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Mary Elizabeth Wood papers

Identifier: IWA0262

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Scope and Contents

The Mary Elizabeth Wood papers date from 1920 to 1996 and measure 2.5 linear feet. The papers are arranged in five series: Personal information; Church, civic groups, and clubs; Honors and recognition; Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA); and Photographs. The bulk of the collection is related to Wood's work as an administrator at the Buffalo, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh YWCAs.

The Personal information series (1941-1996) contains Wood's personal correspondence as well as some of her poetry, most of which was included in her annual Christmas letter. Of interest are a drawing and Lenten letter sent out by Wood after she had a near-death experience in 1992. There is also the transcript of an oral history interview conducted in1997 by the Iowa Women's Archives as part of the "Giving Voice to Their Memories: Oral Histories of African-American Women in Iowa" project.

The Church, civic groups and clubs series (1958-1996) contains files that reflect Wood's involvement in her church and community. The files related to the Health and Welfare Planning Association and the 1977 Conference on Aging indicate her concern for the elderly.

The Honors and recognition series (1920-1982) contains Wood's diplomas and many certificates and awards she received in recognition of her professional service to the community, as well as her church involvement and charitable giving.

The Young Women's Christian Association series (1941-1995) is divided into two subseries: Consultant and Director. The Consultant subseries contains materials documenting Wood's work as a volunteer for the national board of the YWCA after her retirement. The Director subseries chronicles Wood's professional career at the Buffalo, Newark, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh YWCAs.

The Photographs series (1925-1996) illustrates events from Mary Wood's adult life. The Des Moines folder contains an undated group photograph of the Des Moines Junior NAACP chapter probably from the 1920s. Of interest are two panoramic photographs that document Wood's earliest work. One photograph features the students and staff of Houston College (Houston, Texas), where Wood was first employed after graduation from Drake University. The second panoramic photograph shows Wood and other attendees at the National YWCA Conference in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1926.


  • Creation: 1920-1998


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 Elizabeth Wood, educator, certified social worker, and Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) administrator, was born August 28, 1902, in Des Moines. Her parents were Emmett and Rose Wood, who instilled in their six daughters and three sons the importance of education. Every night when the family gathered for dinner, each had to describe something they had learned or done that day. "If you hadn't done anything or learned anything you were in hot water," recalled Wood (Des Moines Register, April 6, 1995).

Wood grew up in Des Moines and graduated from East High School in 1920 and Drake University in1924, the only African-American in her graduating class at each institution. With a teaching certificate from Drake she was offered a job at Houston College in Texas, where she taught for a year before becoming the director of the youth program for the African-American branch of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, YWCA. Wood received her M.A. in Community Organization from New York University in 1946.

In 1949, Wood was one of six American YWCA leaders chosen to attend a six-week Leadership Training Institute in Geneva, Switzerland. Wood worked at YWCA branches in Denver, Newark and Philadelphia before her appointment as metropolitan executive director of the YWCA of Buffalo and Erie County, New York, in 1957. She was the first African-American woman to hold such a post. In 1968 she became metropolitan executive director of the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, working there until her retirement in 1972.

After her retirement Mary Wood served as a consultant to the National Board of the YWCA, helping the association assess the progress of branches in implementing "the one imperative: to eliminate racism." Throughout her life Mary Wood has received many honors and awards for her professional service and in 1996 she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.


2.50 Linear Feet

Artifacts in Box 7, 3 audiocassettes [AC364-AC366], Photographs in Box 6 boxes

Language of Materials



Social worker and the first African American woman in the United States to be named executive director of a greater metropolitan YWCA.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 365) were donated by Mary Elizabeth Wood in 1996.

Randel W. Lackore, 1997; Eugenia M. Hernandez, 2000.
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)