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Professional Women's League (Des Moines, Iowa) records

Identifier: IWA0110

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Scope and Contents

The Professional Women's League records date from 1903 to 1998 and measure 2.2 linear feet. The bulk of the material dates from 1907 to 1975. The records are arranged in three series: Administrative files, Program files, and Photographs and slides.

The Administrative files series is divided into six subseries: History, Constitution and by-laws (1903-1970), Membership records, Secretary's reports, Treasurer's reports, and Yearbooks. The subseries History includes several histories written in the 1910's by members of the League. For the fullest history of the League's activities researchers must consult the Yearbooks within this series and the Banquet programs within the Program files series. Researchers should also consult especially the three papers presented at the 50th Anniversary Party, 1950, by Sara Nollen, Eva Page, and Georgie Easter in the Papers and plays subseries.

The Membership records include Summary information; Biographical data by or about five League members, Alice Conger Hunter, Margaret McKee, Claribel S. Proudfit, Mary A. Safford, and Agnes Samuelson; and Toasts and memorials to deceased members (1924-1931) by Margaret McKee, Blanche Wingate, and Ora Williams.

The Secretary's reports (1914-1961) contain, in addition to the minutes of the monthly meetings, occasional duplicates of annual and Christmas banquet programs and of monthly treasurer's reports as well as newspaper clippings. The Secretary's reports for the years 1900 to 1914, 1934 to 1945, and from 1961 to the present are missing. Also included in this subseries is the League's correspondence, interfiled chronologically within the reports.

The Treasurer's reports (1926-1966) are complete in notebook form from 1926 to 1963 and include as well separately prepared annual reports and auditors' reports for scattered years between 1948 and 1962. The years 1962 to 1966 are documented only by means of bank statements and a tentative budget.

The final subseries, Yearbooks (1907/08-1997/98), is perhaps the heart of this collection, at least in terms of League membership and in the range of program topics. The normal format lists the current board members' names, the year's committees and committee members, the program to be presented at each month's meeting, and a full directory of members. Beginning with the 1917/1918 yearbook, membership was divided into "Active" and "Non-Active" categories, the latter including both non-resident members and in later years retired and inactive members still residing in Des Moines. Next is presented a list of the fourteen charter members and the past presidents and toastmistrisses. Finally, the "In Memoriam" section lists the names of deceased members, arranged by date of death. This subseries is particularly important for showing the broad range of topics and activities of interest to the League.

The Program files series consists of three subseries: Banquet programs, Papers and plays, and Scrapbooks. The Banquet programs are comprised of Annual programs (1903-1973) and Christmas programs (1958-1972, incomplete). The former group is normally identified as the "Annual banquet" but is occasionally referred to in the programs as "Anniversary dinner" or "Guest night dinner" or some combination thereof. Researchers should note that several programs missing from this subseries of separate programs will be found in the Scrapbooks subseries.

The subseries Papers and plays (1910-1986) contains papers, programs, and reports presented at the League's monthly meetings as well as plays, skits, and musical programs presented at its annual banquets. The researcher must consult the Yearbooks subseries for the complete listing of programs presented. Some noteworthy documents that have been preserved include a burlesque of the state senate as it might appear in 1935 (1926), the drama "Ban her" (1927), and discussions of Des Moines' city government (1940/41).

The final subseries, Scrapbooks (1910-1975), contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, and programs of musical performances and other programs presented at monthly meetings as well as duplicate yearbooks and banquet programs.

A publication received with these records, Sketches of Historic Iowa, by Harriet P. Macy, a member of the League (Ames, Iowa : Carter Press, 1969) is cataloged separately.


  • Creation: 1903-2000


Conditions Governing Access

The records 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

The Professional Women's League was founded in Des Moines, Iowa by Dr. Lucy Busenbark Harbach in January 1900. An organizational meeting was held on January 1, 1900 in the office of Dr. Edith Gould Fosnes to which "seven or eight women responded." At the first official meeting, held on January 8, 1900, Rev. Mary A. Safford, minister of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, was elected president and the constitution and by-laws adopted.

The purpose of the League was "to contribute to the social and intellectual life of its members, and to promote a spirit of fellowship among women in the professions." In 1944 a second clause was added: "to work for the welfare of the city in all public activities and civic affairs, and to participate in community projects." Two final clauses were added in 1958: 1)"to enhance the role and further the welfare of professional women" and 2)"to participate in activities for the improvement of education, health, welfare, civic and community action, human relations, interest in government and world understanding." These goals were promoted by means of regularly organized social events; by monthly meetings at which programs on wide-ranging subjects were presented and debated, e.g., juvenile delinquency, civic government in Des Moines, world democracy, and advances in the various professions; and by activities such as the preparation of CARE food packages for shipment to European countries (favored during World War II).

Membership was by invitation only and care was taken not to allow any one profession to predominate. Initially limited to doctors, lawyers, and ministers, by 1927 the list of named professions had been expanded to include teachers, librarians, journalists, artists, and musicians. In 1944 the list of named professions was abandoned in favor of the following statement: "The membership of the League shall consist of professionally qualified women who are engaged in intellectual pursuits as a livelihood." Membership initially was limited to twenty-five resident members. The League enjoyed its largest membership from the late 1920's to the early 1940's, reaching its highest membership, 59, in 1931.


2.20 Linear Feet

Photographs in box 5. boxes

Language of Materials



Women's club founded in Des Moines in January 1900.

Method of Acquisition

The records (donor no. 172) were donated by the Professional Women's League in 1993 and succeeding years.

George Mullally, 1993.
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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)