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Iowa Women's Political Caucus records

Identifier: IWA0019

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Scope and Contents

The Iowa Women's Political Caucus records contain materials dating from 1972 to 1999 and measure 13.5 linear feet. The bulk of the material dates from June 1973 (when the first IWPC meeting was held) until 1984 (when a strong campaign was mounted to mobilize women voters to turn out for the precinct caucuses and elections). The records from the 1970s depict an organization bursting forth with a vision and engaged in many activities designed to realize it; the 1980s records are of an organization reaping the benefits of those earlier activities, reflecting on its successes, and considering its future. The 1990s records show an organization in decline--there are few records beyond Steering Committee minutes, annual convention minutes, and occasional newsletters; in other words, established mechanisms continued to operate, but nothing new was being generated. The IWPC collection is strong in its documentation of the second wave women's movement; the issues confronted by middle class women; the priorities, goals, and rhetoric of the movement; and the successes as well as divisions and controversies within it. It demonstrates the vibrancy, energy, and vision of these women, and documents the networks they established as they strove to accomplish their goals. The collection includes a series of studies, questionnaires and surveys that document the condition of Iowa women and the makeup and characteristics of IWPC members. See the 1985 Penultimate Iowa Women's Political Caucus Membership Questionnaire; "A Day with Dee Jepsen;" the "Decade of Action;" the Des Moines Police Department Questionnaire; and the Battered Women survey.

The IWPC collection is arranged in the following series: Administrative files, Committees, Conventions and conferences, Correspondence, Elections and political activities, Events and activities, Fundraisers, Local caucuses, Membership, Newsletter, Newspaper clippings, Position papers, Topical files, Iowa Women's Caucus Research and Education Center (IWCREC), National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), Other organizations, Photographs, and Artifacts.

The original bylaws, as well as subsequently amended versions, can be found in the Administrative files.

The Committee series has a fairly complete record of Steering Committee meetings from 1973-1995 including agendas, minutes, attachments, and attendance lists for many, but not all, of the meetings. The legislative priorities are also of interest, especially in the mid-1970s where they document not only the priorities but the activities and progress being made towards the passage of the desired legislation.

The IWPC held annual conventions and sponsored numerous conferences. The Conventions and conferences series contains material pertaining to these events including organizational materials, brochures, and the minutes of the state conventions where general business (such as officer elections, committee reports, and discussion of caucus priorities) was discussed by the membership.

The Conventions series includes typed transcripts of the 1973 and 1974 convention business meetings. In addition, the collection contains twelve audiocassette recordings of the 1973 convention. Seven of these tapes are recordings of the Sunday business meeting (a transcript of which is located in the Convention series noted above). Other tapes include the keynote address by Sissy Farenthold and tapes of several of the workshops.

Conlin's correspondence with legislators and individual members of the IWPC, and various requests for information from Iowa residents as well as from persons outside the state is found primarily in the Correspondence series (additional correspondence arranged topically is found in other series and subseries). Many individuals who wrote to Conlin were extremely supportive and appreciative of her work and the work of the caucus. Others were quite critical. One such letter (October 3, 1973) from Evelyn Davis expresses the writer's concerns about the domination of the IWPC by white women and the failures to seriously include women of other races and their concerns.

Statistics on women candidates and office holders in statewide offices in Iowa, as well as on the gender make-up of state and county boards and commissions are highlights of the Elections and political activities series. This series also documents the concerted effort the IWPC made during the 1984 precinct caucuses and elections, and contains records on the controversial question of candidate endorsement.

Most of the material in the Events and activities series is from the 1980s. Of particular interest is the women's concerns poll in "A Day with Dee Jepsen," and the founder's questionnaire in "A Decade of Action."

The main fundraising activity of the IWPC was an annual auction held from 1980 to 1990. The Fundraising series includes extensive materials relating to this high profile and successful event.

The Local caucus series includes an organizing manual as well as a practices and procedures manual written by Conlin. It also contains material on thirty-four local caucuses. This material varies in size and scope from caucus to caucus, but the materials on the Polk County and Black Hawk County caucuses are most extensive. (The bulk of the Polk County Women's Political Caucus records are held in a separate collection in the Iowa Women's Archives.) The local caucuses files provide extraordinary access to women's grass roots political activity in the state. The breadth of these records is complemented by the marvelously detailed reports contained in some of the files.

Of particular interest in the Membership series is the "1985 Penultimate Iowa Women's Political Caucus Membership Questionnaire" and the membership handbooks which include the history of the caucus as well as lists of the officers and active members.

The Newsletter series contains issues from 1973 to 1995 of the IWPC newsletter which was eventually (although not initially) called "Caucus Comments." While some issues are missing, it is a fairly comprehensive collection.

Newspaper clippings are sorted by date. Many are from the Des Moines Register, but other Iowa newspapers are represented as well. The collection includes reports and editorials of the activities of the IWPC, women legislators, legislation favored by the IWPC, and topics of interest to the IWPC. Topics covered include the ERA, abortion, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy, affirmative action, welfare, comparable worth, and children's issues. Note that there are many clippings in individual files as well.

Position Papers were generated by the IWPC to assist in the passage of legislation. They are a rich source of the views and priorities of the caucus. Additional position papers can be found scattered throughout the collection in Steering Committee meeting packets, topical files, and legislative priorities.

The Topical files contain materials primarily related to issues with which the IWPC was associated. This series is arranged alphabetically by topic. It includes questionnaires related to rape and physical abuse, and a number of hard to find academic papers and analyses on sexism in education, employment, and women's history. Also included are nine folders of Conlin's longhand drafts of letters, newsletter articles, and brochures.

The Iowa Women's Caucus Research and Education Center series consists of the bylaws, articles of incorporation, minutes, and tax materials of this organization. This series also contains materials assembled for grant proposals to the Iowa Humanities Board for several projects, as well as materials relating to the IWCREC's association with a television project on education. There are extensive records relating to "Women 2000," IWCREC's most ambitious conference, including some evaluations from attendees and correspondence with the Iowa Humanities Board. An educational program complete with slides and audiocassette entitled Recovering our Past: The Struggle for Woman's Suffrage, developed by the Feminist History Research Project in 1974, is also part of this series.

The IWPC was an affiliate caucus of the National Women's Political Caucus (founded in 1971). This series consists of one linear foot of material relating to the NWPC and the IWPC's association with it. Materials relating to their conventions (1973-1985), mailings, newsletters, and steering committee are part of this series. Also included is material relating to a challenge by Betty Friedan to the selection of national steering committee delegates at the 1973 convention. The Credentials Committee folders are the most unusual and important of the NWPC materials. They date from the years that Peg Anderson served on the committee and reveal the internal workings of the NWPC and some of the conflicts among its members. Speeches given at the 1977 convention as well as public service announcements for the NWPC are catalogued with the audiocassettes.

The Other organizations series gives an insight into only a few of the many organizations with which the IWPC collaborated and was associated. Of particular interest are a questionnaire from the Criminal Justice Minority Employment Research Project of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee regarding the affirmative action practices of the Des Moines police department, as well as the extensive file on the Iowa Welfare Coalition. This series offers a more comprehensive view of the network in which the women's movement was imbedded.

The Photographs contain some national as well as many state and local leaders of the women's movement. Many were taken at conferences and events sponsored by the IWPC.

The Artifacts collection has a large selection of buttons with political and feminist slogans such as "Uppity Women Unite" and "Every Mother is a Working Mother," T-shirts and sweatshirts, and a large IWPC banner that can be seen in the video footage of workshops.

It is important to recognize that materials on any given topic may be found in widely separated folders. For example, information on the Girls Leadership Camp is located in a folder in the Events and Activities series of the collection; but it is also found in many of the financial, state convention, and steering committee folders in the Organization section.


  • Creation: 1972-1999


Conditions Governing Access

The records are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been retained by the donor.

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

In February 1973, Roxanne Barton Conlin, then assistant to the Iowa Attorney General, attended the first national convention of the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) in Houston. Upon her return to Des Moines she began efforts to organize a statewide chapter of the NWPC. On June 3, 1973, approximately forty women met in Conlin's home to discuss this possibility. A state-wide convention was planned and held in September in Ames. Six hundred and fifty persons attended. Workshop topics included lobbying strategies, help in running a campaign, rape laws, employment rights, welfare, and child care. During the convention's business meeting, the membership established the structure and goals of the organization.

Among the founding members of the IWPC were Mary Louise Smith, Minnette Doderer, Jean Lloyd-Jones, Cristine Wilson, Louise Noun, Sonja Egenes, and Dagmar Vidal. The IWPC was founded as a bipartisan organization, with the goal of providing women with a political education and increasing women's political participation and representation. In 1973 the IWPC released a report showing that women held only 6.7 percent of all elected offices in Iowa. The IWPC also worked for the passage of legislation which benefited women, focusing on issues such as welfare, rape, sex discrimination, sex bias in education, the rights of homemakers, and equal access to credit and insurance.

The structure of the IWPC was as follows: A state chairwoman presided over the organization. Statewide committees (such as Structure and bylaws, Legislation, Priorities, and Publicity) were composed of IWPC members from across the state. Administrative decisions were made by the Steering Committee which was composed of delegates from each local caucus, "at-large" delegates from across the state, and a black and a Chicano representative.

In the early 1970s, the IWPC was composed of approximately thirteen local caucuses; by the late 1970s, there were over thirty-five local caucuses. These local chapters had their own officers and bylaws and worked on local as well as state and national issues. Local caucuses encouraged women to serve on local boards and commissions and to run for city and county offices. These chapters provided women with the political education and information needed to make them qualified and confident to run for public office. Several local caucuses published their own newsletter.

Initial enthusiasm for the IWPC was pronounced. During its first year, the IWPC reported a membership of around 1,000 and a mailing list of approximately 2,000. In 1974, Conlin estimated caucus membership to be around 5,000. State and local meetings consistently reported having twice the expected attendance. Iowa held the largest state convention in the nation in 1973, and the IWPC remained the largest state chapter of the NWPC until 1980 when it was surpassed by California and Texas. During the 1970s, the IWPC was considered a model organization by liberal activists in the women's movement across the country. Its early success was attributed to its bipartisan nature.

The annual legislative goals of the caucus were a major focus, and the IWPC was instrumental in the passage of significant changes in the state's inheritance tax laws (which previously required housewives and farmwives to pay taxes on joint property inherited from their husbands because they were not viewed as contributors to the estate); changes in the state's rape and sexual abuse statutes (to eliminate the provision which required corroborative testimony in rape trials, to eliminate references to victims of sexual assault in the code as "she," to protect rape victims from being questioned about their past sexual histories, and to include marital rape as a crime); the state Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) by the legislature in 1979; and legislation requiring gender balance in the composition of state commissions.

In 1973, the Iowa Women's Caucus Research and Education Center (IWCREC) was founded as a tax exempt branch of the IWPC. As its name implies, the IWCREC focused on educational and research (rather than political) work. The IWCREC was involved in grant-funded projects relating to welfare and the public schools. In the late 1970s, it began a summer leadership camp for high school girls, and sponsored an ambitious series of conferences entitled "Women 2000" in nearly twenty communities around the state. In 1974, the Win With Women Campaign Support Committee was established to raise money to contribute to women candidates. It was separated from the IWPC in order to comply with legal requirements governing organizations that make financial contributions to political candidates; in addition, this step made contributions to the fund eligible, as political contributions, for tax credit.

Although the Committee meetings and minutes were separate from the IWPC, Win With Women was governed by the Executive Committee of the IWPC, and their meetings were held on the same day in the same location--one following the other. At these meetings, the committee decided which candidates should receive contributions, and how much each should receive, in accordance with the policies established by the IWPC membership. In later years, a lobbyist was also paid from this fund.

Although the IWPC advocated the inclusion of women of all races and backgrounds within the organization, the precise meaning and application of this goal was a subject of continued controversy. Some members advocated explicit affirmative action programs and the selection of delegates to represent various "special interests" within the organization. Others felt that an open membership policy was adequate and feared the diffusion of the organization's goals. The IWPC's efforts were criticized by some African-American women who felt that their concerns and participation were not central to the work of the IWPC.

Another ongoing controversy centered on the criteria for endorsing candidates and for contributing to their campaign funds. During the early days, IWPC campaign contributions were limited by scarce funds. Members debated whether the IWPC should endorse and fund any woman running for office or only those women who promoted certain women's issues. They also considered the issue of whether or not male candidates who supported women's issues and had female employees as paid members of their campaign staffs should be eligible for IWPC endorsement and/or funds. It was decided that male candidates could be endorsed by the IWPC but that the distribution of scarce funds would be limited to women candidates. Later, when funds increased, male candidates were also financially supported by the IWPC. Co-endorsements were made at times when the caucus believed that both candidates running would support their agenda. This policy was also controversial at times, as Republican women charged that the caucus was inclined to favor Democrats. The records reveal a great deal of discussion and concern over the issue of candidate endorsement.

The IWPC steadily declined in membership throughout the 1980s and 1990s, although its influence at the legislative level continued to be significant, and the annual auction was a successful fundraising event through 1990. The caucus continued to sponsor workshops, lobby in Des Moines, and network with organizations having common concerns. Local caucuses ceased to exist as the 1980s wore on; state conventions shrank in size and scope; the state newsletter was published less frequently; and the enthusiasm and energy that had marked the early days was no longer evident.

The 1996 member handbook lists approximately 170 members. The organization disbanded in 1999. Elections for chair were held in the fall; hence for each calendar year, there were two chairs. Chairing the state-wide organization have been: Conlin (1973-1975); Margaret "Peg" Anderson (1975-1977); Nancy Norman-Uhl (1977-1979); Nancy Sweetman (1979-1981); Alice Claypool (1981-1983); Linda Kirkman (1983-1984); Katherine Ella (1984-1985); Betty Baird (1985-1987); Chris Michalek (1987-1989); Anne Webber (1989-1991); Nancylee Ziese (1991-1993); Janet Fife (1993-1995); Victoria Herring (1995-1997); and Christine (Tina) Manbeck (1998-1999). A more detailed chronological history of the caucus can be found in the 1996 Member Handbook, in Box 17 of the collection. A history of the early caucus (1973-1975) was the subject of a Master's Thesis which is on file at Iowa State University: "A New Dimension in Political Participation: The Women's Political Caucus" by Barbara Louise Burrell (Call Number ISU 1975 B941 in Parks Library, Parks General Collection).


13.50 Linear Feet

1 Audiocassette [AC1602] item

Language of Materials



Organization to promote the advancement of women in politics.

Method of Acquisition

The records (donor no. 20) were donated by Roxanne Barton Conlin in 1975 and 1976, and by Victoria Herring in 1998 and 1999.

Related Materials

Peg Anderson papers (IWA).

Jeanne Bridenstine papers (IWA).

Roxanne Barton Conlin papers (IWA).

Marilyn Murphy papers (IWA).

Special Collections staff; Catherine E. Rymph, 1993; Daniel Goldstein, 1998-99; Sharon M. Lake, 2000.
Language of description
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)