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Ruth Laughlin papers

Identifier: IWA0185

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Scope and Contents

The Ruth Laughlin papers date from 1956 to 1997 and measure 3.35 linear feet. The papers are arranged in seven series: Biographical, Education, Religion, Personal Correspondence, Diaries, Writing, and Photographs. As Ruth's mother Lois Laughlin writes in the Introduction to the Diaries, the material in this collection tells "the feelings of a young woman of the turbulent mid-years of th[e] twentieth century when the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, and the feminist movement had massive impact on the behavior and attitudes of just about everybody and every institution" of American society. The Biographical series (1965-1989) contains documents such as Laughlin’s birth certificate and passport, job materials, financial records, and materials relating to her death. The series also holds correspondence between Laughlin’s mother and her friends after Ruth Laughlin’s death. The Education series (1960-1985) includes grade reports, teacher assessments of Laughlin, and her writing. Laughlin's concern with and efforts to attain the ideal feminine body are evidenced in the earliest writings of this series. Also included in the Education series are Laughlin's college notes and writings concerning her formal study of Marxism and her creative writing. The Religion series (1964-1982) concerns primarily the Young Friends of North America. This material demonstrates Laughlin's growing network of friends, some of whom she met while working with the apple picking crews in Ohio. The correspondence reflects Laughlin's desire and attempts to establish intimate relationships. The Personal Correspondence series (1971-1986) includes two subseries: Family and Friends. The correspondence for the Family series is arranged chronologically by Incoming and Outgoing categories. The Friends series is arranged alphabetically by friend, with incoming and outgoing correspondence together in the same folder. Of particular interest may be Laughlin's correspondence with friends Brigitta Jecko and Thilo Weichert, whose communications discuss international peace and anti-nuclear movements. George Clayton was a prison inmate with whom Laughlin corresponded. Throughout the Family and Friends subseries Laughlin's interest in social justice and her attempts to set and achieve personal goals in terms of education, personal relationships, and self-awareness are all evidenced. The remaining correspondence relates to Laughlin’s activism and religious practices.

The Diaries series (1969-1986) holds years of Laughlin’s personal diaries where her introspection demonstrates her desire for a strong value system.

The Writing series (1961-1986) includes poetry, political and religious writing, and other community-based writing done by Laughlin.

The Photographs series (1956-1986) contains photographs of Ruth Laughlin’s childhood, her friends and family, and her time in Philidelphia.


  • Creation: 1956-1997


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

Ruth Laughlin, an advocate for social justice, was born on July 25, 1954, in Iowa City, Iowa. Laughlin attended public elementary schools and attended high school at the Scattergood Friends School in West Branch, Iowa, from which she graduated in 1972. As a young adult, Laughlin worked as an apple-picker with the Young Friends of North America and was a member of Amnesty International. Laughlin moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1978. In the summer of 1983 Laughlin married Ben Kazina, an African immigrant. Kazina returned to Africa and was killed in a café bombing approximately three years after their marriage. Laughlin completed her undergraduate education in 1984 by earning a B.A. summa cum laude in urban studies from Temple University.

While in Philadelphia, Laughlin also devoted her time and intellect to many advocacy projects: she lived in cooperative housing sponsored by the Movement for a New Society (MNS), contributed to and helped produce the "COMMUNITY activist" newsletter, and was employed by the Quaker publication, "Friends Journal". Laughlin also participated in organizations such as the Coalition on the Utility Crisis and the Workers' Rights Law Project. Laughlin crafted a diverse advocacy that included resistance to class-, gender-, and race-based oppressions and participation in anti-nuclear organizations and the peace movement. Ruth Laughlin was raped and murdered in her apartment in Philadelphia on May 29, 1986.


3.35 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Social activist and writer.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 264) were donated by Lois and Don Laughlin in 1999.

Existence and Location of Originals

Lois Laughlin papers (IWA). Mother of Ruth Laughlin.

Lori Muntz, 2000. Beatrice Kearns and Kelly Kemp, 2023
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)