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Mary Jane Parsons papers

 Collection — Folder: 1
Identifier: IWA0517

Scope and Contents

The Mary Jane Parsons papers date from 1935 and measure 1 linear inch. The papers consistprimarily of the 178-page memoir of Mary Jane Parsons, "The Patchwork Quilt: Memoirs of the Pioneer Life of Mary Jane (Mrs. Byron) Parsons, 1842-1938, as told to Myrtle Parsons, 1935." Also included is a genealogy, a family tree and color copies of early photographs of the homestead.

The memoir of Mary Jane Parsons describes such day-to-day aspects of pioneer life as how to make a cord bed, the number of geese required to make a feather bed, how to dry and spin wool, how to gather and cook sugar down, and the methods for making candles, cheese and soap. Parsons reveals her knowledge of farming through her intricate description of plows, the handling of horse teams, pitching bundles and husking corn. She vividly recalls the Civil War camp in Wisconsin where she visited her husband before his unit was sent to active duty and the journey west by covered wagon undertaken by the Parsons family from 1865 to 1866. She describes the intricacies of daily life on the homestead as well as the blizzards, cyclones, fires and fierce summer storms of the prairie. She contemplates the many people she came in contact with including the Indians who lived nearby, travelers passing through, and visiting Gypsies and tramps. Mary Jane Parsons' memoir closes with her reflections on fifty years of marriage.


  • Creation: 1935


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

Mary Jane Higgens was born in 1842 in Rochester, New York, the daughter of Sydney Higgens and Francis Roberts. Following the death of her father in 1843, Higgens lived with her grandparents, moving to Wisconsin with them when she wasstill a young child while her mother remained in New York. When her grandparents decided to return permanently to New York, Higgens chose to stay with her aunt and uncle in Palmyra, Wisconsin and never saw her mother or grandparents again.

In 1861 Mary Jane Higgens married Byron Parsons and the couple set up housekeeping in a one-room loghouse that had previously belonged to Byron's parents. They had four children: George Leonard, William Sydney, Alfred Norris and adopted daughter Maude May. In 1864, when their first child was two years old, Byron Parsons went to fight in the Civil War. Parsons recalls in her memoir, "I told Byron when he went to the war, 'If you ever come home alive, we are going to pull for the west.' He got home in July 1865 and in September we were on the road for Iowa." In 1866 the Parsons purchased an 80-acre farm in Springvale near Dakota City, Iowa and built a slab shanty. Four years later they built a two-story stone house where they lived, farmed and raised their family. Byron Parsons died in 1915. Mary Jane Parsons died in 1938 at the age of ninety-six.


1.00 linear inch

Language of Materials



Reflections on her pioneer life from Rochester, New York to Dakota City, Iowa.


One folder, shelved in SCVF.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 896) were donated by Carl Parsons in 2003.

Margaret Richardson, Janet Weaver, 2003.
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)