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McCown Family Papers

Identifier: IWA0852

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Scope and Contents

The McCown Family papers date from the 1881 to 2012 and measure 5.5 linear feet. The collection is arranged into 6 series: McCown Family, Robert A. McCown, Photographs, Oversize, Artifacts, and Audiovisual.

The McCown Family series (1909-1950) documents the life of Alfred Brown (A.B.) McCown, Don McCown, and Francis McCown. The series contains "Down on the Ridge: Reminiscences of the Old Days in Coal-port and Down on the Ridge", published in 1909, and a poem "The Rural Life" written by A.B. McCown about his life on the prairie of Iowa, which he calls "the new west."  Also included are photographs, a collection of five-year diaries written by Francis McCown, legal documents concerning her estate, and correspondence from her son Robert McCown, as well as a scrapbook documenting the professional life of Don McCown.

The Robert A. McCown series (1939-) begins with the Biographical subseries, which includes papers from Robert McCown's early life, such as his baby book, transcripts, and master's thesis "Irish-Catholic Opinion and the Oriental Problem in San Francisco, 1902-1924." Much of the series is comprised of McCown's correspondence, including legal correspondence, and letters and cards from friends and family, particularly his daughter Anne. The subseries concludes with a transcript of McCown's oral history, conducted in 2000, personal essays, and reflections on numerous topics, including his contemplations on reading, life, and living with Parkinson's disease. The Running subseries (1979-1991) includes McCown's running journals. The Professional subseries (1973-2010) documents the history and development of the University of Iowa Special Collections Department, including correspondence, memos, speeches and publications. The Professional - Conferences and Boards subseries (1975-2000) includes professional journals and meeting minutes from professional archival and library organizations McCown participated in.

The Photographs series (1881-2001) includes photographs from the lives of A.B. McCown, Don and Frances McCown, and other members of their extended family and community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Also included are the family photo albums of Robert McCown, including many photographs of his children Anne and John.

The Oversize series (1949-2001) includes Robert McCown's retirement album, professional certificates, and the records of the Spike Club.

The Artifacts series (1934-1963) consists of pins, ribbons, and medals awarded to A.B., Don, and Robert McCown.

The Audiovisual series includes audiotapes of Robert McCown's oral history interview and a speech on Iowa history. The DVD "Bob at 70" is a slideshow of photographs documenting Robert McCown's life set to music.


  • Creation: 1909-2012


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been retained by the donor for his lifetime.

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

Alfred Brown McCown (1850-1929) was raised in Coalport, Iowa. In 1882, he married Armedia Jane Hegwood (1856-1928) and they had four children: Don Cleveland McCown (1884-1950), Bret Harte McCown (1886-1940), Walter Francis McCown (1889-1972), and Ethel Marie McCown (1892-1964). In 1900 Alfred. McCown was appointed to the Board of Control of State Institutions and was living in Des Moines at the time of his death. Don Cleveland McCown (1884-1950), was born and educated in Des Moines, Iowa. Don McCown was a champion in trap shooting and fly-casting. He won numerous competitions and wrote several articles on bait and fly-casting for The National Waltonian. Don C. McCown worked as a salesman with the Perfection Stove Company of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1908, he married Bernice Wooster (1887-1937) of Montezuma, Iowa, and they had three children.

Widowed in 1937, Don McCown married Frances Anne Freking (1902-1963) in 1938. The couple's only child, Robert Arthur McCown, was born in 1939. In 1942, Don McCown purchased an interest in a hardware store in Hawarden, Iowa, and in 1944 became the sole owner, renaming it Don C. McCown Hardware. In 1949, he was appointed to the retail committee of the Hawarden Chamber of Commerce. The following year he suffered a heart attack and passed away.

Frances Anne (Freking) McCown (1902-1963) was born in LeMars, Iowa, the sixth child of Henry and Elizabeth Freking. She married a farmer named Joe Groetken and had one child, Jean Groetken (1925-1988). Frances Anne Freking later left her physically abusive husband and returned with her daughter to her parents' home. She worked as a bookkeeper at the local hardware store where she met Don C. McCown. They settled in Hawarden in 1942, and Frances McCown became the bookkeeper for the Don C. McCown Hardware store. She belonged to numerous clubs and organizations and led an active social life. Two years after her husband's death, Frances McCown sold the hardware store to an affiliate of Ace Hardware. She continued to live in Hawarden until 1953, when she returned with her son to LeMars. She kept a diary for much of her life and recorded many details of her daily activities and current events. She lived in LeMars until her death in 1963.

Robert Arthur McCown (1939-2015) was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He started attending St. Mary's School in 1944. His childhood was marked family trips out west and the "Spike Club," founded with a group of neighborhood boys in 1949, and named for a member's beloved dog. By 1953, the boys had held two hundred official club meetings. At thirteen, Robert A. McCown enrolled at the Holy Ghost Seminary in East Troy, Wisconsin. He continued his education at Gehlen High School, graduating in 1957. He entered St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, graduating in 1961 a degree in history. In 1963, he completed his Master of Arts in history at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa). The same year he married Margaret Mary Myers of West Liberty, Iowa, and they moved to New Milford, Connecticut, where Robert A. McCown taught at The Canterbury School, a private boarding school for boys. In 1964, their first child, John Patrick, was born, followed by daughter Anne Elizabeth in 1965 and son Matthew Cleveland in 1969. The McCowns' infant son Matthew contracted spinal meningitis and passed away in 1971.

After five years at the Canterbury School, McCown enrolled in library school at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Robert McCown assumed the position of Manuscripts Librarian at The University of Iowa in 1971. He collected the papers of Iowa politicians, authors, and journalists. In addition, he began collecting the papers of Iowa women and their organizations. He presented regularly at the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC), and published several papers on issues related to his work in Special Collections. From 1979 to 1987 he served as editor of the Manuscript Society, an organization that promoted the appreciation and preservation of manuscripts, and earned an Award of Distinction for his services. McCown served on numerous boards and panels for organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Iowa State Historical Society. In 1986, McCown became head of the Special Collections Department and editor of "Books at Iowa," a bi-annual publication by the Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries. In 1997, he began phased retirement. He continued actively acquiring books and manuscripts for Special Collections and engaged in numerous professional activities until his retirement in 2001. McCown was honored by the State Historical Society of Iowa, receiving the Petersen/Harlan award, which is given to an individual or group that has made significant long-term or continuing contributions to Iowa history. Many of the papers he collected from women politicians, artists, writers, nurses, and journalists provided a foundation for the establishment of the Iowa Women's Archives.

Bob McCown died in 2015 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.


5.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Northwest Iowa family including Robert McCown, head of the University of Iowa Libraries Department of Special Collections from 1986-1997.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 1116) were donated by Bob McCown in 2012.

Christine M. Vivian, 2013; Christina Jensen, 2014.
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2019: Karen Mason

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)