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Noun, Louise R. (1908-2002)



  • Existence: 1908 - 2002


Louise Rosenfield Noun, social activist, art collector, author, philanthropist, and co-founder of the Iowa Women's Archives, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1908, the daughter of Meyer Rosenfield and Rose (Frankel) Rosenfield. Noun attended Greenwood Elementary School, graduated from Roosevelt High School and attended Grinnell College for two years. She transferred to Wellesley College, but when her father became ill, she returned to Grinnell and graduated in 1929. She received an M.A. in art history from Harvard in 1933. In 1936 she married Maurice (Maurie) Noun, a dermatologist, in Des Moines. The Nouns adopted a daughter, Susan, in 1946. They were divorced in 1969.

Noun became widely recognized for her leadership and commitment to a number of organizations and causes. She served as president of the Des Moines chapter of the League of Women Voters in 1948, the Iowa Civil Liberties Union from 1964 to 1972, and the Des Moines chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) from 1974 to 1976. She was a charter member of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus. Noun was instrumental, also, in establishing the Young Women's Resource Center in Des Moines. The Center, which opened in 1978, offers individual counseling, group activities and an in-school program for teenage women. In recognition of her contribution to helping women and young girls, Noun received the Philanthropic Vision Award from the Ms. Foundation for Women in May 1995. In 1981 she was elected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. With her considerable financial resources Noun generously supported the causes in which she strongly believed.

Noun established the Chrysalis Foundation in 1989 to provide financial assistance to domestic violence victims in Iowa, fund day care services, and give financial aid to women students at Des Moines Area Community College. The foundation has sponsored "Women's Voices" conferences bringing Iowa women together to discuss social and political action.

Noun is the author of several books: Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (1969); More Strong-Minded Women: Iowa Feminists Tell Their Stories (1992), a series of biographical essays on the women's movement in Iowa during the 1970s; Iowa Women in the WPA (1999); and Journey to Autonomy:A Memoir (1990). She has also written Abastenia St. Leger Eberle (1980), an exhibition catalog of the Iowa sculptor's works, and articles for The Palimpsest on Harriet Ketcham, artist; Emily Blackmore Stapp, author of children's books; and Nellie Verne Walker, sculptor.

A respected art collector, Noun received her first painting as a gift from her mother when she was thirteen and she continued her interest in art in the following years. In the 1960s she began to concentrate her collection on art by women, focusing the collection on European and American women artists of the twentieth century. In 1990 the collection included more than sixty works by forty artists. Among them were works by Natalia Goncharova and others of the Russian avant-garde movement, Kathe Kollwitz, Hannah Hoch, Isabel Bishop, Lee Krasner, and Agnes Pelton. Noun's collection was exhibited as The Louise Noun Collection: Art by Women at the University of Iowa Museum of Art and the Des Moines Art Center in 1990.

Louise Noun realized a long-term goal in 1992 with the establishment of the Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives at the University of Iowa. During the research for Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa, Noun became aware of the lack of primary sources on women's history. She and her friend Mary Louise Smith agreed on the need for an archives to preserve women's papers and together they worked to interest others in the project. With the sale from her collection of Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Loose Hair (1947) for $1.5 million Noun was able to endow the archives. The Iowa Women's Archives, which opened in October 1992, is devoted to preserving the history of women by acquiring and preserving primary source material that documents the lives and experience of Iowa women.

In declining health, Louise Noun committed suicide on August 23, 2002, leaving behind a note denouncing the illegality of assisted suicide. A memorial service, titled "Celebrating Choices," was held in the State Historical Building in Des Moines on September 14, 2002. Noun's final book, Leader and Pariah: Annie Savery and the Campaign for Women's Rights in Iowa, was published by the Iowa Women's Archives in November 2002.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Chrysalis Foundation records

Identifier: IWA1012

Women's organization to fund resources for girls and women in the Greater Des Moines area.

Dates: 1984-2016

Louise Rosenfield Noun papers

Identifier: IWA0035

Feminist and civil liberties activist from Des Moines, Iowa, who was also an art collector, author, and co-founder of the Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives.

Dates: 1926-2018

Mary Louise Smith papers

Identifier: IWA0027

First woman to chair the Republican National Committee, serving from 1974 to 1977. Co-founder of the Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives.

Dates: 1925-1997

Wallace Women History Project

Identifier: IWA0403

Transcripts of 13 oral history interviews describe the experiences of the Henry Wallace family in Iowa.

Dates: 1974-1994

Additional filters:

Archives (groupings) 3
Des Moines (Iowa) 3
Oral histories 3
Personal papers 3
1971-1980 2