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Phylliss Henry papers

Identifier: IWA0044

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Scope and Contents

The Phylliss Henry papers date from 1971 to 2004 and measure 2 linear feet. The papers are arranged in six series: Biographical, Correspondence, Women in policing, Des Moines Police Department, Sex discrimination grievances, and Photographs.

The collection contains material relating to job discrimination , sexual harassment , and women in policing--both generally and within the Des Moines Police Department. Materials concerning racial hostility and discrimination in the Des Moines Police Department are also included.

The Biographical series (1972-1994) contains a rough set of typed manuscripts , many of a personal nature , which include notes about meetings or encounters which Henry found discriminatory as well as writings expressing her growing frustrations with her job at the police department. Also included is a biographical essay that describes the development of her feminist consciousness. Henry briefly discusses the period of her life prior to 1971. A separate folder contains a limited number of documents related to Henry's feminist activities , particularly in connection with the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights. The series also contains a clippings file of articles about Henry. Many of these articles are about her charges against the Des Moines Police Department, while others specifically concern her role as a woman working in a non-traditional occupation. Also included in this file are a series of articles Henry wrote for the Iowa State Daily when she worked for the Department of Public Safety. Materials pertaining to Henry's investiture as a U.S. Marshal include letters regarding Henry's application for the position , a transcript and video of the investiture ceremony , and congratulatory letters. Items in the miscellaneous folder include a resume from the mid-1970s and the transcript of a telephone interview with Henry conducted by Ellen Mintz of the Police Foundation in 1974, in which Henry describes her experiences as a women patrol officer.

The Correspondence series (1971-1993) contains approximately forty job inquiries Henry sent out in 1971 and the replies she received from police departments across the country. This series also contains a folder of correspondence relating to complaints about the publication of degrading images of women in "Police Product News." General correspondence contains letters to and from Roxanne Conlin , Senator Dick Clark , Drake University , and women interested in pursuing careers in policing. General correspondence also includes letters to and from various state and federal agencies regarding Henry's charges of sex discrimination.

The Women in policing series (1972-2004) contains a substantial newspaper clippings file covering women in policing during the 1970s , 1980s and 1990s. Articles highlight the activities of women police officers, the concerns of the public and the reactions of the wives of male police officers to the presence of women officers. Other articles refer to specific lawsuits and court rulings in Iowa and the rest of the country that concern policewomen. This series also contains general material on women in policing , a research paper written by Henry about women patrol officers, manuals and reports published by the Police Foundation, and issues of the journal Women Police.

The Des Moines Police Department series (1972-2004) includes job descriptions, civil service correspondence related to Henry's hiring, Henry's personnel forms, internal communication between Henry and other members of the department, and requests for Henry to make public appearances. Much of this material is related to or was used as evidence for Henry's grievances against the department. Newspaper clippings include examples of the resistance of Police Chief Nichols to Henry's presence on the force, and articles pertaining to complaints of sex bias, sexual harassment and racial bias made against the DMPD, including complaints by Henry, Nancy Moore, Myrle Atwood, Deborah Lynch, Charlie Smith, and others between 1972 and 1988.

The Sex discrimination grievances series (1972-1992) includes documents relating to five cases, four against the Des Moines Police Department (including Henry's) and one against the Cedar Rapids Police Department. Materials relating to the Dalaine Gregory Bartel me case consist of a few newspaper clippings and a letter from Henry outlining her testimony for the case. Bartelme worked for the Cedar Rapids Police Department from September 1987 until January 1992. In 1990 she filed a civil suit against the department citing numerous incidents of sexual and other harassment. The Linn County District Court awarded her a cash settlement in May 1992.

Items pertaining to Henry's complaints of sex discrimination include those materials she assembled for her suit as well as other materials related to it. Some of these items are duplicated in other parts of the collection. Also relevant to this material is a deposition which Henry gave as part of Paula Valentine's suit against the Des Moines Police Department (November 1979) in which Henry discusses aspects of her own lawsuit.

In June 1988, an African-American female police recruit, Charlie Smith, filed a complaint with the Internal Affairs Unit of the DMPD in which she accused an officer of using a racial slur to describe a prisoner. Smith was fired for filing a false report after her charge was supported by only one other recruit during an internal investigation. This incident prompted an investigation of the DMPD by the Des Moines Civil Service Commission and by the U.S. Department of Justice. The reports of these two groups and the City Council's response to the latter are included.

Materials related to Deborah Lynch's lawsuit include depositions, court briefs, and police department memos and investigations. Lynch filed a formal internal complaint against two officers of the Des Moines Police Department in March 1985, accusing them of making repeated and unwelcome sexual comments to her in 1984 and 1985; the two were found guilty and given 30-day suspensions. In May 1985, Lynch filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission stating that the police department's remedy was ineffective, and that, in addition, Lynch had been subjected to retaliation by the department after filing the internal complaint. In September 1985, Lynch filed a lawsuit in district court, which went to trial in 1988. Lynch's attorney was Roxanne Conlin. Lynch won her suit, and the city was ordered to pay her $10 ,000 and to implement educational programs on sexual harassment for members of the police department. In 1990 the Iowa Supreme Court sustained this ruling. A succinct summary of Lynch's case can be found in the Supreme Court's ruling.

Henry was involved in the Lynch case through her work with Starr and Associates. She made handwritten notes and remarks on much of the material related to this case. There is also a transcript of a conversation between Lynch and Henry, probably from 1989, in which the two discuss the difficulties facing women in policing and possible solutions.

The Photographs series (c.1970s-1981 and undated) includes color snapshots of Henry in her uniform , probably from the 1970s; photos of Henry and others in Governor Robert Ray's office in 1981 when he proclaimed Police Week in Iowa; and an undated studio portrait of Henry.


  • Creation: 1971-2004


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

Phylliss J. Henry was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1940. She graduated from Des Moines East High School in 1958, and married Earl Henry, who worked as a police officer for the Warren County Sheriff's Office; from 1961 to 1964, Phyllis Henry worked as a matron for that office.

After her divorce in the late 1960s , Henry moved with her daughters, Shelly and Ellen, to Isla Vista, California, where she managed an apartment building from 1968 to 1970. She returned to Des Moines in 1971, and enrolled in a two-year law enforcement program at Des Moines Area Community College. Although she originally intended to look for employment as a policewoman, the lack of job openings led Henry to apply for a patrolman position with the Des Moines Police Department (DMPD). Henry passed all agility tests and entrance exams, placing first on each of the five written exams she took, and met the department's height and weight requirements. She was hired in 1972. She was the first woman assigned to patrol duty on the Des Moines police force, and she met resistance from Chief of Police Nichols. During her ten years with the Des Moines Police Department, Henry actively challenged the sex discrimination she experienced.

In 1975 , Henry was promoted to Master Patrolman, a job title which was changed to Senior Police Officer in 1976, in compliance with a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) ruling resulting from a complaint filed by Henry. This ruling required the DMPD to end hiring practices and the separation of job categories and lines of promotion that discriminated against women.

In 1977, Henry was reassigned to jail duty which, along with other circumstances , led her to explore the possibility of a lawsuit charging the DMPD with a broad pattern of discrimination against all female job applicants and personnel. She took her complaints to the LEAA, the Office of Revenue Sharing, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She later dropped her suit.

In 1978, Henry was promoted to sergeant. In 1980 she was named to the board of the International Association of Women Police. In 1982, Henry resigned from the police department. She spent a year working on the gubernatorial campaign of Roxanne Conlin (Henry's former attorney) and then enrolled at the University of Iowa to pursue a PhD in communications, which she received in 1988. Her dissertation, "The Role of War Stories in Organizational Culture," explores the practical, cognitive, social, emotional, and developmental functions of "war stories" within an urban police department. After receiving her PhD, Henry worked as a legal consultant with Starr and Associates in West Des Moines.

In December 1990, after a battle with cancer , Henry began work as a support services manager for the Iowa State University Department of Public Safety. In 1994, Henry was appointed by President Clinton to the office of U.S. Marshal for the southern district of Iowa. Iowa's U.S. Senator Tom Harkin initiated Henry's nomination. She was the first woman in Iowa, and one of the few nationwide, to hold the office of U.S. Marshal. Henry served in this capacity until 2001.

After she retired, Henry moved to Arizona and began conducting interviews with women who have served in police departments and law enforcement agencies in Iowa. She donated the tapes and transcripts of these interviews to the Iowa Women's Archives, and they can be found in the Oral Histories of Iowa Police Women collection.


2.00 Linear Feet

One videocassette [V39]. boxes

Language of Materials



First woman assigned to patrol duty on the Des Moines police force, serving from 1972 to 1982.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 100) were donated by Phylliss Henry in 1991 and subsequent years.

Related Materials

Louise Noun papers (IWA):  A photograph of Phylliss Henry and the tape and transcript of an interview with her are contained in these papers. In addition, Noun's book, More Strong-Minded Women, includes a chapter on Henry.   Oral Histories of Iowa Police Women (IWA): Henry conducted and transcribed these interviews.

Catherine E. Rymph , 1993; Marnie Schroer , 1995; Sharon M. Lake, 2006.
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Script 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)