IOWA CITY — When Iowa Women’s Archives assistant curator Janet Weaver got to work Jan. 23 — the Monday after the Women’s March sent millions of women into the streets across the United States — the emails already had started coming in.
People were wondering about donating protest signs carried in the marches for posterity.
The Iowa Women’s Archives, housed in the University of Iowa Main Library, has been documenting Iowa women’s lives for 25 years. The shelves are filled with photographs, diaries, letters, books and publications. But usually curators have to solicit the materials they preserve.
“We usually work at getting people to donate,” Weaver said. “And we don’t usually cover current events.”
But even before the Jan. 21 march, a group of preservationists, led by the Women Archivists Roundtable, part of the Society of American Archivists, had put out the word they wanted to mark this moment in history. Soon calls were circulating on social media, and the materials started coming in.
Lisa Gardinier, Latin American and Iberian Studies librarian at the UI Libraries, kick-started the effort by collecting signs as she was leaving a march in Des Moines.
Karen Mason, curator of the Iowa Women’s Archives, said saving such materials fits perfectly with the mission and provides continuity with the past — the collection includes items such as a poster carried by UI professor Sarah Hanley during a women’s march in Boston on Aug. 23, 1970; literature published by the Iowa City Women’s Liberation Front in the 1970s; and early materials from the Women’s Resource and Action Center on campus.
“If they hadn’t saved those things, we wouldn’t know about that history,” Mason said. “We document Iowa women’s lives and experiences. We have a lot of both political and non-political materials — we try to document the broad perspective.”
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The archive also collects written reflections from women and hopes to collect accounts from women about why they marched and what the experience was like. Reflections from women who don’t agree with the march also are welcome.
“We are interested in gathering material from people who don’t share those beliefs, too, because that’s also a part of the historical record,” Mason said. “We’re a bipartisan foundation — we were founded by a Democrat and a Republican woman.”
People who want to donate to the archive can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit lib.uiowa.edu/iwa.
Along with signs, people also have sent their pink hats, which were worn by thousands of marchers, as well as photos of people making signs and knitting the hats. Mason said these images and physical materials help paint a snapshot of the moment.
“People will be able to go back and see what the issues are that people were interested in. These things really convey something just reading the words doesn’t,” she said.
Signs and hats don’t fit easily on library shelves, and she said the library’s conservation specialists will make boxes to store the materials. She doesn’t expect the Women’s March collection to be completed anytime soon — people often donate materials when they are downsizing their homes later in life or after someone has died.
“We figure this is going to be a long process. Years from now, we’ll still be getting things,” she said.
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