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Mary McDermott Shideler papers

Identifier: IWA0404

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


  • 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.

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]. other_unmapped


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.

Other Descriptive Information
Lisa Mott, 2005.
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)