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Ellen Hanson Mason papers

Identifier: IWA0820

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Scope and Contents

The Ellen Hanson Mason papers date from 1929 to 1972 and measure 7.0 linear inches. The papers are arranged in three series: Biography, Diaries, and Alice Hanson Howard.

The Biography series includes a letter written by Ellen Hanson Mason's niece, Alice Hanson Howard, to her children about Mason's participation as a pianist in various bands that played at local barn dances. The series also includes notes written by Howard's daughter Beverly Strong, who donated the collection to the Iowa Women's Archives, to explain the relationships, locations, farm life, and activities written about in Mason's diaries. Also included are photocopied photographs of Mason and various family members, and one page of undated diary entries.

The Diaries series (1929-1972, not inclusive) include seventeen diaries chronicling Mason's life on the family farm in rural northeast Iowa. During the years that she kept the diaries, each entry includes at least a note about the weather and a mention of the day's activities. Although some years a diary was either not kept or missing from the collection, Mason's entries from the 1930s give insight into the single woman's daily attempts to balance the management of chickens and sheep on her farm and her busy social life of dances and card parties. Her entries in the 1940s through the 1970s illuminate life as a working farm wife, the adventures that came with family visitors, the impediments of the local terrain and weather, her participation in community socials, and frequent bouts with illness. Of note is the inclusion of a few newspaper clippings in the 1939 diary.

The Alice Hanson Howard series (1994) consists of "Country Lady: Nibbling and Scribbling" by Alice Howard, Mason's niece. This collection of anecdotes and accompanying recipes is a compilation of columns written for Howard's local newspaper, The Elgin Echo, with references to her Norwegian heritage, dinners made for threshers and farmhands, country school experiences, Christmas traditions, and recollections of favorite meals and household items from her childhood.


  • Creation: 1929-1994


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

Ellen Hanson Mason was born in 1897 to Torstein Hanssen Skoien (later changed to Thomas Hanson) and Elizabeth "Eliza" Bumgartner, who emigrated from the Lapland area of Norway. One of seven children, Ellen Hanson was raised and continued to live on her family's farm in rural Fayette County, Iowa. In between tending her chickens and sheep, weekly washings and cleaning, and helping her brothers raise and sell pigs and cattle, she found abundant time to spend with neighbors and relatives playing cards, as a pianist with various local bands playing at barn dances, going to dinners and movies, and hosting nieces and nephews for sleepovers as they helped on the farm.

She got to know her husband, Orlin Mason, through many of these social events. After countless visits, narrated throughout her diaries, the two were married in 1938. Although she never had children of her own, Mason was known to carry gum or candy for the children attending her church, the Illyria Community Church in the Highland Township. She started battling hemorrhaging and tumors in the late 1940s, but Mason continued to work on the farm and enjoy company until her death in the 1970s.


7.00 linear inches

Language of Materials



Diaries chronicle Ellen Hanson Mason's life on the family farm in rural northeast Iowa.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no.1259) were donated by Beverly Strong in 2011.

Kayla Pollock, 2011.
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)