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Mary Louise Smith papers

Identifier: IWA0027

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Scope and Contents

The Mary Louise Smith papers measure 77 linear feet and date from 1812 to 1997. The bulk of the papers date from 1964 (when Smith was elected Republican National Committeewoman from Iowa) to 1984 (when Smith decided not to seek re-election as Committeewoman). There is very little material relating to Smith's life before her move to Des Moines in 1963. The period of Smith's chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (1974 to 1976) is covered by Accession One.Accession Two contains some materials from that period but primarily deals with other years. Accessions Three, Four and Five continue where Two left off, documenting Smith's public life since 1984, including her ouster from the Republican mainstream into a minority and dissenting position of moderate Republicanism within a rightward shifting Republican Party, and her efforts to build coalitions of moderate Republicans to redress the effects of the Religious Right on the Party's conservative wing.


Accession One covers the period of Smith's chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (1974 to 1976) and is arranged in five series: (1) Alpha-numeric series(a group of papers labeled with a pre-designated alpha-numeric code which was devised at the Republican National Committee), (2) Trip and speech files, (3) Alphabetical subject files, (4) Audiotapes, and (5) Notebooks. The materials consist of correspondence, press releases, speeches, notes, reports, photographs, memoranda, proceedings and other documents.

Among other duties, the chairman of a major political party is concerned with planning national conventions, securing financial contributions, publicizing the party, and running the national party headquarters. The Mary Louise Smith Papers document all of these activities. While she was Co-Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Smith conducted thirteen national workshops called "Grassroots '74". The workshops were held to help party workers identify and register voters and then get them to the polling places. After she became chairman, Smith attempted to stimulate interest in the Republican Party through television specials. She attempted to involve more people in the political process and was especially interested in encouraging greater participation in the Republican Party by women.

In addition to correspondence with party officials, congressmen, senators, and cabinet members, the Smith papers contain many letters from concerned Republican Party members on such political issues as the Nixon pardon, the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, the nomination of Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President, and the Panama Canal.

One of the Chairman's major tasks is to prepare for national nominating conventions. The Smith Papers contain a great deal of material on the 31st Republican Party National Convention in Kansas City in 1976. The contest between President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination was the highlight of that assembly. After the Convention, Smith was involved in helping to manage a national election campaign. During the 1976 campaign she was especially concerned with the effects of the Federal Election Campaign laws that had recently laws been enacted.

Upon leaving the Chairmanship, Mary Louise Smith transferred her personal papers to the University Libraries. An extensive card file index to the alphanumeric series compiled at the Republican National Committee Headquarters is available in the archives. See also Appendix One for an index to Boxes 1-86.


Accession Two is arranged in fourteen series: Personal; Correspondence; Speeches; Republican party; Non-partisan women's organizations; Commissions; Other affiliations; Conferences and task forces; Newspaper clippings; Resources; Photographs; Scrapbooks; Oversized, and Audiovisual.

The Personal series (1933-1983) contains a folder of biographical material which consists mostly of short biographies and resumes composed by Smith. The series also contains certificates, mementos (such as invitations to political events) and various programs and flyers for events in which Smith participated. The only material on Smith's early life are a reader and notes from a mental health class which she took at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) in the 1930s.

The Correspondence series (1960-1987) consists of 4 linear feet arranged chronologically. From 1964 to 1973 Smith arranged the majority of her correspondence according to the Iowa Congressional district in which the correspondent resided. This order has been retained, but has been further arranged by year. After 1973, as her correspondence became increasingly national in scope, Smith ceased to organize her correspondence by congressional district. From 1974 on, correspondence has been arranged by month and year. Special subjects for which there is a great deal of correspondence have been labeled accordingly. Correspondence which is related to material located elsewhere in the collection is in some cases found with that other material, labeled as correspondence. The Correspondence series covers a large range of topics and is a resource for researchers interested in Iowa and national Republican politics, grassroots organizing, and the role of women in the Republican party.

Speeches (1963-1985) consist of some of the hundreds of speeches given by Mary Louise Smith throughout her career. Her speaking abilities and communication skills were considered to be a great asset and, consequently, the notes and text of her speeches covering the years 1964 to 1985) are an important part of her papers. Recurring topics include the role of women in politics, the importance of volunteer work, and the merits of the two-party system. As RNC Chair, Smith gave many speeches each month. Many of her speeches (particularly those given during her tenure as RNC Chair) are typed. Others are written in longhand on cards. The speeches she gave as RNC Chair are indexed.

The Republican Party series (1960s-1984) represents the major part of Smith's papers (12 linear feet), and is divided into three major subseries: the Iowa Republican party; the National Republican party; and Republican women's clubs and organizations.

Non-partisan women's organizations series (1977-1980) contains material on several of these organizations Smith was involved in, including the Iowa ERA Coalition and International Women's Year (IWY). Correspondence relating to the National Women's Conference (part of IWY) from persons critical of Smith's affiliation with the Conference and her stance on abortion can be found in the Correspondence series under appropriate dates. Smith, as a Republican, received a great deal of attention for her involvement in each of these organizations.

Commissions (1969-1984) series contains material from Smith's involvement with the United Nations Population Commission (1969), the President's Commission for the Observance of the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations (1970) and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1981-1984). Smith's tenure on the Civil Rights Commission (USCCR) was a controversial one because she did not always support Reagan's positions. Smith served on the USCCR as positions on issues such as affirmative action and Title IX were shifting. Reagan dismissed several members of the commission including Smith in 1984. This series contains letters of support Smith received during this time.

Other affiliations (1978-1986) series documents several of the numerous other activities Smith was involved in. Examples of these organizations include Dial Corporation and the Learning Channel (on whose boards of directors Smith served in the 1980s); the National Peace Institute; and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, of which she was a fellow during 1978-1979, speaking at small liberal arts colleges.

Conferences and task forces (1965-1987) series consists of programs, correspondence, and background materials related to conferences and task forces with which Smith was a participant, arranged by year. Those events for which only a flyer is preserved are not documented in this series; these flyers can be found in the Personal series as noted above. The bulk of this series dates from 1978 to 1987. Earlier conference materials are related specifically to the Republican party.

The Newspaper clippings (1968-1993) series contains only those clippings related to Smith or her husband. Clippings on other subjects are arranged throughout the collection according to subject. This series contains 23 folders of clippings which feature or mention Smith, arranged chronologically by year. Included here are photocopies of two scrapbooks which Smith kept during her tenure as chair of the Republican National Committee. This scrapbook material is primarily newspaper clippings. Other materials (photographs, flyers, and correspondence) have been removed from the original scrapbooks and filed accordingly. This series also contains one folder of articles featuring Elmer Smith.

Resources series (1960s-1981) contains newspaper clippings and other material related to topics of interest and use to Smith that she saved throughout her career. Examples of subjects found in this series include campaign organizing, appeals from various groups for funds, the new right, and tips on speech writing and communication. There are also several folders of material which Smith identified as women's resources.

Photographs series (1964-1985) includes multiple copies of publicity photos as well as single copies of photographs of Smith alone and with others. Most photographs are black and white, though there are also a few color Polaroid shots and printing plates of some early publicity photos. Photographs are arranged into three major categories: publicity photos, Smith with others (arranged by year), and those photographs which were autographed by one of the subjects (other than Smith). Also included are one photo of Elmer Smith, three of Margaret Smith and one of Anna Lomas, former National Committee woman.

Scrapbooks consists of two scrapbooks from the 1960s. One contains material relating to Smith's 1964 campaign for Iowa committeewoman and the other consists of newspaper clippings related to the 1964 presidential election.

Oversized material includes certificates, mementos, and three framed photographs.

The Audiovisual series consists of two videocassettes and 5 audiocassettes. The videocassettes are both from a panel titled "Why Business Men Should be Involved in Politics." Smith was a member of this panel, and viewing these audiocassettes provides an opportunity to see her speaking, answering questions, and interacting with her audience. This conference is also recorded on one of the audiocassettes. Other audiocassettes feature Smith speaking on various topics as well as a collection of ads for the ERAmerica campaign (Smith is not featured in any of these ads).


These Accessions comprise 13 linear feet of materials. They are arranged in the same 14 series as Accession Two, except that they do not have either Commissions or Scrapbook series. Generally, these papers extend temporally upon the content in Accession Two; where they expand the collection in content will be noted.

The Personal series (1812-1993) contains autobiographical and biographical material, appointment calendars, and programs, and awards Smith received. The calendars provide a quick reference check on Smith's daily acitivities for over three decades from 1964 to 1996. Additional autobiographical material can be found in Box 87 (Accession Two) and in Box 160 (UI Elderhostel memoir writing class).

The Correspondence series (1966-1997) consists of three linear feet, the bulk of which extends from 1986 until June 1997. Much of it contains invitations for Smith to speak at various conferences and political or charitable events, both in Iowa and throughout the United States. The series contents reflects Smith's national stature and her movement toward an increasingly liberal (and minority) position within the Republican party. Correspondence related to material located elsewhere in the collection is in some cases found with that other material. The Christmas cards subseries primarily contains cards sent to Smith by politicians; these cards are arranged in rough chronological order.

The Speeches series (1964-1996) comprises nearly one linear foot. The bulk of this series spans 1976-1996, extending the materials found in Box 98 (Accession Two). Smith was a dynamic and forthright speaker, and these speeches provide insight into the depth and breadth of her thinking on a range of issues. Her topics include women in politics and the status of women in the United States, pro-choice, civil rights, aging, peace, volunteerism, current political issues, the state of the Republican party, and the drug abuse problem.

The Republican Party series (1960-1996) runs to two linear feet. It is mostly comprised of materials reflecting Smith's campaign work for Robert Ray in 1978 and George Bush in 1988, and her activities as a Party moderate. Non-campaign materials highlight Smith's increasingly minority position within the Party from the mid-1980s onward and the efforts she made to stem the Party's shift to the political right. These papers reflect the depth of her commitment to the ideals of Republicans as she did not abandon the party to the religious right. Her impact may have been diminished by her distance from the seats of power.

The Non-partisan women's organizations series (1980-1997) contains one linear foot of material on Smith's visible leadership within Planned Parenthood on both national and state levels from 1987-1992, as well as her campaigning for ERA Iowa '92. It also reflects her close cooperation with Louise Noun in working together for the Chrysalis Foundation and to establish the Iowa Women's Archives.

The Other affiliations series (1980-1997) also consists of one linear foot of materials and includes Smith's involvement with Des Moines area organizations, Iowa institutions of higher education, and peace groups. Her prominence in the Des Moines area, coupled with her staunch support of human rights, made her a natural candidate to serve on boards of trustees. These materials reflect her close involvement with the Des Moines Human Rights Commission, the National Conference of Christians and Jews (who worked to 'keep the dream alive' in celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.), Drake University, and the US Institute of Peace.

The Conferences and task forces series (1976-1996) comprises nearly three linear feet of programs, correspondence, and Smith's notes for speeches. The bulk of these materials spans 1987-1996 and extends the series ending in Box 131 (Accession Two). Its topics resemble those of Smith's speeches (peace, women in politics, civil rights, aging, drug abuse) as well as new ones (the media's role in political campaigns, the American political process, and the state of Iowa). Smith's high energy and strong commitment to causes is reflected by the fact that her participation in these conferences continued until very near the end of her life.

The Newspaper clippings series' (1925-1997) consists of six folders; its bulk spans 1989-1997 and contains only those clippings related to Smith. Clippings on other subjects are located with their subject throughout the collection. Many of these clippings describe Smith's public criticisms of the Party's stance on women, abortion and civil rights.

The Topical Files series (1956-1996) consists of about six linear inches of materials; it is analogous to the Resources files in boxes 132-134 (Accession Two). It contains materials of interest and use to Smith, including pamphlets and clippings about the political process and political commentary, abortion, aging, speechwriting and quotations, and women.

The Photographs series (1975-1992) is comprised mostly of black and white portraits of Smith and photos of Smith with friends and colleagues. The Artifacts series (1976-1982) holds mostly Republican campaign paraphernalia. The Oversize series (1812-1992) contains the Smith family bible, badge and scroll.


  • Creation: 1925-1997


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

Mary Louise Epperson was born October 6, 1914 in Eddyville, Iowa. She graduated in 1935 from the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) with a B.A. in social work administration and worked as a case worker in Iowa City for the Iowa Employment Relief Administration from 1935 to 1936.

In 1934, while studying at the University of Iowa, Epperson married medical student Elmer M. Smith. They had three children, Margaret, Robert, and James. The couple spent much time apart during their early years of marriage, due to Elmer Smith's medical work for the military. In 1945 the family moved to Eagle Grove, Iowa, where Mary Louise Smith became active in a host of community and civic activities, including the Community Chest and the Board of Education. In 1961, she was named to the Iowa Commission for the Blind.

It was in Eagle Grove, in the 1950s, that Smith first became actively involved with the Republican Party. Through the encouragement of Cathlene Blue, wife of Iowa's former Governor Robert Blue, Smith joined the local Republican Women's Club. She held the positions of precinct committeewoman and county vice-chairman, and in 1961 was membership chair and member of the Executive Committee of the Iowa Council of Republican Women. Smith credits her involvement in the ICRW with providing her political training.

In 1964, Smith won a hard-fought three-way battle for the position of Republican National Committeewoman from Iowa, replacing Anna Lomas, who stepped down that year. As a member of the Republican National Committee, Smith served on various party committees and was a delegate to the party's national conventions. In 1969, Smith became a member of the powerful RNC Executive Committee. That same year, she served as a member of the United States delegation to the Population Commission of UNESCO.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford named Mary Louise Smith to chair the Republican National Committee, the first woman to hold this appointment. She led her party through a particularly difficult time as the party was considered by many to be dying in the wake of Watergate. Smith continually advocated promoting the GOP as a party of inclusiveness. Smith was an active supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and abortion rights. She was a co-founder of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus and, in 1977, was a delegate to the National Women's Conference in Houston. Also in 1977, she was named to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.

In 1980, in keeping with her alliance with the moderate wing of the party, Smith supported George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. She was dismayed with the platform adopted at the 1980 convention when the Republican party retreated from its earlier support for the ERA. Still, she campaigned for Reagan in 1980 and again in 1984. In 1981 Reagan named her vice chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, an appointment he would later regret and fail to renew.

In 1984 Smith resigned from the RNC and became a National Vice Chair of the Republican Mainstream Committee, a group of moderates dedicated to reestablishing their Party's pro-choice and pro-ERA positions and returning it to its historical identification with civil rights. She continued to support the party by campaigning for George Bush in 1988 and in 1992. Bush appointed Smith to a four-year term on the board of directors of the National Peace Institute in 1990.

In the aftermath of the 1989 Webster Supreme Court decision, pro-choice Republicans formed the National Republican Coalition for Choice and Smith joined its National Advisory Board in 1991. She also became a national steering committee member of Pro-Choice America, a national political action committee to elect pro-choice Republicans, formed in 1990. In 1991 Pro-Choice America awarded her "Republican Woman of the Century." Smith served on the board of directors of Planned Parenthood of Mid-Iowa from 1986 through 1992, and in 1989 she also became a member of Planned Parenthood Federation of America's National Leadership Committee.

In addition to her continued support for such causes as women's education and women's political participation, Smith took up issues of aging, among others, with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Greater Des Moines, and for ERA Iowa '92, as well as on numerous conferences and charitable bodies. She was the cofounder with Louise Noun of the Louise Noun - Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives, which opened in 1992 at the University of Iowa Libraries. Mary Louise Smith passed away in 1997.


77.00 Linear Feet

45 audiocassettes [AC104-AC108; AC2017-AC2056]; 7 videocassettes [V115-V120, V642 - V644]; 1 digital photograph [d0289]; Photographs in boxes 16, 18, 36, 41, 49a, 52, 62, 67-68, 134-135, 137, 163 and framed. boxes

Language of Materials



First woman to chair the Republican National Committee, serving from 1974 to 1977. Co-founder of the Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives.


Alphabetical subject files - Boxes 57-75

Alpha-numeric series - Boxes 1-49

Artifacts, 1812,1976-1982 - Boxes 163-164

Audiovisual (audiocassettes) - Flat boxes 53-54

Audiovisual - in audiovisual collection

Commissions, 1969-1984 - Boxes 123-126

Conferences and task forces, 1965-1987 - Boxes 128-131

Conferences and task forces, 1976-1996 - Boxes 159-161

Correspondence, 1960-1987 - Boxes 88-96

Correspondence, 1966-1997 - Boxes 142-148

Newspaper clippings, 1925-1997 - Box 162

Newspaper clippings, 1968-199- Box 131

Non-partisan women's organizations, 1980-1996 - Boxes 153-155

Non-partisan women's organizations,1977-1980 - Boxes 121-122

Notebooks - Boxes 76A-86

Other affiliations, 1978-1986 - Box 127

Other affiliations, 1980-1997 - Boxes 155-158

Oversized, 1976,1992 - Box 164

Oversized, undated - Box 137

Personal, 1933-1983 - Boxes 87-88

Personal, 1964-1996 - Boxes 140-142

Photographs, 1964-1985 - Boxes 134-135

Photographs, 1975-1995 - Box 163

Republican Party, 1960-1996 - Boxes 150-153

Republican Party, 1960s-1984 - Boxes 98-120

Resources, 1960s-1981 - Boxes 132-134

Scrapbooks, 1960s - Boxes 138, 139

Speeches, 1963-1985 - Boxes 96-98

Speeches, 1964-1996 - Boxes 149-150

Topical files, 1956-1996 - Boxes 162-163

Trips and speeches - Boxes 49A-56A

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 28) were donated by Mary Louise Smith in 1977 and succeeding years.

Related Materials

Bill Crews papers (IWA) Anna Lomas papers (IWA) Patricia Pardun papers (IWA) Margaret McDonald papers (IWA) Iowa Women's Political Caucus records (IWA) Iowa ERA Coalition records (IWA) Oral history interview of Mary Louise Smith by Robert Ross [V51] (IWA) Young Women's Resource Center records (IWA)

Special Collections staff; Catherine E. Rymph, 1993; Rachel Bohlmann, 1996; Matt Schaefer, 1997; Meredith Kite, 2024
Language of description
Script of description

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)