History and Purpose




The Iowa labor collection has important things to tell historians, not only about the history of the working class and trade unionism in Iowa, but in the country as a whole.


Although Iowa is traditionally thought of as an agricultural state, it can lay claim to a long and rich labor history.  The project was designed to enhance access to a major labor archive at the State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City.  The project had three purposes, all aimed at disseminating knowledge about the collection to scholars and laypersons.  The primary activities included:  1) archival processing of labor manuscripts including creation of finding aids, in html format, 2) creation of microfilm of 1,100 oral history transcripts along with finding aid or topical index, and 3) cataloging in OCLC for labor collections, 1,100 oral history interviews, and assorted print materials such as contracts and agreements and other publications.


Since 1974, the collaborative efforts of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, and the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) have resulted in an assemblage of documentation on collective unionism among Iowa's working class.  Using the limited access tools available, scholars have already mined the varied resources of the collection to produce books, journal articles, and community histories.  The IMLS grant accelerated progress toward the goal of opening this impressive collection to the public -- fully processed and cataloged for the first time, and available for use without restrictions.




Numerous individuals generously contributed to the Iowa Labor Collection, and not everyone can be thanked here.  Union members created this archive by documenting their efforts and later donating records for preservation.  Over 1,000 people shared their stories in oral history interviews.  The labor historians who traveled around the state to talk with people, the transcribers of the audiotapes, and the archivists who organize and index these materials deserve special appreciation for uncovering the potential of this resource.  Thanks also go to the ILHOP advisory board members and to staff from the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; the University of Iowa Labor Center; and the State Historical Society of Iowa.


Of particular note are the following contributors:


James Wengert, former President of Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and Mark Smith, President of Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO who conceived and promoted the idea of preserving Iowa labor's history as an educational resource.


Paul Kelso, Greg Zieren, Merle Davis, Dan Holub, Fred Adams, Janet Weaver, Gene Redmon, Mona Lepic, Jae Retz, Roberta Till-Retz, and Laurie Clements who assisted with the ILHOP project as interviewers, transcribers, and advisors.


Joyce Giaquinta, David Kinnett, Mary Bennett, David Darrow, Tom Karson, and other staff from the State Historical Society who cared for the archive in the early stages.


A special dedication goes to Merle Davis who contributed greatly to the cohesiveness and strength of the materials gathered for research.  Merle continues to shepherd staff and researchers through the process of exploration of the Iowa Labor Collection.





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