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Corliss Williams papers

 Collection — Folder: 1
Identifier: IWA1365

Scope and Contents

The Corliss Williams papers date from 1934 to 2023 and contain 1.2 GB of digital materials, as well as about 1 linear inch of paper-based materials. The digital materials consist of scanned materials provided by the donor in 2024; the originals are retained by the creator's family. The digital materials include: several photographs of Corliss Williams and her family; educational records such as graduation programs, a transcript, and a diploma; copies of Williams' passports (stamped pages only), and family identity documents, such as a birth certificate for Corliss Williams, a marriage license, and a certification of eligibility for veterans' benefits for Marion Williams. The digital materials also include a scan of a brief travel diary Williams kept between 1989 and 2002.

The paper-based materials consist of a program from Corliss Williams' homegoing service in 2023 and a subject file compiled by the creator's family and the archivist, which contains photocopied newspaper clippings about Williams, a copy of her obituary, and the judgment in an employment discrimination case Williams filed in the 1980s.


  • Creation: 1934 - 2023


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research. Digital content may be made available upon request.

Biographical / Historical

Corliss Gayle Johnson Williams was born on May 4, 1934 to Reba H. Johnson and Clarence J. Johnson of Iola, Kansas. Clarence Johnson was an environmental engineer for the city of Chanute, Kansas, where Corliss graduated from Chanute High School in 1952. She matriculated at Wichita State University and attended for two years before marrying her high school sweetheart, Marion Edward Williams.

The couple moved to Des Moines, where Marion Williams established a pharmacy in the heart of the Des Moines black business district on Center Street. During this period, Corliss Williams worked at the Preferred Risk Mutual Insurance Company. She then enrolled at Drake Univeristy and graduated with honors in Education in 1966. She became a teacher of English literaturue at East and Hoover high schools, and later a vice principal at Amos Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines, as well as an administrator at Des Moines University. Corliss and Marion had two children, Mark E. Williams and the Rev. Julie Johnson Staples, J.D.

Corliss Williams was an active member of the Des Moines chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and co-chaired the Iowa delegation to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Williams and future Iowa legislator A. June Franklin, in collaboration with the American Friends Service, worked together to mobilize activists across Iowa to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the march. Williams wrote letters to the Des Moines Register publicizing the march, defending political protest, and calling on Iowa churches to pray for a peaceful and effective march. Williams traveled to D.C. herself along with about 40 other Iowans who participated in the march. While there, she met with the Iowan congressional delegation as an advocate.

Williams was also active in various community programs, particularly those focused on education and housing, Democratic politics, and women's clubs in the Des Moines area. For example, she worked to build interracial and interfaith unity through her engagement with the Sisterhood at Temple B'Nai Jeshurun. She was also a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

Corliss Williams passed away on February 8, 2023.


1.2 Gigabytes

Language of Materials


Language of description
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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)