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Lonabelle Kaplan Spencer papers

Identifier: IWA0160

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Scope and Contents

The Lonabelle Kaplan Spencer papers date from 1931 to 2007 and measure 29.75 linear feet. The papers were acquired and processed in three separate accessions in 1997 and 2007 and 2008.


The 1997 accession is arranged in seven series: American Association of University Women, Equality for women, International Women's Year, Girl Scouts, Politics, Photographs and Artifacts.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) series (1976-1996) chronicles Spencer's work as chair of the legislative program committee nationally and at the state level. Spencer was instrumental in changing the national legislative newsletter to the Action Alert format. She also conducted workshops on the ERA and worked to make women's voices heard in the political realm.

The Equality for women series (1965-1996) covers Spencer's pursuit of equality for women in printed publications and the financial arena. It chronicles her work in three main areas: to end the discrimination against women in trust funds and in newspaper publications, and to promote dual telephone directory listings for women. The series includes extensive documentation of a project spearheaded by Spencer for the Iowa Division of the AAUW to influence Iowa telephone companies to include married women's first names in telephone directories.

The International Women's Year series (1977-1978, 1996) documents Spencer's work at the Iowa Women's Meeting, including her election as a delegate and attendance at the National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas, in 1977. The synopsis folder provides brief reflections on her activities and comments about the infighting between pro- and anti-ERA delegates from different states.

The Girl Scouts series (1964-1996) contains a scrapbook chronicling Spencer's journey as a representative to the International Conference of Girl Scouts/Guides in Acapulco, Mexico. It also includes newspaper articles covering Spencer's activities with the Girl Scouts of Central Iowa and awards given to Spencer for her service. In addition the series includes memorabilia concerning the Moingona Council Pow-Wow of 1973, held at Camp Sacajawea in Boone, Iowa.

The Politics series (1976-1996) contains papers related to Spencer's campaign for the Iowa Senate in 1976 and Mary Grefe's campaign for the Iowa House of Representatives in 1984. The series includes one folder of materials from Spencer's involvement with the Republican women's task force, and papers concerning her appointment to the Iowa 2000 State Commonwealth Conference.

The Photographs series (1973-1984) contains photographs from two girls' summer camps that Spencer directed, campaign snapshots and proof prints, and her photo ID from the International Women's Year National Conference.

The Artifacts series (1963-1984) contains Girl Scout pins and badges, a campaign t-shirt and pins, and a tote bag Kaplan made for the National Women's conference.


The 2007 accession is organized to mirror some of the series used in the 1997 accession and to include five new series. The ten series in the 2007 accession are Personal, Equal Rights Amendment, Hog odor efforts, Grinnell College, Public writings, American Association of University Women, Equality for Women, International Women's Year, Photographs and Artifacts. Many items in the 2007 accession remain in Spencer's folders with her labels in the original order.

The Personal series (1992-2003) includes an extensive history and genealogy of the Kaplan family of Minnesota written by one of Spencer's relatives, and biographical information on Spencer from her, Who's Who in America profile and other publications.

The Equal Rights Amendment series (1974-1999) documents Spencer's work to pass the federal ERA and Iowa's state ERA, which was rejected by voters in 1980 and 1992. The series includes records of the AAUW that relate to the ERA, records of the Iowa ERA Coalition and other organizations, newspaper clippings, correspondence, events, polling data, printed materials, mailings, and financial records. Spencer also collected materials from organizations against the ERA and wrote analyses of the amendments' defeats.

The Hog odor efforts series (1968-2004) includes materials related to Spencer's support of state odor and air quality regulations. The series begins with the conflict between the Girl Scouts and the Ogden Sow Corporation over the proximity of a hog lot to the Girl Scout camp in Boone, Iowa. The series includes Spencer's letters of protest to the company and the state when she discovered there were no odor regulations, newspaper clippings, and records of her lobbying efforts and testimony to commissions. Materials from the state Odor Advisory Committee, which Spencer helped form, and the Air Quality Commission are also included as well as scientific studies on hog lots and air quality.

The Grinnell College series (1944-2000) includes Spencer's yearbooks, alumni materials, and her work as a class fund director, trustee, and reunion organizer. The Public writings series (1969-2004) includes Spencer's drafts and printed newspaper copies of letters to the editor and guest columns on a variety of topics spanning almost forty years. Many of the letters and guest columns appeared in the Des Moines Register. The series also includes testimony for commissions and public hearings, notes on her appearances on WHO talk radio, and correspondence with state and U.S. legislators.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) series (1931-2001) includes issues of Action Alert, resource packets, programs, conference materials, and copies of older legislative programs starting in 1931.

The Equality for Women series (1946-2003) includes materials on Spencer's efforts to end discrimination against women by financial planners, and congratulatory letters after the federal banking services bill passed in 2000. Materials related to the National Gender Balance Project are included, as well as publications from the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, which Spencer attended to promote the National Gender Balance Project. A compilation of speeches from the conference, Look at the World Through Women's Eyes, is shelved in the IWA printed works. Kappie Spencer and the National Gender Balance Project are mentioned in the book The Deep Divide: Why American Women Resist Equality by Sherrye Henry, which is also shelved in the printed works. Newspaper clippings and materials from other women's conferences are included. The series concludes with information on the withdrawal of funding for Planned Parenthood of Iowa by two companies, AT and T and Pioneer Hi-Bred, after boycotts by pro-life groups.

The International Women's Year series (1976-1997) includes conference materials, newspaper clippings, and publications from the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston that Spencer attended as a delegate. Materials in the Politics series (1974-1983) document Spencer's belief that the Republican Party had abandoned women's issues by not supporting the ERA, and her disapproval of the nomination and election of Ronald Reagan.

The Photographs series (1967-1997) includes photographs from Grinnell College reunions and conferences that Spencer attended. The Artifacts series includes stickers, balloons, buttons and t-shirts from the Iowa ERA campaign and items from Grinnell reunions.


Spencer wrote summaries of the series in the 2008 accession and these folders are included at the beginning of each series. The seven series in the 2008 accession are: National Gender Balance Project, Other Organizations, Florida Women's Consortium, Center for the American Woman and Politics (CAWP), Pre-Beijing Conference on Women, Beijing Conference on Women and Wills and Trusts.

The National Gender Balance Project series (1971-2004) contains reports and state by state files relating to Spencer's effort to get an equal number of men and women appointed to state boards and commissions.

The Other organizations series (1982-2006) includes "special information on many national women's organizations" which was "crucial to the launching and success of the National Gender Balance Project".

The Florida Women's Consortium series (1988-2007) details the organization that formed as a result of the National Gender Balance Project. As of 2008, the organization was losing members.

The Center for the American Woman and Politics (CAWP) series (1983-2005) includes correspondence and contacts that Spencer used to promote the National Gender Balance Project. Spencer got mailing lists and statistics from this organization.

The Pre-Beijing Conference on Women series (1987-1995) has materials relating to preparation for the global conference held in 1995.

The Beijing Conference on Women series (1980-2007) contains conference materials from the 1995 conference and information on women's issues. There are four subseries including Female Genital Mutilation, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Print materials and Newspaper clippings. For information concerning the Beijing Conference on Women, see previous accessions.

The Wills and trusts series (1946-2001) concerns Spencer's work regarding equitable distribution of inheritances along gender lines. Box 65 contains several books relating to financial subjects.

Two books are shelved in the IWA printed works collection: The Deep Divide: Why American Women Resist Equality by Sherrye Henry (1994) and Look at the World Through Women's Eyes: Plenary Speeches from the NGO Forum on Women, Beijing '95 edited by Eva Friedlander (1996).


  • Creation: 1931-2007


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

Lonabelle "Kappie" Kaplan Spencer, political activist and women's rights advocate, was born in 1925 in Owatonna, Minnesota, to Reuben and Florence Kaplan. Kaplan became involved in the Girl Scouts of America in 1932 at the age of seven. She attended Grinnell College, graduating in 1947 with a degree in physical education. Kaplan married Grinnell graduate Mark Spencer and the couple moved to Des Moines where they had four children: Greg, Gary, Carol, and Dane.

Kappie Spencer served in leadership roles in Girl Scouts for more than thirty years. In 1965 she was selected as a participant to the International Conference of Girl Scouts/Guides held in Acapulco, Mexico. She also served as a board member and in several leadership positions in the Moingona Council of Central Iowa Girl Scouts.

In 1974, when Spencer learned that a hog lot was to be built near a Girl Scout camp, she supported efforts to regulate livestock odors and air quality. Through this activism and lobbying, she became more interested in state politics. Although Spencer lost a bid for the Iowa Senate in 1976, she became a successful lobbyist. A prominent member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Spencer served as chairwoman of the legislative program committee at the state and national levels.

Through the AAUW, Spencer worked for many women's causes including the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the late 1970s and the Iowa ERA in both 1980 and 1992. Spencer gave speeches across the state and wrote many letters to the editor in support of the ERA. Spencer worked for several years to promote dual listings for married women in Iowa telephone directories. She also influenced Iowa newspapers to include the first names of husbands and wives in obituaries, anniversary announcements, and wedding announcements.

She founded an organization called the National Gender Balance Project to encourage states to appoint equal numbers of men and women to boards and committees. When Spencer's mother died in 1965, she and her sister were not allowed to access their inheritance as it was put into a trust, while her brothers received their inheritance outright. For thirty years Spencer publicized this form of sex discrimination and eventually lobbied for an amendment to the federal banking services bill that banned discrimination against women by financial planners, which passed in 1999.

In 1985, Spencer bought a second home in Sarasota, Florida, and continued her activism for women's rights in both Florida and Iowa. In 1990 Spencer won the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice, an award given by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women.


29.75 Linear Feet

Artifacts: In Boxes 9, 10, 11, and 39. boxes

Language of Materials



American Association of University Women member and advocate for women's issues including dual listings for married women in Iowa telephone directories.


1997 ACCESSION: Boxes 1-11

2007 ACCESSION: Boxes 12-41

2008 ACCESSION: Boxes 42-65

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 233) were donated by Lonabelle Kaplan Spencer in 1994 and subsequent years.

Jennifer Holden, 1995; Randel W. Lackore, 1997; Kate Stewart, 2007; June Silliman, 2010.
Language of description
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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)