Skip to main content

Shirley M. Sandage papers

Identifier: IWA0318

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

Scope and Contents

The Shirley Sandage papers date from 1927 to 2012 and measure 7.25 linear feet. A detailed bibliography written by Sandage is included in the collection (Box 1) and should be consulted for more complete information about the contents of this collection.

The papers are arranged in seven series: Autobiography, Family and personal history, Migrant activism, Women's activism, Other national activities, Consulting, and Volunteer activities. The collection holds significant materials for research in the civil rights movements of migrant workers, women and children, older Americans, and the disabled.

The Autobiography series 1997 contains draft excerpts of chapters from Sandage's manuscript autobiography, which she prepared to accompany her papersa nd provide additional information about the events in each series. These excerpts are portions of the autobiography that refer mainly to Sandage's professional experiences. Restrictions: These excerpts are open to researchers but may not be photocopied, cited, or quoted without permission. This series also includes the complete, unpublished manuscript Something of Substance Across Main Street, which is closed to researchers.

The Family and personal history series 1927-1998 contains a genealogy report of father's side of the family, photograph of Sandage and her sons, her sons' resumes, correspondence from her sons, a copy of Sandage's birth certificate, and correspondence with Marquis Publishers regarding her inclusion in Who's Who. A letter from Sandage's son Scott to the Iowa Women's Archives summarizes Sandage's career, the contents of the collection, and its importance to researchers. The series also contains the eulogy Sandage and her son Scott wrote for the memorial service of Sandage's aunt, Berenice Reynolds Pippert. Also included in this series is a copy of a paper Sandage wrote for a 1996 community-college course. The paper, entitled "Fighting Back: Anger, Anxiety and Activism," compares the African-American activist Anne Moody and the Native American activist Wilma Mankiller. Two audiocassettes of interviews with Sandage conducted by her son Scott complete this series. The first is a 1983interview of Sandage and her sister, Joy Swab, who discuss their childhood memories. In the 1984 oral history interview, Sandage tells stories about her experiences with the Migrant Action Program and the Migrant Research Project, her journey from housewife to The Older Women's League, her time with the United States Department of Labor, the effect gender had on the Iowa Hazardous Wastes Study, and the community backlash against The Door Opener in Mason City.

The Migrant Activism series 1964-1996 contains materials from Sandage's work with the Migrant Action Program (MAP) in Mason City and the national Migrant Research Project (MRP). The MAP subseries contains a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and photographs of Sandage and the program participants. It also contains Sandage's book Child of Hope, (A. S. Barnes and Co., 1968), copies of the program's annual reports, Sandage's statement before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and an audiocassette tape of the Iowa House debate over passage of a child labor law for migrant children. Sandage co-authored the original bill, which passed and was signed by Governor Harold Hughes in 1967. The Migrant Research Project subseries chronicles the years 1969 to 1971 when Sandage and Margaret Garrity conducted the first national study of migrant workers' demographic, economic and social conditions. It includes annual reports and project reports, as well as an audiocassette in which Sandage and Garrity discuss the training of indigenous aides in their program.

The Women's Activism series 1977-1995 contains papers that document Sandage's involvement with The Door Opener, The Displaced Homemakers Network, and the Older Women's League. It also contains materials from Sandage's 1981 trip to China as part of a women's delegation of the National Committee for United States-China Relations. The Door Opener subseries contains documents and publications used at The Door Opener. It includes materials Sandage developed for a skills transfer program that helped identify skills a homemaker possesses which could be translated into the paid workforce. It also contains Sandage's speeches and press coverage, including photographs of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter's visit to The Door Opener. The National Committee on United States-China Relations subseries consists of Sandage's journals, memos, and photographs of her three-week trip to Chinato observe Chinese women's lives. The Displaced Homemakers Network subseries contains Sandage's papers and notes from her involvement with the network. It includes a copy of the Network News newsletter, conference planning papers, and lyrics to a song which Sandage penned to tell the history of the network.

The Older Women's League (OWL) subseries contains photographs, correspondence, press coverage, minutes, conference planning papers, publications, audiocassettes and a video cassette from Sandage's time as executive director of the Older Women's League. It includes papers from the 1980 White House Mini-Conference on Older Women, where OWL was started. Copies of the OWL publications Wingspan, The OWL Idea, OWL Field Advocate, The OWL Observer, and the Gray Papers are included in the collection. A copy of OWL co-founder Laurie Shield's book Displaced Homemakers: Organizing for a New Life (McGraw-Hill, 1981), autographed by Shields and Tish Sommers, is included in this series and shelved in the printed works collection of the Iowa Women's Archives. This subseries also contains the correspondence Sandage maintained with Dr. Kathleen Kautzer in order to document and correct errors in Dr. Kautzer's Ph.D. dissertation about the Older Women's League. Also in this subseries is the correspondence Sandage maintained with Dr. Pat Huckle to document and correct errors in Huckle's book about OWL and its founder, Tish Sommers. The OWL subseries also contains an artifact: an OWL pendant necklace. A photograph of Sandage wearing the necklace appears in a Prevention article on Sandage, also located in this subseries. The audiovisual material in this subseries consists of audio recordings of Sandage speaking before a conference on aging, and radio and television interviews with Sandage.

The Other National Activities series 1971-1997 contains papers and audiovisual materials from Sandage's work for the United States Department of Labor in the early 1970s, the Christian Children's Fund (CCF) in 1986 and 1987, and the National Organization for Disability from 1988 to 1996. It also includes developmental material for the James S. Brady Center for Fellows in Public Policy.

The United States Department of Labor subseries contains papers written by Sandage when she was a consultant to the Department of Labor's Opportunities for Families Program, which was a welfare-reform program established by then-President Richard Nixon. This subseries also documents the work Sandage did for the Department of Labor's Employment Service. It includes documents from a civil suit filed against the Secretary of Labor as well as Sandage's federal personnel files.

The Christian Children's Fund subseries contains correspondence, research, and other materials from Sandage's work for that organization, where she served as Director of the United States Field Office from 1986 to 1987. This subseries includes correspondence between Sandage and the program manager, annual and quarterly reports, Sandage's studies on child poverty in the United States, training materials, a brochure, and an audiocassette of a training conference Sandage led for Native American parents of CCF children in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The National Organization on Disability (NOD) subseries consists of photographs, publications, reports, training materials, and speeches from Sandage's years with the National Organization on Disability (NOD). This subseries contains documentation of NOD's major programs, including the Community Partnership Program and the National Organizations Partnership Program. This subseries includes television coverage of Sandage discussing the Americans With Disabilities Act; of Sandage and James Brady discussing NOD, and video of a NOD-sponsored training seminar in Frederick, Maryland. An audiocassette tape of Sandage and James Brady discussing their work together and their plan for developing the James S. Brady Center for Fellows in Public Policy is also included in this series.

The Consulting series 1974-1990 contains materials related to work Sandage performed as a consultant. The Garrity-Sandage Associates subseries consists of materials related to the study of industrial hazardous waste in Iowa which Sandage and Margaret Garrity conducted in 1975 and 1976. It includes copies of both volumes of the resulting Special Substances Report of 1977. conducted. This includes an address Sandage gave before the National Environmental Manpower Planning Conference, the Special Substances Report, Volumes I and II, and press coverage of the report from the Des Moines Register. Please see Sandage's bibliography for more information about the study and the materials in this series.

The Door Opener series consists of papers related to Sandage's work as Executive Director for The Door Opener, a drop-in resource center for women in Mason City. It includes brochures and descriptive information about the center, annual reports for 1979-1982, curriculum and training guides for the center's programs, and speeches about The Door Opener which Sandage presented before various audiences. Also included are photographs of Sandage with Rosalyn Carter at the White House and during Carter's visit to The Door Opener. A scrapbook containing newspaper clippings, letters, and telegrams related to The Door Opener 1977-1982 is included in this series.

The National Committee on United States-China Relations series contains papers, memorabilia and photographs of Sandage's three week trip to China as a participant in a women's delegation to the country. It includes Sandage's journals and notes from the trip, official documentation including biographical information about each of the delegates, and three photograph albums.

The Iowa Governor's Commission on Health Care Costs series contains correspondence and other information related to Sandage's service as a member of the commission.

The Displaced Homemakers Network series contains papers pertaining to Sandage's involvement with the Network, including organizational newsletters, planning papers for national conferences, and a song parody, "The Birth of the Network," which Sandage wrote to chronicle the history of the Network.

The Older Women's League series consists of papers related to Sandage's work with The Older Women's League, which began when she directed the White House Mini-Conference on Older Women in Des Moines. It continued when she became the League's Executive Director. This is a sizable series which contains photographs of Sandage and Margaret Garrity as well as League founders Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields, annual reports and convention reports, testimony of Tish Sommers and Sandage before public groups and congressional committees, Older Women's League (OWL) publications, minutes, and a hardcover edition of Displaced Homemakers: Organizing for a New Life, by Laurie Shields. The bulk of the series is correspondence between Sandage and Sommers. For a detailed explanation of the papers in this series, including a complete list of the correspondence, please see Sandage's bibliography. Also included in this series are audio cassettes of Sandage's address before the Mid-America Conference on Aging, radio interviews with Sandage, and a videocassette of Sandage's appearance on the television show "Congressional Update," on which she represented the Older Women's League and discussed earnings sharing. There are also subseries containing papers relating to the consulting Sandage completed for the Older Americans Consumer Cooperative in 1985; for the MD-IPA, a health care provider for seniors, in 1986; for Traveler's Aid International and Lightnet Industries in 1988; and for the National Association of Social Workers in 1990.


  • Creation: 1927-2012


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research, with the exception of the Frederick Police Department files.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa, except for that of the manuscript "Something of Substance Across Main Street," writing considered to be "work for hire," and photographs, for which the donor has retained copyright.

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

Shirley Sandage, born in Mason City, Iowa, in 1927, was a homemaker and mother of three when she began her career as a social activist and "professional agitator." Her church's involvement with migrant farm workers in the late 1960's inspired Sandage to start and direct the Migrant Action Program in Mason City. This program provided daycare, education, vocational training, food, and medical services to migrant families. Sandage's experiences with migrant laborers led her to collaborate with photographer Jo Moore Stewart to create Child of Hope, a book about the plight of migrant workers. During this time Sandage helped author a migrant child labor bill, which was passed into Iowa law in 1967.

In 1969 Sandage began dividing her time between Mason City and Washington, D.C., where she conducted the first national study of the social, economic and demographic conditions of migrant farm workers. Sandage then went to work for the United States Department of Labor. There she redesigned a welfare program for rural families and led a task force to implement court orders that resulted from a civil suit against the Secretary of Labor. She authored the guidelines which reorganized the United States Employment Service and integrated the US Rural Manpower Service.

In 1975 Sandage returned to Iowa full-time, where she and her associate Margaret Garrity conducted a groundbreaking study on industrial hazardous waste in the state. The study led to the passage of legislation to regulate hazardous waste disposal in Iowa. In 1977 Sandage helped to establish and became the director of The Door Opener, a resource center for women. The Door Opener staff provided services such as vocational rehabilitation, counseling, job placement, and crisis intervention for displaced homemakers and women of all ages in the Mason City area.

In 1980 the founders of the national Displaced Homemakers Network, Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields, asked Sandage to organize the first White House Mini-Conference on Older Women, which was held in Des Moines. Sommers and Shields, along with Sandage and other conference participants, then formed the Older Women's League (OWL), which became a national organization dedicated to the awareness and resolution of older women's issues. In 1983 Sandage left Iowa to become the executive director of the Older Women's League and to establish its national office in Washington, D.C. In 1986 Sandage became the United States field representative of the Christian Children's Fund (CCF), an international sponsorship program for needy children. She ran the United States program, which provided aid mainly to Native American children. She also completed a study of child poverty in the United States, determining the counties in which children were at extreme risk.

From 1988 until her retirement in 1996, Sandage served as the director of program development for the National Organization on Disability (NOD) in Washington, D.C. She directed the office of former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who served as NOD's vice-chairman. This position involved directing Brady's Calling on America campaign, which promoted the full inclusion of people with disabilities into community life. It also included writing Brady's speeches, as well as numerous brochures, newsletters, and manuals. After her retirement from NOD, Sandage continued to collaborate with Brady, establishing the James S. Brady Center for Fellows in Public Policy.

Sandage's volunteer activities since her retirement have included serving as the chair of the Frederick County (Maryland) Human Relations Commission. In this position she monitored the Frederick Police Department's affirmative action procedures, and planned and implemented events and programs to promote the celebration of diversity in Frederick County. In 1998 Sandage served as a member of the Frederick Community College curriculum committee to establish the Institute for Learning in Retirement. She designed and teaches a "Tales for Grandchildren" course at the college. Shirley Sandage died in 2012.


7.25 Linear Feet

10 audiocassettes [AC447-AC456], 4 videocassettes [V186-188], 1 DVD [d0050] boxes

Language of Materials



Mason City, Iowa-born civil rights activist, United States field representative for the Christian Children's Fund and director of program development for the National Organization on Disability.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 434) were donated by Shirley Sandage in 1997 and succeeding years.

Existence and Location of Originals

Mujeres Latinas Digital Collection:

Related Materials

Tish Sommers papers (San Diego State University Library): Sommers was co-founder of the Displaced Homemakers Network and the Older Women's League.

Kate Jones, 1997; James Boucher, 1998; Bailey Adolph, 2019.
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)