Skip to main content

Ortha Harstad papers

Identifier: IWA0833

  • Staff Only
  • Please navigate to collection organization to place requests.

Scope and Contents

The Ortha Harstad papers date from 1968-2008 and measure 20 linear inches. The papers are arranged in three series: Biographical, Travel, and Artifacts.

The Biographical series includes a copy of a 2008 Cedar Rapids Gazette newspaper clipping about Harstad, a selection of her writings and favorite quotations, and an article about her in the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation Winter 2003 newsletter.

The Travel series dates from 1968-2003 and contains a variety of original materials: photos, postcards, journal manuscripts, itineraries, maps, and pamphlets related to Harstad’s travels. Many of these manuscript materials are included in the two bound volumes of Travel Journals. These volumes include typed or copied narratives detailing Harstad’s travels around the world. Volume 1 contains travel accounts from 1968-1990 of trips to: Canada, countless states and cities in America, the Caribbean, Africa, Spain, Mexico, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, and South America. Volume 2 contains travel accounts from 1991-2003 of trips to: many states and cities in America, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Aruba, England, Canada, France, Norway, Switzerland, and Austria. Volume 2 also contains travel journals of others, entitled: 1. Ruthanne (Harstad’s daughter) and Grandma Harstad’s Trip to Hawaii, 1982; Emma Harstad’s Canadian Journal, 1987; and Emma Harstad’s New York Journal, 1988. Grandma Harstad, or Emma Harstad, was the mother of Kenneth Harstad. The Travel Journals and manuscripts in the Travel series include both narrations of what the individuals did on their trip, as well as facts about the locations they visited.

The Artifacts series consists of a National ERA t-shirt from a 1977 Springfield, Illinois rally and an original silkscreen by artist and Cedar Rapids NOW chapter member Mary Ann Williams with the “Sisterhood is NOW” logo and design. With the t-shirts, is a tag labeled Ruthanne Harstad and explains that the shirts were “worn by peace activists to G. Washington High School of Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Veterans Memorial Stadium” in spring of 1970.


  • Creation: 1968-2008

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

Ortha Ruth Berger Harstad was born in Cedar Rapids in 1925 to John Leonard Berger and Anna Prabel Berger. She was the youngest of five: Rodney, Nola, Waldo, and JoAnn. She attended public schools in Cedar Rapids and graduated from McKinley High School in 1944. Berger met Kenneth Ronald Harstad while teaching in Lanesboro, Minnesota and they married in 1949. Soon after their marriage, they returned to Cedar Rapids to raise their three children, Ronald, Ruthanne, and Paul. Ken Harstad worked at Rockwell for 40 years. The Harstads served for many years as youth leaders at First Lutheran Church, which Ortha Harstad had attended since her birth. In 1968, Ortha and Ken Harstad were sent by their church to attend the School of Human Dignity. There, on the south side of Chicago, they learned about black history and returned to Cedar Rapids where they developed classes and retreats on black history for area church leaders, educators, and others in the community. Ortha and Ken Harstad co-founded the Coalition for Social Action and the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association.

Ortha Harstad served as a member of the board of Linn County Planned Parenthood for over twenty years and as a Crisis Line counselor for Foundation II for over 25 years, speaking at junior highs and high schools about sex education and training new volunteers to spread awareness of the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases. Harstad was also a regular volunteer at Theatre Cedar Rapids, she served on the board of the African American Museum and its endowment foundation, and as a board member of the Carl and Mary Koehler History Center. According to the director of the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa, Ortha had a “lifelong commitment to serving others, making sure people were treated right, and she had a passion for history."

Ortha received the Pillar of the Community award at the 2000 YWCA Tribute to Women of Achievement, the Unsung Hero Award from the national Planned Parenthood organization, and the Fed Hedges Award from Theatre Cedar Rapids. She was also a special honoree at the 1987 Cedar Rapids Women’s Equality Day celebration. The Harstads traveled to domestic and international locations before Ken Harstad’s death in 1997. Ortha Harstad died on in 2008 at age 82.


20.00 linear inches

Language of Materials



An Iowa native, avid traveler, and community activist.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Ortha Harstad papers (donor no. 1201) were donated by Ruthanne Harstad in 2010. Connie Hyman and Roger Harstad donated the two volumes of bound travel journals in 2010.

Katie Gandhi, 2016
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)