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Roxanne Barton Conlin papers

Identifier: IWA0005

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Scope and Contents

The Roxanne Barton Conlin papers date from 1969 to 1998 and measure 45 linear feet. The papers are arranged in four series: Personal, Professional, Political and Photographs.

The Personal series (1970-1996 and undated) includes biographical information, a few letters to Conlin from her father and her daughter Jacalyn Conlin, and material relating to Conlin's civic activism.

The Professional series (1969-1998 and undated) forms the second largest series. The series is further subdivided by subseries: Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA), Appointment calendars, Assistant State Attorney General of Iowa, Association of Trial Lawyers of Iowa (ATLI), Correspondence, Law practice, Newspaper clippings, Speeches, and United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. Throughout the series, however, certain themes predominate; among them are sexual discrimination and harassment, women's rights, product liability, and civil rights.

The Association of Trial Lawyers of America subseries (1985-1993) shows how Conlin campaigned for elective offices within ATLA and how she rose through the ranks to become the organization's first female president. What she accomplished while president is illustrated through the interviews and profiles, the letters of appreciation she received, and the "President's Page" columns she wrote for ATLA's Trial magazine. Some audiocassettes and videocassettes of talks Conlin gave and courses she offered on ATLA's behalf are also included.

Conlin's work as an Assistant State Attorney General is documented in the Assistant State Attorney General of Iowa subseries (1969-1977). This subseries illustrates Conlin's efforts on behalf of women, minorities and the disabled. Included are several court briefs Conlin wrote as the attorney for the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

The Association of Trial Lawyers of Iowa (1973-1977) is a small subseries containing correspondence and some legislation the association wished to have enacted by the Iowa State Legislature.

The Correspondence subseries (1969-1990) is a chronological file of Conlin's professional communication between 1969 and 1990.

Conlin's Law practice (1976-1995) materials are extensive. There are many audiocassettes and videocassettes of news segments, talks, interviews, debates and panel discussions on specific legal issues and Conlin's work as a lawyer. (For Conlin's views on sexual harassment and on the Anita Hill testimony in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings see Box 3, Professional, ATLA, Presidency, "President's Page" (Trial), letter to Julie Shoop dated March 22, 1993).

Also of note are the newspaper clippings which describe the 6.3 million-dollar sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit Conlin won on Linda Monohan's behalf (Box 23; Professional; Law practice; Issues; Sexual harassment). The Newspaper clippings subseries (1970-1990) includes articles about Conlin's fight as U.S. Attorney General against Star Coal Co. to end environmentally destructive strip mining where reclamation is not possible and a court case on Medicare and Medicaid fraud (see Box 28, Professional, Newspaper clippings, January 1980).

The Speeches (1971-1994) are extensive and are arranged by the following topics: civil justice system, commencement addresses, courtroom procedures and strategies, leadership, rape, sexual harassment and discrimination, women, and miscellaneous.

The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa subseries (1977-1981) documents Conlin's work in this appointed position. Included are minutes from Conlin's service on the Attorney General's Advisory Board and notes from various conferences she attended.   The Political series (1970-1990) comprises the bulk of the collection. Conlin's involvement in women's political causes, her service on state commissions and task forces, her campaign for Governor of Iowa and her political affiliations are reflected in this series. The series is subdivided into nine subseries: Civil rights, Democratic Party, Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), Gubernatorial election, International Women's Year, Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, Iowa Higher Education Task Force, National Organization for Women (NOW) and Women's political caucuses.

The Civil rights subseries contains more papers related to Conlin's work with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Of interest is an opinion written by Conlin on the commission's jurisdiction in police matters concerning public accommodation.

The Democratic Party subseries (1974-1990) contains documents from Conlin's participation at the Conference on Party Organization and Policy, a mini-convention held in 1974 in Kansas City, Missouri. The purpose of the conference was to draft a national charter for the Democratic Party, a first for major political parties in the United States (see box 45, Political, Democratic Party, Conference on Party Organization and Policy, letter to Conlin from Morris K. Udall, September 17, 1974).

The Equal Rights Amendment subseries (1972-1980) contains the transcript of a debate between Conlin and Phyllis Schlafly, the national head of Stop ERA, which aired on WHO talk radio in Des Moines in March 1978. Also included are three drafts of an article written by Conlin for the Winter 1975 Drake Law Review "Equal Protection vs. Equal Rights Amendment--Where Are We Now?"

The Gubernatorial election subseries (1978-1982) chronicles Conlin's unsuccessful bid as the democratic candidate for Governor of Iowa in 1982. The subseries is sorted into the following categories: fundraising records, campaign documents, audiovisual material, issues, correspondence and donation forms.  Audiovisual materials include the following videocassettes: V60 - 9/17/1982. Conlin Campaign I; V62 - IPTV interview with Mary Jane O'Dell; V63 - 3/5/1987 "CNN Take Two, Roxanne Conlin Interview."; V64 - 10/26/1982- "Conlin Dub." produced by Db Productions; V65 - "Hear the Candidates" part 2.

The International Women's Year subseries (1975-1977) concerns Conlin's work on the coordinating committee in Iowa and her compilation of papers on the legal status of homemakers in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

The Iowa Commission on the Status of Women subseries (1970-1981) contains annual reports and minutes of the commission during Conlin's tenure and studies of sex discrimination against women in employment, education and health insurance.

The Iowa Higher Education Task Force subseries (1973-1989) contains the administrative records of the task force and the testimony presented to the task force at six hearings held around the state in 1988.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) subseries (1972-1989) covers administrative records of Conlin's involvement on national NOW committees as well as position papers and materials connected to women's rights.

The Women's political caucuses subseries (1973-1986) is divided into two categories: Iowa Women's Political Caucus and National Women's Political Caucus. Included are papers illustrating Conlin's role as an activist for women's political causes and social problems. (A note from Ruth Bader Ginsburg dated December, 1974 regarding an article Conlin wrote that she had asked Ginsburg to review is in box 105, Political, Women's Political Caucuses, IWPC, Articles and letters first draft, undated, folder 1.)

The John Glenn Presidential Campaign subseries (1983-1984) covers Conlin's work as the chair of Glenn's National Policy Council in his unsuccessful bid for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination. It also contains extensive press clippings related to the campaign, Glenn's position papers, and the text of many of his speeches. See also Box 45 for papers related to Conlin's work on the Glenn campaign.

The Photographs (1969-1982 and undated) are mostly professional publicity shots (including gubernatorial contact proofs) and snapshots of Conlin at conferences or in groups. The photographs have been removed from the various accessions to be filed together.


  • Creation: 1969-1998


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

Roxanne Barton Conlin, lawyer, feminist and civil justice activist, was the oldest of Marion W. and Alyce M. Barton's six children. Born on June 30, 1944 in Huron, South Dakota, Roxanne Barton and her family moved to Sioux City, Iowa, when she was four years old. She also lived in Clinton, Iowa, before moving to Des Moines in 1958. She graduated from high school after her junior year to attend Drake University in Des Moines. After receiving her B.A., Conlin earned a law degree from Drake University in 1966 and a master's degree in public administration in 1979, also from Drake.

In 1964 Roxanne Barton married James Conlin, a real estate broker. They had four children, two of whom came to the Conlin family when they were teenagers.

Conlin worked as a lawyer in private practice from 1966 to 1967 before serving as Deputy Industrial Commissioner in Des Moines from 1967 to 1968. Conlin was an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Iowa for seven years (1969-1976), heading the Civil Rights Section of the Iowa Department of Justice. She also did anti-trust work in this position and handled several cases involving willful misconduct by public officials.

Conlin was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. In this position, she concentrated her efforts on the prosecution of white collar crime, fraud against the federal government and narcotics trafficking. She and her staff had great success in each of these areas. She was honored for her work with a special commendation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and received the United States Secret Service's Award for Outstanding Assistance. During her term, she was president of the Federal Executive Council and served on the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of United States Attorneys.

Conlin also taught law at the University of Iowa from 1977 to 1979. Conlin has been active in Democratic politics since 1960, serving in various positions including national committeewoman of the Iowa Young Democrats, vice-president of the Iowa Delegation to the Democratic Mid-term Convention in 1974 and on many committees for the state party convention. From 1981 to 1982, Roxanne Conlin ran unsuccessfully for governor of Iowa as the Democratic Party's candidate. Conlin also campaigned for Jimmy Carter, Tom Harkin, and Walter Mondale, and she served as the National Policy Chair for John Glenn's unsuccessful bid for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination.

Since the mid-1980s Roxanne Conlin has been involved in the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA), a professional litigators' organization with 65,000 members committed to "fostering a safer, more just society." After serving on several ATLA committees, Conlin was elected parliamentarian (1988-1989), secretary (1989-1990), vice-president (1990-1991), president-elect (1991-1992) and ultimately, president (1992-1993), ATLA's first female president.

Conlin's community activism has included service on the boards of directors of the Iowa Shares Program, the River Hill Day Care Center in Des Moines, and the Polk County Rape and Sexual Assault Care Center. She also founded and was the first chair of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus. Roxanne Conlin has received numerous awards and honors, including being named to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1981. McCall's Magazine called her "one of the forty-four women in America qualified for a cabinet position." In 1974, she received the Iowa Civil Liberties Union's award for Outstanding Service to Civil Liberties and was named the Outstanding Young Woman of Iowa. She is listed in Who's Who in America.

Conlin was a tireless campaigner and a relentless advocate for her beliefs; she made countless speeches and participated in an unending stream of conferences. Her output was truly remarkable, and her papers testify to her ability to initiate, manage, and lead political change within the democratic process. Conlin's vibrancy is palpable in this extraordinary collection that documents her career.


45.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Attorney and political activist who co-founded the Iowa Women's Political Caucus and was appointed Federal Prosecutor in 1977.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 6) were donated by Roxanne Barton Conlin in 1975 and succeeding years.

Related Materials

Margaret Davis Collison papers (IWA): Collison was coordinator of polling volunteers for Roxanne Conlin's 1982 gubernatorial campaign.   Iowa Women's Political Caucus (IWPC) records (IWA):  In 1973 Roxanne Conlin founded the Iowa Women's Political Caucus after attending the first convention of the National Women's Political Caucus in Houston. She served as the first IWPC president from 1973 to 1975.   Louise Noun papers (IWA): The transcripts of Noun's 1989 interview with Conlin are included in Noun's papers. The interview formed the basis for Noun's chapter on Conlin in "More Strong Minded Women: Iowa Feminists Tell Their Story."

Special Collections Staff (MsC 317, MsC 423); Tammy Lau and Randel W. Lackore, 1996; Sharon M. Lake, 2001.
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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)