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Charlene Conklin papers

Identifier: IWA0004

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Scope and Contents

The Charlene Conklin papers date from 1954 to 1981 (bulk 1965-1978) and measure 7 linear feet. They are arranged in three series: Biographical material, Speeches and writings, and Subject files.

The first, Biographical material, contains a press release with biographical data, a published biographical sketch, and a resume, arranged chronologically.

The second series, Speeches and writings, contains Conklin's speeches, speech notes, and her newspaper column, "Under the Gold Dome," arranged chronologically.

The third series, Subject files, comprises by far the bulk of the papers. It includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, printed materials, legislative bills both proposed and adopted (called House Files (H.F.) or Senate Files (S.F.)), campaign literature, a scrapbook, voting records, and other files relating to Conklin's legislative career, especially her efforts to liberalize Iowa's abortion policy, and to her subsequent involvement in acquiring and restoring the Terrace Hill mansion in Des Moines for the State of Iowa. Of special note in the Terrace Hill Society file is a complete set of blueprints for the mansion. This series is arranged alphabetically.


  • Creation: 1954-1981


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.

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

Charlene Conklin was born on July 10, 1929 on a farm in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, as Willa Charlene DeWitt, daughter of Charles and Viola DeWitt. After graduating from Griswold High School in 1947, she attended Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), graduating in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. From 1950 to 1952 Conklin taught English, speech, and mathematics at Massena (Iowa) High School.

In 1952 she married Dr. Dwight E. Conklin, an anesthesiologist in practice at St. Francis Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa. The Conklins, who made their residence in Waterloo, raised five children. In 1953 Conklin graduated from the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) with a Master of Arts degree in speech pathology and audiology and worked from 1953 to 1954 as a speech therapist at the University Hospital for Handicapped Children (now the Center for Disabilities and Development) in Iowa City.

In 1966, running as the candidate for the Republican Party, Conklin was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives from Black Hawk County to serve in the 62nd General Assembly for the 1967-1968 term. In 1968 she was elected to the Iowa Senate and served in that capacity for two consecutive terms, 1969-1970 (63rd General Assembly) and 1971-1972 (64th General Assembly). She served on the following Senate committees: Appropriations, Constitutional Amendments and Reapportionment, and Social Services, and was the ranking member on the Schools Committee. In 1973 she chose not to run for reelection.

Conklin is perhaps best known for being a key figure in the legislative struggle for the liberalization of abortion rights in the early 1970s. In fact, "she became in some sense the legislative point person for Iowa abortion reform" (see "Iowa's Abortion Battles", by James C. Mohr in The Annals of Iowa, vol. 50, 1989, p. 71). However, efforts to liberalize Iowa's abortion policy in 1970 and 1971 were repeatedly defeated. The issue was raised again in 1973 after Conklin's retirement from the Senate, but the struggle for reform in Iowa and elsewhere was summarily preempted by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 1971 Conklin, with four other senators, co-sponsored a resolution authorizing the State of Iowa to take possession of Terrace Hill mansion, the classic Victorian home of Frederick M. Hubbell in Des Moines for use either as the governor's mansion or a state museum, or both. After leaving office, Conklin helped organize and was elected president of the Terrace Hill Society, a non-profit group designed to provide funding for and give direction to the restoration of the mansion. The mansion was eventually restored and opened to the public in 1978.

Charlene Conklin passed away in 2022.


7.00 Linear Feet

Photographs in Box 1 boxes

Language of Materials



Member of the Iowa House of Representatives,1967 to 1969, and the Iowa Senate, 1969 to 1973.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 5) were donated by Charlene Conklin in 1984.

Related Materials

A Political Dialogue: Iowa's Women Legislators oral histories (IWA): This collection includes the transcript of an interview with Charlene Conklin.

George Mullally, 1994, and Special Collections staff.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

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)