Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Schwalm, Leslie

First Committee Member

Stromquist, Shelton

Second Committee Member

Heineman, Elizabeth

Third Committee Member

Storrs, Landon

Fourth Committee Member

Thaggert, Miriam


This dissertation examines the activism of African-American club women in Iowa during the early twentieth century. As early as 1891, prior to the founding of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACW) in 1896 and Iowa Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (IACW) in 1902, black women met in various cities throughout the state to discuss the need for education within the black community, proper etiquette for young women, current events, arts and culture, while planning community service activities. In the upper Midwest, clubs and early community activism served as a conduit for black women, providing a venue for them to hone their organizational skills, create networks, recruit members and develop programs to aid in racial uplift, increasing their authority and power as women in their communities. Through education, health, and welfare reform, club women created new forms of citizenship as they tried to make the needs of black Iowans a legitimate political concern for the state. Significantly, this occurred prior to and laid the ground work for the organization of regional branches of the Afro-American Council and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). My dissertation will show that the independent activism and organizing of black Iowa club women gave them the ability to influence other national organizations where women’s leadership was suppressed. In 1917, the United States War Department named Fort Des Moines, located on the outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa, as the first World War I training camp for black officers in the country. Working with 1200 black servicemen and their migrant families, local African-American women harnessed both club and organizational capabilities to perform some of the most hands on war work in the United States, creating black “Company Mother’s” groups and Red Cross auxiliaries.

My research shows that African-American women in Iowa had greater access to state NAACP leadership positions than their sisters in larger urban areas throughout the country. From 1915-1920, black women injected local goals and objectives into the agendas of NAACP branches throughout the state. Exploring the impact of race, class, gender and migration on African-Americans in the Midwest, my dissertation will challenge historians to rethink how they frame their approach to black women’s activism by demonstrating the centrality of region to the history of African-American women’s leadership and race work.

This dissertation is a social cultural history that draws upon the activism of individuals and organizational histories. A great challenge was piecing together the history of the eight clubs that existed 1891-1902, prior to the IACW. These clubs do not have any archived sources. I layered information found in issues of the Iowa Bystander from 1896 to 1902 with extensive research in national and state census data to better understand the lives of these women, who were also wives, mothers, and migrants. After the founding of the IACW in 1902, published primary material (annual meeting minutes, newspapers, bulletins, speeches) allowed me to recreate the conversations within African-American communities, as well as the dialogue between whites and blacks. I used the papers and national records of the IACW, NACW, and NAACP to identify club members as well as agendas, goals, outreach and fundraising efforts of various organizations, offering national and regional perspectives of the challenges faced by club women, while providing insight to conversations and concerns from the national to state level.


African American, Club women, Iowa, Iowa Association of Colored Women, Women


xxii, 247 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 228-247).


Copyright © 2018 Denise Lynn Pate Spruill

Available for download on Friday, July 03, 2020

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