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Joyce Beisswenger papers

Identifier: IWA0823

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Scope and Contents

The Joyce Beisswenger papers date from 1906 to 2005 and measure 21.6 linear inches. The papers are arranged in six series: Biography, Education, Career, Correspondence, Donna Sexton Case, and Family History.

The Biography series (1930-2002) contains autobiographical writings by both Beisswenger and her husband, Don, including the periods before and after their marriage in 1954. It also contains Beisswenger's obituaries, resume, and some personal papers, including notes in an "Integral Journey" journal and a folder of favorite quotes.

The Education series (1947-1998) documents Beisswenger's educational career, from high school through both of her graduate degrees. The series includes memorabilia from her high school graduation and 1992 reunion, newsletters about classmates from the Yale Divinity School, and a 1950 yearbook from her time at the Iowa State Teachers' College (UNI). Additionally, it contains materials from her social work training, her continuing education courses, and her Masters in Social Work diploma from the University of Tennessee.

The Career series (1973-2003) covers Beisswenger's work at Scarritt College, materials related to her 1973 "I'm OK-You're OK" course, and assorted other notes and papers about retreats. One folder in the series contains materials from the Penuel Ridge Retreat Center the Beisswengers co-founded.

The Correspondence series (1954-2005) contains letters to, from, and about Beisswenger and her family. Among them are letters to Judy, Don Beisswenger?s second wife, from a family friend and letters of condolence that Don received upon Joyce's death in 2002. In addition, there is a folder of Beisswenger's non-professional writings.

The Donna Sexton Case series (1995-2005) documents Beisswenger's involvement in attempting to secure the release of Donna Sexton from prison. Included are legal papers, correspondence between the two women, correspondence between Beisswenger and others involved in the case, and Beisswenger's written summary of Donna Sexton's history.

The Family History series (1904-1994) contains material pertaining to the genealogy of the Smalley and Beisswenger families, family photographs, and newspaper clippings from Osage, Iowa from 1914-1956. The series also includes materials regarding the Osage International Weekend program Beisswenger instituted at the University of Iowa.


  • Creation: 1906-2005


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.

Biographical / Historical

Joyce Evelyn Horton Beisswenger, social worker and civil rights activist, was born in 1930 in Osage, Iowa, the youngest child of Guy and Fern Horton. After completing two years at the Iowa State Teacher's College (now the University of Northern Iowa), she transferred to the University of Iowa, where she pursued a degree in speech therapy and helped start a program at the University where international students are invited to spend Thanksgiving with Osage families. Upon completion of her degree, she enrolled in the Yale Divinity School, where she received a Master of Religious Studies and met her future husband, Don Beisswenger.

The Beisswengers were married in 1954, had six children of their own: Simon, Drew, Tom, Philip, Suzanne, and Rebecca, and also took in eight foster children at various times. While living in Chicago in the 1960s, the Beisswengers collaborated with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight discriminatory housing practices, including purchasing a house in an all-white community and then immediately reselling it to an African-American family.

Joyce Beisswenger returned to college in 1971, earning a Master's in Social Work from the University of Tennessee in 1974. Between 1974 and 1991, she held various social work positions with Planned Parenthood, Scarritt College, the YWCA, and Matthew 25, all in Nashville, Tennessee. Notably, in her time at the YWCA, Beisswenger developed and directed the Displaced Homemakers Program and also the New Start Program, an aid for women re-entering the workplace after incarceration. In 1983 she and her husband founded the Penuel Ridge Contemplative Retreat Center, a facility for tranquil religious reflection in Cheatham County, Tennessee. Beisswenger was active with the retreat center up until her death in 2002.

Upon reading of the plight of incarcerated mother Donna Sexton in The Tennessean in 1998, Beisswenger became involved in trying to get Sexton released from prison. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, the two women maintained contact, and Sexton continued to have a relationship with the Beisswenger family after Joyce Beisswenger's death.


21.60 linear inches

Language of Materials



Social worker and civil rights activist from Osage, Iowa.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 897) were donated by Don Beisswenger in 2003 and 2007.

June Silliman and Margaret Halterman, 2012.
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)