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Mary McDermott Shideler papers

Identifier: IWA0404

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Scope and Contents

The Mary McDermott Shideler papers date from ca. 1900 to 2000 and measure 11 linear feet. The papers are arranged in sixteen series: Biography; Calendars; Diaries; Correspondence; Education; American Theological Society; Theology Notes; Society for Descriptive Psychology (SDP); Peter G. Ossorio; Lectures, Seminars and Conferences; Writing; Reference files; Transcriptions; Audiocassettes; Photographs and Guest Books; and Scrapbooks.

The Biography series consists of biographical and family materials. Shideler's birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, vitae, health records and obituary are among the items found in this series. Her health records include a 1928 lawsuit that then-eleven year old Mary McDermott brought against the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and hospital for a tonsillectomy that resulted in a lost tooth; basal temperature charts and correspondence with various doctors as Shideler tried unsuccessfully to overcome her infertility during the 1940s; and comments and concerns she had in her later years regarding her health, her medical care and Medicare. There are letters and newspaper clippings regarding her involvement in a lawsuit against telephone solicitations in 1963. Also included in the series are drawings Shideler made, cartoons she collected, and recordings of her meditations and dreams. There is also a handwriting analysis, horoscopes, and psychic readings Shideler had done for herself. Entries from biographical directories and Shideler's annual letters to friends and family, along with numerous articles about Shideler, provide a broad picture of her personal and professional lives and achievements.

The Biography series includes materials regarding Shideler's parents, siblings, and other relatives. Materials regarding her parents, Katherine Stewart McDermott and George T. McDermott, include their wedding invitation, correspondence her father sent home during his judicial travels, and a 1917 letter Shideler's mother wrote to her own mother. There is quite a bit of material regarding her father, George T. McDermott, a Federal District Court Judge. Materials include his own articles and speeches, papers written about him, correspondence containing his family's history, a letter from President Herbert Hoover, and copies of the numerous obituaries and testimonials that were printed throughout the United States when he unexpectedly died of pneumonia in 1937 at age fifty. Materials regarding Shideler's brother, James S. McDermott, include a paper he wrote on "the mobilization of science for defense," his obituary, the posthumous ceremony awarding him the silver cross, and a letter sent by a soldier who had served with him. The Biography series also contains papers written by Shideler's husband, Emerson Shideler, along with his 1992 obituary.

The Calendars series spans the years 1939-1996. These calendars are filled with appointments that cover both Shideler's personal and professional lives, along with those of her husband during their marriage. Entries include medical appointments, publication deadlines, lectures, personal engagements, and contact with family and friends.

The Diaries series covers the years 1929-1996, from adolescence though college, marriage, adult life, divorce, independence and aging. Some of the diaries are written in speed writing, so Shideler's 1945 Speed Writing Dictionary has been included in the series. The 1973-1977 diary, written in speed writing, was transcribed by Shideler in 1991; both the original and the transcription are included. Also included are the journal letters Shideler wrote when she and Emerson were in Asia, 1968-1969. These entries are filled with Shideler's impressions and experiences.

The Correspondence series is the largest in the collection. Shideler was a prolific correspondent and maintained files of both incoming and outgoing letters. The series reflects Shideler's own filing system. Sub-series include Family, Emerson Shideler, A-Z (incoming and outgoing), Outgoing, Letters to newspapers, and Correspondence with publishers. The Family sub-series is dominated by correspondence from Shideler's mother, Katherine Stewart McDermott. There is also correspondence from Shideler's father George T. McDermott, her siblings Jane McDermott Hergenreter and James S. McDermott, her uncle James H. Stewart, Jr. and an undated letter written by her maternal grandfather James H. Stewart to his wife. The Emerson Shideler sub-series reflects over fifty years of correspondence covering the Shideler's courtship, marriage, divorce, and their post-marriage relationship.

The A-Z (incoming and outgoing) sub-series is an alphabetized file of Shideler's correspondence with friends and colleagues. Particularly large files include "Jan-the-witch" (a pseudonym for her good friend Janet Bailey), Dr. Dorothy (Tommy) Macy (an old friend from Swarthmore College), and Betsy Pitha (a friend and designated literary executor, though she actually died before Shideler). Many of the folders contain correspondence with multiple family members. Photographs may be found in some of the folders. The Outgoing sub-series actually begins with letters Shideler received in the 1930s and 1940s, but the bulk of the sub-series consists of letters Shideler wrote between 1934 and 1969. Shideler filed the letters both chronologically and according to the places she was living at the time she wrote them, including Europe and Asia. They cover her years as a college student, a minister's wife, and a faculty wife. An assorted file at the end of the series contains letters Shideler wrote to companies, government officials and various other entities with her comments, complaints and concerns from 1950 through 1980.

The Letters to newspapers sub-series consists of letters-to-the-editor and letters Shideler wrote to specific columnists. Some letters written to journals are also included. The letters reflect a variety of topics and issues that concerned Shideler, including euthanasia, abortion, English-only legislation, and education. Most of the letters include copies of the original articles that riled Shideler, compelling her to write. The Correspondence to publishers sub-series consists of correspondence Shideler had with various publishers for both her books and articles. This sub-series reflects Shideler's own filing system. Additional correspondence with publishers may be found in the Writing series.

The Education series consists of four sub-series: Topeka High School, Swarthmore College, the Chicago Theological Seminary and the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Topeka High School sub-series consists of Shideler's 1934 graduation announcement and her National Scholastic Awards. The Swarthmore College sub-series contains Shideler's college papers and class notes, honors exams, correspondence, and her 1938 yearbook. There are also materials from her twenty-fifth, fiftieth and fifty-fifth reunions. In conjunction with her fiftieth reunion, Shideler organized a "free-for-all on Death," where she and her septuagenarian classmates could discuss end-of-life issues. The Chicago Theological Seminary sub-series contains papers and notes Shideler wrote during her time at the seminary, along with the honorary degree conferred upon her in 1971. The University of Colorado at Boulder sub-series consists of a certificate Shideler earned in 1980 for a continuing education course, "Effective Communication in Business."

The American Theological Society series contains correspondence, meeting announcements, membership lists, minutes and several papers written for the society by various authors, including Walter J. Kukkonen. The Theology Notes series consists of papers Shideler collected written by various theologians, including E. E. Aubrey, Charles W. Gilkey, and Paul Holmer. There are also materials concerning Shideler's involvement in revising the Standard Book of Common Prayer for the Protestant Episcopal Church. Shideler's notes regarding the sacraments of absolution and confession may also be found in this series.

The Society for Descriptive Psychology series consists of awards and citations Shideler received, along with papers written by both Shideler and other authors, articles about the society, Shideler's notes regarding the activities and philosophy of the society, and information on the society's Thirteenth Annual Conference in 1991. This series also contains materials regarding Shideler's book, A Primer (published under the title, In Search of the Spirit). These materials include a draft of the book, her contract, correspondence, notes, permissions and references, reviews, responses and royalty information. Additionally, this series includes a set of reference files concerning such topics as language, monasticism, mysticism, non-Christian religions, spiritual practice and theology.

The Peter G. Ossorio series contains materials pertaining to the founder of the Society of Descriptive Psychology. Materials include correspondence between Ossorio and Shideler, along with correspondence supporting Ossorio during his promotion process at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The bulk of the materials in this series are the papers and reports Ossorio wrote for the Society of Descriptive Psychology, the Linguistic Research Institute, and the Rome Air Development Center.

The Lectures, Seminars and Conferences series includes papers, sermons, and outlines for presentations Shideler gave over a thirty-year span. Many of the papers have Shideler's handwritten notations or comments. Also included is correspondence pertaining to the various conferences and seminars. This series follows Shideler's own filing system. It begins with titled seminars and conferences (e.g. Christian Commitment Conference), including those that Shideler filed according to the institution where they were held (e.g. Berea College, Kentucky). These seminars and conferences are followed by a titled listing of talks and sermons that include the location where they were presented if available (e.g. "The Faith of a Christian Skeptic," Central College, Pella, Iowa). Lastly there are outlines for various presentations.

The Writing series is divided into eight sub-series: Published works, Unpublished writings, Book reviews by Shideler, Fables and Stories, Poetry, Charles Williams, and Books. The Published works sub-series includes notes, multiple drafts, and correspondence pertaining to articles and papers that Shideler had published in various journals. These works include topics relating to theology, descriptive psychology, mystery, fables and stories. Also included are Shideler's written introduction and afterward to published collections of Dorothy Sayers' and Charles Williams' writings. The publication dates have been used to mark the articles in this sub-series. The Unpublished writings sub-series are papers that do not appear to have been published. Notes, multiple drafts and correspondence are included in this sub-series. The dates on these papers are based on Shideler's notes or the oldest draft, and reflect approximately when Shideler first conceived her ideas for these writings.

The Book reviews sub-series consists of the many book reviews written by Shideler. They are listed alphabetically according to the author of the book being reviewed. The Fables sub-series and the Stories sub-series follow Shideler's categorizing scheme. The sub-series include notes, drafts and correspondence. The dates are based on the notes or oldest drafts to reflect when Shideler first conceived of the story ideas. Some of the fables and stories were published individually or in her collection Mother and the Flying Saucer and other fables. The Poetry sub-series primarily consists of poetry and verse written by Shideler between 1932 and 1998. There are also poems and verse written by others that she kept in her files. For preservation purposes, Shideler's poetry has been removed from the notebooks in which she kept it and organized in folders.

The Charles Williams sub-series pertains to all the various essays and papers Shideler wrote regarding Williams, including her book, The Theology of Romantic Love: A Study in the Writings of Charles Williams. Research materials include copies of Williams' correspondence to John D. C. Pellow, articles by Williams, articles about Williams, biographies of Williams, and reviews of Williams' writings. Shideler's writings include various essays she wrote regarding Charles Williams, along with materials pertaining to her book, The Theology of Romantic Love. Book materials include permissions to quote, promotional materials, reviews, and correspondence from readers. Also included in this sub-series is correspondence pertaining to Shideler's research and publishing on Williams. Correspondence includes letters between Shideler and then-publisher T. S. Eliot. There are also several letters pertaining to a plagiarism issue that came up when Shideler's bibliography from The Theology of Romantic Love turned up in another text without acknowledgement of its source.

The Books sub-series contains copyright materials for Shideler's published texts. There are also notes, proofs, drafts, correspondence and reviews for three of her texts: Consciousness of Battle, A Creed for the Christian Skeptic, and "Form" (the working title for her autobiographical series). Copies of most of her published texts may be found shelved in the Iowa Women's Archives' printed works collection, including her five-volume autobiography, Visions and Nightmares, Ends and Beginnings. A draft copy of Spirituality: An Approach through Descriptive Psychology, 1988-1989, includes the comments of Thomas O. Mitchell in the margins. [shelved in Box 86]

The Reference files series consists of the many files Shideler kept on a wide variety of topics such as: abortion, art, education, manuscript preparation, narcotics, the right to die, C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers. The files contain articles, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and Shideler's notes.

The Transcriptions series contains the written records of Society for Descriptive Psychology conferences and assemblies, conversations, and counseling sessions that Shideler recorded. The bulk of the transcriptions cover the counseling sessions that Mary and Emerson Shideler undertook during the break-up of their marriage. Additionally there are transcriptions of counseling sessions Mary Shideler underwent long after the divorce. The transcriptions also include conversations Peter G. Ossorio had with Shideler and others, as well as various Society for Descriptive Psychology meetings and conferences. A series of eight bound notebooks, dating from 1974 to 1980, are also filled with transcriptions, some of which duplicate materials found in the other folders. The organization reflects Shideler's own filing system.

The Audiocassettes series primarily consists of recordings of Mary and Emerson Shideler's counseling and talk sessions. There is also a recording of Peter Ossorio and Mary Shideler discussing "A Primer," and a recording of Mary McDermott Shideler's memorial service.

The Photographs and Guest Books series consists of loose photographs, albums and guest books. The loose photographs include photographs of Shideler attending her fiftieth reunion at Swarthmore College in 1988 and a 1938 photograph of Swarthmore's President Aydelotte with Albert Einstein. Other loose photographs include Shideler's ancestors and Shideler herself as a girl, as a young woman, with her husband Emerson, and as an elderly woman. Two photographs show Shideler wearing the same dress, once in her engagement photograph and again as a woman in her eighties. There are also photographs of both Shideler and the car following her 1998 automobile accident.

There are four photo albums. One album contains family photographs, including those of ancestors on both the McDermott and Stewart sides, and photographs from Shideler's childhood. Another album consists of photographs taken of Mary and Emerson Shideler during their years in Ames, Iowa. Many of the photographs in this album were taken by noted photographer Joan Liffring Zug. The other two photo albums contain the pictures Shideler used in her autobiography. They span her life and include many photographs from her youth, including pictures of her parents and her siblings.

The guest books are from Shideler's years in Colorado and contain photographs and comments of the many friends and guests that visited her home, High Haven, in the foothills near Boulder. Each volume has been indexed by Shideler, listing names of guests and the page numbers where their comments may be found. Also included in this series is a scroll from the "1989 Midwest Morris Ale-in-Exile-in-Colorado" get-together, thanking their "enthusiastic benefactress" Mary Shideler.

The Scrapbooks series contains three scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings covering the judicial career of Shideler's father, George T. McDermott, along with some correspondence and photographs. Loose materials have been removed from the scrapbooks for preservation purposes. Loose materials from Scrapbook I include letters and photographs from Vuko (Charles) Perovich, the man McDermott defended in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927. Loose materials from Scrapbook II include a personalized invitation to Herbert Hoover's Presidential inauguration, letters regarding McDermott's possible appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, several speeches McDermott wrote, and a memorandum pursuant to his estate, written the night before he left for World War I. Loose materials from Scrapbook III include several letters written by Shideler's brother, Jim McDermott, correspondence from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardoza, and speeches written by George T. McDermott.


  • Creation: 1900-2000


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 Katharine McDermott was born on June 17, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas to Katharine Stewart McDermott and George Thomas McDermott. McDermott was the middle child, with an older sister, Jane (Hergeneter), and a younger brother, James, who was killed during World War II. McDermott's father was a Federal District Court Judge. He raised his children to be aware of social justice causes and how these causes became political issues affected by public policy. Close to her father, his sudden death in 1937 at age fifty affected McDermott profoundly.

McDermott attended the Topeka public schools. She then attended Swarthmore College where she majored in psychology and minored in philosophy and zoology. McDermott graduated from Swarthmore College in 1938, earning a BA with honors in Mathematics and Natural Science. From 1939-1942, McDermott attended the Chicago Theological Seminary. She then attended Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for graduate study. After years of studying, writing and lecturing on issues regarding religious theology, philosophy and psychology, McDermott received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1971.

McDermott married Emerson Wayne Shideler on June 8, 1940. At the time Emerson Shideler was a minister, and Mary Shideler assumed the role of minister's wife in small towns in Virginia, Nebraska and Kansas. When Emerson Shideler accepted a faculty position at Iowa State University in 1950, the couple moved to Ames, Iowa. After Emerson Shideler's retirement they moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1971 and built a home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Divorced on October 26, 1983, Mary Shideler continued to live in the Colorado home until her death on June 28, 2000.

Shideler was a prolific writer throughout her life, publishing articles in both theological and psychology journals, along with stories, poetry, and books. After her divorce, facing life as a single, older woman, Shideler set out to write her autobiography. The result was a five-volume series entitled, Visions and Nightmares, Ends and Beginnings. For several years Shideler corresponded with Peter Ossorio (founder of the Society for Descriptive Psychology) whom she considered a mentor. Shideler was a member of Theta Sigma Phi and the Colonial Dames of America. She also served as president of the American Theological Society (1976-1977), president of the Society for Descriptive Psychology (1981-1982), and editor of The Descriptive Psychology Bulletin (1978-1979).

Mary McDermott Shideler was a noted theologian, psychologist, writer, friend and committed feminist. Following her father's earlier guidance, Shideler was vocal in her opinions on such topics as abortion rights, education, global warming and the right to die.


11.00 Linear Feet

Six audiocassettes [AC983-AC988]. Cassettes

Language of Materials



Theologian, writer and lecturer whose work encompassed religious theology, philosophy and psychology.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 575) were donated by Mary McDermott Shideler in 1993 and ensuing years. An annotated manuscript was donated by Thomas O. Mitchell in 2009.

Related Materials

Shelved in printed works: In Search of the Spirit: A Primer [BV4501.2 .S4384 1985]; Persons, Behavior and the World: The Descriptive Psychology Approach [BF39.8 .S53 1988]; Spirituality: An Approach through Descriptive Psychology [BL624 .S54 1992]; Charles Williams: A Critical Essay [PR6045.I5 Z87] (1966); Theology of Romantic Love [PR6045.I5 Z88 1962a]; Consciousness of Battle: An Interim Report on a Theological Journey [BX5995.S346 A3]; A Creed for the Christian Skeptic [BT993.2 .S5]; Autobiography: The Years of Confusion, Stage II (1997) [PS3569.H453Z477]; Years of Discovery, Stage III (1998) [PS3569.H483Z478]; The Struggle for Clarification, Stage IV (1999) [PS3569.H483Z479]; The Conjuring, Stage V (2000) [PS3569.H483Z4795]; Mother and the Flying Saucer and Other Fables [PS3569.H483 M68 1976]; Nine Visions, a Book of Fantasies, edited by Andrea LaSonde Melrose [PS648.F3 N56 1983].

Lisa Mott, 2005.
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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)