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Jean Kern papers

Identifier: IWA0631

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Scope and Contents

The Jean Kern papers date from 1921 to 1988 and measure 12.5 linear inches. They are arranged in four series: Personal material, Photographs, Professionallife, and Volunteer activities. Comprised primarily of photographs, the collection illustrates the richness of Kern's international experiences, her broad interest in the humanities, the focus of her professional career after retirement and a slice of her personal life. A small part of the collection addresses gender discrimination in academia.

The Personal material series (1921-1994,scattered) contains a 1929-1931 college life diary written while Kern pursued her undergraduate degree, along with her father's memoirs and her living will. This series also includes information on the Kern's international travels in the 1980s, recorded through log diaries.

The Photographs series (1921-1994) contains photographs from Kern's early childhood, her family and friends (mostly unidentified) and an extensive collection of pictures recording Kern's international travels.

The third series, Professional life (1980-1988)consists of correspondence and publications written by Kern after her retirement in 1975. Her interaction with national and international colleagues reflects the respect and warmth Kern's colleagues had for her. Although much of the correspondence discusses requests for reviewing manuscripts written by her colleagues, a few of the letters speak to the difficulties women face in academia. Of particular interest on this topic is the correspondence to and from Mary Anne Schofield (Box 3, Professional life, correspondence, 1980-1988). Kern frequently drafted responses on the back of original letters. This series also contains published essays and book reviews.

The Volunteer activities (1980-1993) are comprised of materials regarding the Iowa Humanities Board, the University of Iowa Museum of Art docents, the Nineteenth-Century Club, and the Greater Iowa Housing Fellowship meetings, where Kern represented her church, the Unitarian Universalists.


  • Creation: 1921-1988


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

Jean Kern, a Professor Emerita of English and an independent scholar, was born in Indiana on April 30, 1913 to John S. and Stanta Bordner. She lived in South Bend, Indiana, from birth until 1919 when her family moved to Wisconsin. Her parents were educators interested in rural culture and nature conservation. Her father received his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in biology, soil chemistry and forestry. From 1927 until retirement in 1947, he worked with the State Department of Agriculture developing an economic inventory of the land, lakes and streams of Wisconsin.

In 1936, at the age of twenty-three, Kern completed her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She received her degree in English literature specializing in eighteenth-century drama. In September of that year, she married Alexander Kern. They had two children. During her professional career, Kern taught in Iowa as well as abroad in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Her publications include a book entitled Dramatic Satire in the Age of Walpole: 1720-1750 (1976), numerous essays on drama and women in the eighteenth-century and several book reviews.

After retirement in 1975, Kern continued to be active in her profession, publishing and presenting papers at various conferences. Kern's professional experiences were not unique for women professors beginning their careers in the 1930s. The antinepotism policy at the University of Iowa significantly constricted her professional life. The policy forbade two family members from being hired at the university. Because her husband taught in the English and American Studies Departments, Kern was not eligible for tenure at the University of Iowa. Thus, she taught at the private liberal arts colleges in the area. While these positions allowed her to remain with her family in Iowa City, the lack of affiliation with a larger university stunted her professional life, making her a "commuter throughout [her] career as a professor of English" (Box 3, Professional life, Published essays, 1960-1985, "The Long, Hard Road").

Despite these obstacles, Kern creatively developed alternative paths to secure teaching positions and established a career independently and in partnership with her husband. She found employment abroad as a woman professor without difficulty. Thus, she and her husband taught overseas as frequently as possible. She discusses her experiences with gender discrimination in the essay "The Long, Hard Road" (Box 3, Professional life, Published essays 1960-1985).


12.50 linear inches

Photographs in boxes 1-3 boxes

Language of Materials



Professor of English and an independent scholar who taught in the Middle East and Eastern Europe as well as in Iowa.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 253) were donated by Jean Kern in 1995.

Related Materials

Alexander Kern papers, University of Iowa Special Collections Department, University Archives John S. Bordner papers, Wisconsin State Historical Society

Heather Ritchie, 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)