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Joann Orr papers

Identifier: IWA0807

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Scope and Contents

The Joann Orr papers date from 1969-2017 and measure 2.5 linear feet. The papers are arranged in nine series: Biographical, Campaigns, Correspondence, Newsletters, Legislature, Women's Issues, Newspaper Clippings, Photographs and Artifacts. The papers consist of personal and professional records and correspondence, campaign and career memorabilia and brochures, subject files, bills, committee work, photographs, and newspaper clippings, as well as resource files on the issues Orr supported, such as school nutrition, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and women's rights more generally.

The Biographical information series (1969-1991) consists of notebooks, a biographical sketch from the 1970 election, and the transcript of an oral history interview with Orr conducted by Suzanne Schenken in 1989. The interview is indexed; it focuses on Orr's legislative career. The Campaigns series (1969-1978) documents her electoral campaigns and includes lists of donors and volunteers, district information, a sample ballot, personal notes, press releases, and campaign pamphlets and signs. The Correspondence series (1968-1984) consists of Orr's official correspondence, including senate report newsletters, letters from constituents and fellow politicians, and a folder of Orr's letters to constituents congratulating their daughters on academic and social accomplishments.

The Newsletters series (1973-1975) includes Orr's senate reports detailing her work in the legislature.

The Legislature series (1970-1984) contains the notes, clippings, correspondence, legislation that Orr sponsored and co-sponsored during her legislative tenure. The bulk of the series relates to the 1980 breakfast bill to provide breakfast for low-income K-12 students in Iowa and to Orr's co-sponsorship of the Food and Drug Tax bill to remove the sales tax from food and prescription drugs.

The Women's Issues series (1974-1980) documents Orr's role as an activist for women's political causes and social issues. The series contains newspaper clippings on abortion, ERA brochures and correspondence, Order of Female Legislators' material, and a project to monitor sex equity in vocational education in response to Title IX.

The Newspaper Clippings (1969-1979) series has clippings of campaigns ads, stories on Iowa legislation, featured in the Grinnell Herald Register, and an article about Orr being named "Feminist of the Year" by Grinnell's NOW chapter.

The Photographs series (1973-1979) chronicles Orr's political career. Specific photographic include Carl Orr, Governor Robert Ray signing legislation, and of Orr dressed as Betsy Ross, to recall the days when the Constitution was signed, during a vote on a controversial bill.

The Artifacts series includes booklets on tax levies, expenditures, committees; a certificate from the Kiwanis Club, an ERA flag, and an emery board inscribed "Elect Joann Orr State Senator Democrat" from one of Joann Orr's campaigns.


  • Creation: 1969-2017


Biographical / Historical

Joann Yessler Orr, a dairy farmer, housewife, and Iowa State Senator, was born in 1923 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She was the only child of Joseph Urvin and Gail Gauby Yessler. Yessler attended McKinley High School in Cedar Rapids and studied music education and voice at Oberlin College, graduating in 1946.

In 1947, Joann Yessler married Carl Orr. The couple lived in Chicago from 1948-1949 before returning to Cedar Rapids in 1950. In 1951, Orr taught at Johnson School in Cedar Rapids. In 1952, the Orr family moved to Grinnell, Iowa, where they bought a Grade A dairy processing plant and operated Lang's All-Star Dairy until 1966. Subsequently, Joann Orr was a housewife and Carl Orr operated the Ford-Mercury Agency in Grinnell.

In 1968, Joann Orr, a Democrat, ran and won the 36th District senate seat, representing Poweshiek County. After losing the 1970 election, she ran again in 1972 and won; she served as a state senator for from 1972-1980. As a state senator, Orr sponsored bills on the repeal of sales tax on food and prescriptions, mandatory immunization, solar energy, and school breakfast and supported the Iowa Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1977.

While in the Iowa Legislature, she remained active in People's Unitarian Church, the United Nations Association, Common Cause, the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, the Iowa Women's Political Caucus, the Farm Bureau, Poweshiek County Democratic Women's Club, and the Iowa Commission on Aging. She was also active in the League of Women Voters in Grinnell and served as its president. Joann Orr retired from the legislature in 1980 and subsequently split her time between Florida and Iowa.

Orr died in 2017.


2.25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



State senator from 1972 to 1980 from Grinnell, Iowa.

Julie Zimmerman
Language of description
Script of description

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)