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Abigail Van Allen papers

Identifier: IWA0912

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Scope and Contents

The Abigail Van Allen papers date from 1968-2008 and are organized into three series: Personal, Restoration of Old Capitol, Iowa City City Council, and Artifacts.

The Personal series dates from 1968-2008 and is comprised of correspondence, community organizing materials, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia. The correspondence largely consists of notes and cards sent to Van Allen and her husband by family and friends, offering thanks for favors or updating the couple on life events. Additional materials reflect the Van Allen's membership in Iowa City's First Presbyterian Church and the establishment of Van Allen Elementary (named for James) in North Liberty, Iowa. Included as well are letters and educational materials reflecting Abigail Van Allen's support for the preservation and restoration of Iowa City's Old Brick Church, which was threatened with demolition in the 1970s and which required continued fundraising and repair in the decades following.

The Restoration of Old Capitol series dates from 1972-1976 and reflects Van Allen's work to restore the Old Capitol Building in Iowa City and educate the community on the building's connection to Iowa history. Much of the material in this series concerns Van Allen's service as the chair of the Iowa School Children's Campaign for the Restoration of Old Capitol, a project encouraging elementary school children to support the building's renovation and develop creative projects to celebrate the building and its history. The correspondence in this series records Van Allen's commissioning of a children's history of Old Capitol, her coordination of class trips and dissemination of learning materials, and even letters from children thanking her for presentations she gave at area schools. Included also are scripts of those presentations, notes for speeches, lists of projects and learning activities to suggest to students and educators, and names of schools and students who contributed to the fundraising effort.

The Iowa City City Council series dates from 1972-1990 and reflects Van Allen's involvement in Iowa City's Planning and Zoning Commission. Included are meeting descriptions and schedules, correspondence, notes taken at meetings, and City Council reports. Much of the material concerns the environmental impact of flood plain development; in correspondence for this series Van Allen described herself as an "avid conservationist."

The Theater Productions series dates from 1974-1989 and holds multiple manuscripts, printed scripts, and playbills for plays written by John C. Gerber and performed by the Mighty Van Allen Art Players group. John Gerber was an English professor at the University of Iowa, serving as head of the English department from 1961-1976. Along with his numerous academic achievements, Gerber also wrote several plays. Included with the production materials and scripts are letters, photos, and financial/number sheets related to the plays.

The Artifacts series is comprised of material related to the restoration of the Old Capitol Building. Included are drawings by school children, a jigsaw puzzle, pins, and a brass plaque from the assembly room.


  • Creation: 1968-2008


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Biographical / Historical

Abigail Fithian Halsey II was born in 1922 in Southampton, New York, to Jesse Halsey, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife. Halsey grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she graduated from the Lotspeich and Hillsdales schools. She attended Mount Holyoke College during World War II and graduated in 1944. Upon graduation, she took a position at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

It was there she met James Van Allen, whom she married in 1945. In 1951, the Van Allens moved to Iowa City, Iowa, where James Van Allen had earned his masters and doctoral degrees, and where he would work as a professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa. The Van Allens had five children: Cyntha, Margot, Sarah, Thomas, and Peter.

Abigail Van Allen was heavily involved in efforts to restore and preserve Iowa City history and landmarks, including the Old Brick Church and the Old Capitol Building, for which she served as a member of the Old Capitol Restoration Committee. She was a member of the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as a non-resident sustaining member of the Cedar Rapids Junior League. Abigail Van Allen died in 2008.


3.80 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Iowa City resident who worked to preserve and restore Iowa City landmarks including the Old Capitol building.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor # 1317) were donated by Sarah Van Allen in 2012.

Related Materials

John C. Gerber papers (RG99.0062)

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)