Skip to main content

Maria Cano Martinez papers

Identifier: IWA0537

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

Scope and Contents

The Maria Cano Martinez papers date from 1976 to 2017 and measure 2.5 linear inches. The papers consist of a memoir, a scrapbook, newspaper clippings, and an article from The Annals of Iowa.

"Leno and Maria: A Success Story," a memoir written by Maria Cano Martinez's brother, Vincent P. Cano, in 1985, chronicles the Cano family's history and the emigration of Magdaleno and Maria Cano to the U.S. from Mexico in the late 1920s; it includes a 1992 photograph of the Cano family.

The scrapbook consists of laminated pages assembled by Vincent P. Cano to commemorate the life and work of his sister Maria Cano Martinez, especially her work establishing a Spanish language interpretation program at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. It includes newspaper clippings, newsletters, obituaries, and a transcript of the funeral mass for Maria Cano Martinez at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Iowa City.

The article "Creating a Barrio in Iowa City, 1916-1936: Mexican Section Laborers and the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad Company" was authored by Nathaniel Otjen and appeared in The Annals of Iowa Volume 76, Number 4 in Fall 2017.


  • Creation: 1975-2017


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

Spanish language interpreter and Chicano/Latino advocate María Guadalupe Cano Martínez, the second of eleven children, was born in 1925 at the Hacienda de Botija in Guanajuato, Mexico, to Magdaleno and María Rodriguez Cano. María Guadalupe and her older sister, Elena, migrated with their parents to the United States in 1926; infant twin brothers Jesús and Juan had died earlier. In 1928, the Cano family, with a new sister, Josephine, settled permanently in Iowa City, Iowa, where six more children were born: Dolores, Molly, Rosemary, Arthur, Robert, and Vincent. Magdaleno Cano secured work as a section laborer with the Rock Island Railroad, a job he held until his retirement. His wife, María Rodriguez Cano, remained at home until the early 1950s when she was employed at Mercy Hospital first as a housekeeper and later as a seamstress, a position she held until her retirement. Magdaleno and María Cano and their two oldest daughters, María Guadalupe and Elena, became U. S. citizens during the 1940s.

In 1945, María Guadalupe Cano graduated from St. Patrick's High School in Iowa City. In 1946 she earned certificates from Brown's Commercial College and went to work as an assistant medical librarian at Mercy Hospital. On September 12, 1953, María Guadalupe Cano married Joe Martínez. The couple had three children: Joseph, Mark, and Robert.

In 1958 María Cano Martínez transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where she worked in the medical records department. While an employee at the hospital she attended the University of Iowa and volunteered as an interpreter for Spanish speaking patients and their families. In 1975, when the hospital's department of social services formally organized, María Cano Martínez was appointed to head the department; she was the only interpreter at that time.

When María Cano Martínez was ten years old, she witnessed the difficulties experienced by her Spanish speaking father as a patient at Mercy Hospital. She recognized that the problems he faced were a result of his limited knowledge of English, later noting: "I vowed that if Dad made it, I'd do something to help others in similar situations." This promise motivated her throughout her life. As head of the interpreter program, she worked to improve her knowledge of medical terminology and procedures in order to develop documentation for the program. Her work resulted in the program's expansion to include multiple languages. The University of Iowa's interpreter program ultimately become a national model for other hospitals.

María Cano Martínez was a social worker, friend, and confidant who actively encouraged the Spanish speaking community to pursue higher education. She was a member of the Pan American Club, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Image (a national organization concerned with the employment of Hispanics), the Cuban Refugee Committee, and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Johnson County, which she served as president.

In 1982, María Cano Martínez was honored by the University of Iowa Chicano/Latino alumni and students who established a scholarship in her name. Before her death on August 29, 1983, she was honored by an award from the Iowa Human Rights Organization. In May 1993, the University of Iowa established the María Cano Martinez Service Award, to be given annually to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the Chicano/Latino community.


2.50 linear inches

Photographs in Box 1. boxes

Language of Materials



Maria Cano came to Iowa from Guanajuato, Mexico, with her parents in 1928. She established a Spanish language interpreter program at the University of Iowa Hospitals in 1975.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 943) were donated by Vincent Cano in 2004 and succeeding years; and (donor no. 1212) by The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2010.

Related Materials

Nancy V. "Rusty" Barcellí papers (IWA): Description of the Interpreter Program at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics written by Marlí­a Cano Martlí­nez in Box 3, Reports; description of the Maria Cano Martinez Scholarship Fund in Box 2, University of Iowa Administrative Handbook; description of Maria Cano Martinez and her influence on film student and Cuban refugee Paul Ferrera, in Box 9, student projects.

This collection guide was translated by students in "Translation Workshop: English to Spanish," Department of Spanish and Portugues (Fall semeter 2014). *See External Documents.

Andrea Simental, 2006; Janet Weaver, 2010; Heidi Stofer, 2018.
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)