Skip to main content

Jane Elliott papers

Identifier: IWA0832

  • Staff Only
  • Please navigate to collection organization to place requests.

Scope and Contents

The Jane Elliott papers date from 1968 to 2011. The papers are arranged in six series: Biographical; Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed Exercise; White House Conference on Children; General; Photographs and Audiovisual Materials.

The Biographical (1966-2009) series contains Elliott's personal writing and correspondence, letters to the editor of the Riceville Recorder regarding an article covering Elliott's exercise and experiences, and the transcript of her 2009 oral history interview conducted by Iowa Women's Archives curator Kären Mason.

The Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed Exercise (1968-2011) series documents the fallout from Elliott's classroom exercise, including student self-portraits and surveys, material regarding William Peters' "A Class Divided", news items, and the numerous written responses Elliott received after newspaper and television coverage of her classroom. Additional materials relate to the diversity training workshops she went on to lead after leaving teaching.

The White House Conference on Children (1970-1971) series contains correspondence, reports, and other materials related to the 1970 conference, where Elliott was invited to participate in a forum called "Children without Prejudice".

The General (1970-2010) series contains material not related to the Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed exercise, including material related to Elliott's special interest in teaching students with dyslexia and her class of 1972's efforts to fund and plan a local park.

The Photographs (1968) series contains photographs and proofs of students in the first class Elliott conducted her famous exercise with, as well as undated photos of the Elliott family.

The Audiovisual (1971-2009) series contains material in multiple formats, including reporting on the "Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed" exercise, a Public Broadcasting Systems  Frontline special, footage from Elliott's workshops, and audio recordings of her 2009 oral history interview. 


  • Creation: 1968-2011


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research, but not to be placed online until April 4, 2028.

Conditions Governing Use

See staff for copyright restrictions.

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

Jane Elliott, school teacher, anti-racism activist and educator, and creator of one of the most controversial sociological exercises in the United States of America in the 20th century, was born outside Riceville, Iowa in 1933. The fourth of seven children born to Lloyd Jennison and Margaret Benson Jennison, she grew up helping on the family farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse until high school. Upon graduating from high school in 1952 she attended Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), where she completed a five-quarter emergency elementary teaching certificate and began teaching in a one-room school in Randall, Iowa, in 1953.

Elliott married Darald Elliott and left teaching for a time to raise their family. The Elliotts lived in Waterloo for a time, where the National Tea food store that Darald ran was the first store picketed by the NAACP in the city. To escape the tension in Waterloo, the family moved back to Riceville, where Jane Elliott took over her sister's job teaching third grade in 1963.

Early in her time at Riceville, Elliott developed an interest in assisting dyslexic children learn to read, which grew upon realizing that her own son, Brian, suffered from the condition, and that it was severely under-recognized in the population in general. After a number of years teaching the third grade, she moved to teaching reading and remedial reading at the junior high level, before retiring from teaching in 1984 to conduct diversity sensitivity training exercises and workshops around the world.

Jane Elliott is most famous for the Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed exercise, first conducted in her third-grade class in 1968. Inspired by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she attempted to discuss the event, and racism in general, with her class the next day; Elliott became discouraged when she did not seem to be getting through to the students. Inspired by the memory of reading "Mila 18", by Leon Uris, and her father's reactions to newsreels about the Holocaust during World War II, Elliott decided to create a miniature climate of discrimination among her all-white students, separating them by eye color, and designating one color as second-class citizens; she hoped to help the children understand discrimination and prejudice and empathize with persons who had to face those issues.

Elliott's classroom activity caused some upset among her colleagues, but did not raise much attention until it was picked up by the Associated Press and featured on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Subsequently, and again after the American Broadcasting Company ran a documentary on her, Jane Elliott began to receive a lot of response, primarily negative. She has said that her family suffered from the publicity and negative feeling surrounding the activity. To this day, the topic of Jane Elliott and her Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed exercise arouses strong, mixed feelings in Riceville.

In December 1970, Elliott was invited to attend the White House Conference on Children, where she staged her activity for adults, primarily educators, physicians, social workers, and others whose professional work involved children. Despite criticism of her methods and the field of diversity training that she helped pioneer, Elliott continues to teach her exercise in workshops.


3.50 Linear Feet

Photographs in box 8; one poster shelved in map case; d0093-d0098, v500-503, AC1490-AC1495, in audiovisual collection; one book in printed works; screenplay available as PDF. items

Language of Materials



Riceville, Iowa schoolteacher and anti-racism activist who pioneered diversity training with her famous "Blue Eyed, Brown Eyed" exercise

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no.1210) were donated by Jane Elliott in 2010 and 2011.

June Silliman, 2012; Margaret Halterman, 2013
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)