnau tells him that she and her husband will never patronize his restaurant again because of the comments he made to her about gay people in San Francisco when she last dined at his establishment.
Scharnau was a program committee member for "Faces and Voices," an annual conference sponsored by the city of Dubuque and the Dubuque Human Rights Commission at the request of concerned citizens following racial violence and Ku Klux Klan (KKK) activities in Dubuque in the early 1990s; both the "Faces and Voices" and the human relations conference folders relate to Scharnau's participation in organizing this annual conference. The folder on sex discrimination inclues a speech Scharnau gave when she was a member of the Human Rights Commission. The September 11, 2001 folder consists mainly of email exchanges among family member on the significance of that day's events. Additionally, Scharnau was elected to Dubuque's Planned Parenthood board in 2008. The materials from this part of the series are mostly newspaper articles related to Planned Parenthood's activity in Dubuque and correspondence between board members.
The Correspondence series (1973-2009) is organized into general, personal, and political correspondence, although the personal and political intersect a great deal. The general correspondence consists of letters to and from Scharnau concerning the issues with which she was involved and some correspondence she wrote or received as an officer in Dubuque NOW and the Dubuque Human Rights Commission. Personal correspondence includes the letters and cards exchanged with her immediate and extended family. The political correspondence consists of letters to and from local, state, and national legislators concerning issues of importance to Scharnau.
The Photograph series (c. 1970) consists of photos taken on a visit to PFLAG headquarters and at a national ERA rally in Springfield, Illinois. Several photos depict women and men marching with large banners saying, "Iowans for ERA."
The PFLAG series records the creation of the Dubuque's PFLAG chapter. Founded in 1972, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is a national organization "committed to advancing equality and societal acceptance of LGBT people through its threefold mission of support, education and advocacy" ("About" pflag.org). Ruth Scharnau and Cathy Bartels applied for incorporation in February of 1999 thereby officially creating a PFLAG chapter in Dubuque. This chapter expanded to include the tristate area. Scharnau remained active in the chapter through 2007. The chapter produced several newsletters and actively participated in national campaigns like "From our House to the Schoolhouse." This series contains the 1997-2002 PFLAG manual, correspondence, grant application record, and other items of interest.