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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Paula Watts Brown papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1930-1974
Creator: Brown, Paula Watts (1909-1974)
Extent: 10.00 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0002
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Civic leader in Des Moines, Iowa.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in boxes 14, 18, 23-24

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no.2 ) were donated by Kenneth R. Brown in 1976.

Preferred Citation: Paula Watts Brown papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason
Email: lib-women@uiowa.edu
Website: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa

Born in Arkansas, Paula Watts was raised in Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma, where she met and married Kenneth R. Brown. For the first seven years of their marriage, the couple lived in Rockford, Illinois, before moving to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1937. In Des Moines, Kenneth Brown operated his own engineering company. During World War II, while her husband was in the service, Paula Watts Brown took over the management of Brown Engineering Company. The Browns raised three daughters and one son and were both active in public service organizations.

In 1958 Paula Watts Brown resigned from all public service organizations to begin her own one-woman campaign of political involvement, feeling that she could accomplish more good as an individual than as the member of a group. A June 1, 1967 Perry Daily Chief article said, "Mrs. Brown of Des Moines...is one of those rare individuals who stands up to be counted--even if she's the only one standing."" Brown attended school board and city council meetings and was instrumental in changes to the education policy of the board and the beautification of Des Moines.

Brown campaigned on various issues at school board meetings and in editorial letters to the newspaper. All of her efforts were directed at improving the quality of education by increasing the emphasis on math, the sciences and student achievement. In 1954 Brown spearheaded a movement to get the school board to begin a policy of recognizing academic achievement in high school. Later, Honors Day ceremonies to honor academic merit and special scholarship recipients were instituted. ""Enriched"" courses were offered in the high schools enabling more students to prepare for college. She also worked for programs to upgrade the science fair held in school. Academic awards and an emphasis on the science fair were ways in which Brown hoped to motivate more students to excel in science and technical courses. The creation of the college track system and better recognition of scholarship were results of Brown's confrontations with the school board.

Brown also used her activism to improve the civic beauty of Des Moines. She fought to preserve the Old Federal Building in downtown. Though the building was lost, the effort made many people conscious of the need to preserve historic buildings. Brown saw billboards as an eyesore; she called them "obnoxious and dangerous" since they are designed to divert a driver's attention from the road. She helped get the Iowa legislature to prohibit future installation of billboards adjacent to interstates and state highways in 1972. Brown's urging convinced the greater Des Monies Chamber of Commerce to acquire most of the land around Gray's Lake to protect it from commercial development. With contributions from the Chamber, businesses, clubs and school classes, Gray's Lake became a park. Brown said afterwards that this campaign had been her only success.

Brown's public service included heading an early membership drive for the Des Moines Art Center. She was one of the first two women to be a member of the Edmundson Foundation Board of Trustees. She served on this art center board for ten years.

The Paula Watts Brown papers date from 1930 to 1974 and measure 10 linear feet. The papers are arranged in seven series:

SERIES I:  Personal life, Boxes 1-2

SERIES II: Assorted causes, Boxes 3-8

SERIES III: Billboards, Boxes 9-16

SERIES IV: Des Moines Art Center, Boxes 16-18

SERIES V: Educational interest, Boxes 18-22

SERIES VI: Gray's Lake, Boxes 22-23

SERIES VII: Old Federal Building, Box 23

The Personal life series (1930-1974 and undated) contains primarily correspondence between Brown and her family and friends. The journals subseries contains three diaries each written at a different period of Brown's life: when she was a college student, as a young mother and towards the end of her life.

The Assorted causes series (1948-1974 and undated) is broadly based and eclectic. Included in the series are Brown's papers and research on topical issues such as: city planning, the environment, public housing, population growth, and world peace, among others.

Brown was actively involved in making her community a better place to live. The Billboards series (1953-1974 and undated) contains material from her campaign to restrict billboards that marred the aesthetics of the community. Brown collected resources from across the country from private and public groups to help in her fight. The series contains reports from the subcommittee assigned to evaluate the Des Moines sign ordinance. Brown presented proposals to the city council and wrote several letters to the editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune concerning billboards. The series also includes correspondence and newspaper clippings relating to the billboard campaign.

The Des Moines Art Center series (1949-1973 and undated) contains papers from Brown's tenure as a trustee of the Edmundson Art Foundation, charged with the administration and operation of the art center. The series includes pamphlets and notices of some of the exhibitions at the center from 1958 to 1973.

The Educational interest series (1950-1974) is comprised of materials relating to the Des Moines school district and education in general. Brown addressed the school board concerning the recognition of academic excellence, promotion of greater student interest in the sciences, student parking, athletics and intramural sports. Included in this series is correspondence between Brown, other concerned citizens and the school board. The series also contains articles and speeches written by Brown and additional articles from magazines and newspapers about issues which interested Brown.

Although Brown's campaigns encountered varying success with the Des Moines City Council, one of her victories was the conservation of Gray's Lake. The Gray's Lake series (1960-1974 and undated) contains reports on the acquisition and zoning of Gray's Lake as a flood zone and newspaper clippings that chronicle the progress of establishing the lake as a recreational area. That the public supported this campaign is evident by the petition and pamphlets that are included in the series. The series also contains a reel-to-reel recording of the September 27, 1966, public hearing.

The drive to save the Old Federal Building (1964-1970 and undated) in downtown Des Moines was not accomplished. This series contains copies of the Des Moines City Council agendas, newspaper clippings and correspondence from Brown to members of city government. Included are maps of downtown Des Moines and drawings of the parking ramp built on the site of the old Federal Building.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: PERSONAL LIFE
Series 2: ASSORTED CAUSES
Series 3: BILLBOARDS
Series 4: DES MOINES ART CENTER
Series 5: EDUCATIONAL INTEREST
Series 6: GRAY'S LAKE

  • Series 1: PERSONAL LIFE
  • Box 1:
  • Biographical material - 1971
  • Business correspondence - 1961-1974
  • Club membership list - 1956-1958
  • Correspondence (1) - 1946-1974
  • Correspondence (2) - 1946-1974
  • Correspondence (3) - 1946-1974
  • Correspondence (4) - 1946-1974
  • Correspondence (5) - 1946-1974
  • Box 2:
  • Illness - 1973-1972
  • Journals - 1930-1931
  • Journals - 1937-1947
  • Journals - 1970-1972
  • Kenneth R. Brown - 1950-1972
  • Newspaper clippings - 1944-1972
  • Notebooks - 1931-1950, 1968-1969
  • Gardening - 1954-1959
    [removed from binder]
  • Health - 1955-1961
    [removed from binder]
  • Miscellaneous, undated
    removed from binder
  • Party lists - 1946-1952
  • Rental building - 1970
  • Various club pamphlets - 1951-1959
  • Series 2: ASSORTED CAUSES
  • Box 3:
  • Architecture Institute of America (AIA) speech - 1967
  • City parks - 1961-1970
  • City planning and aesthetics - 1961-1969
  • Civic responsibility - 1964-1970
  • Community Playhouse of Des Moines - 1951-1954
  • Correspondence - 1950-1964
  • Correspondence - 1964-1966
  • Correspondence - 1966
  • Correspondence - 1967
  • Box 4:
  • Correspondence - 1968-1969
  • Correspondence - 1970-1971
  • Correspondence - 1972-1974
  • Curb cutouts - 1971-1973
  • Des Moines City Airport - 1966-1971
  • "Do You Suppose There is Intelligent Life on This Planet" (sermons) - 1970
  • Box 5:
  • Environment: Air pollution - 1971-1973
  • Environment: Coal fuel use - 1971-1972
  • Environment: Conservation - 1967-1973
  • Environment: Noise pollution - 1966-1970
  • Environment: Soil erosion - 1964-1972
  • Environment: Solid waste and sanitary landfills - 1971-1973
  • Environment: SST and Sonic Boom Handbook - 1969
  • Environment: Water pollution - 1968-1971
  • "Hawkeye avant-garde" speech - 1961
  • Highway beautification - 1958-1971
  • Highway safety - 1948, 1963-1965
  • Housing: Camara v. San Francisco and See v. City of Seattle - 1969
  • Housing: Non-segregated neighborhoods - 1961-1965
  • Box 6:
  • Public housing - 1969-1972
  • Iowa Power and Light Company - 1965-1971
  • Iowa study commission on international peace-keeping report - 1969
  • Junior League of Des Moines - 1971
  • League of Women Voters - 1954-1956
  • Local city government - 1968-1971
  • Midwest Conference on Bail and Right to Counsel - 1965
  • Planned Parenthood - 1964-1968
  • Police salaries - 1965-1967
  • Population growth - 1948, 1963-1965
  • Box 7:
  • Privacy and unsolicited mail - 1970-1973
  • Property tax and land use - 1971-1973
  • Radio and television - 1964-1970
  • Television transcripts
  • "Bible Reading in the Public Schools" - 1963
  • "Solitude" - 1958
  • "The Square" - 1959
  • "The Water Famine" - 1961
  • Urban affairs - 1964-1966
  • World peace - 1953-1969
  • Newspaper clippings (1) - 1956-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (2) - 1956-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (3) - 1956-1974
  • Box 8:
  • Newspaper clippings (4) - 1956-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (5) - 1956-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (6) - 1956-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (7) - 1956-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (8) - 1956-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (9) - 1956-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (10) - 1956-1974
  • Series 3: BILLBOARDS
  • Box 9:
  • Articles and speeches (1) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (2) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (3) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (4) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (5) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (6) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (7) - 1964-1971
  • Box 10:
  • Articles and speeches (8) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (9) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (10) - 1964-1971
  • Articles and speeches (11) - 1964-1971
  • California Roadside Council, Inc. - 1967-1973
  • Correspondence - 1953-1965
  • Box 11:
  • Correspondence - 1965-1967
  • Correspondence - 1967
  • Correspondence - 1967-1969
  • Correspondence - 1969-1971
  • Correspondence - 1972-1974
  • Box 12:
  • Court case summaries - 1962-1967
  • Des Moines City Council agendas (1) - 1965-1973
  • Des Moines City Council agendas (2) - 1965-1973
  • Des Moines City Council agendas (3) - 1965-1973
  • Des Moines City Council agendas (4) - 1965-1973
  • Des Moines City Planning and Zoning Commission minutes and agendas (1) - 1965-1971
  • Des Moines City Planning and Zoning Commission minutes and agendas (2) - 1965-1971
  • Improving the Mess We Live In , undated
  • Box 13:
  • Lamm v. Volpe - 1971
  • Legislative materials - 1965-1972
  • Newspaper clippings (1) - 1963-1971
  • Newspaper clippings (2) - 1963-1971
  • Newspaper clippings (3) - 1963-1971
  • Newspaper clippings (4) - 1963-1971
  • Newspaper clippings (5) - 1963-1971
  • Box 14:
  • Newspaper clippings (6) - 1963-1971
  • Newspaper clippings (7) - 1963-1971
  • Newspaper clippings (8) - 1963-1971
  • Newspaper clippings (9) - 1963-1971
  • Ordinance and proposals - 1966-1972
  • Pamphlets - 1964-1973
  • Photographs - 1967-1968
  • Box 15:
  • Proposed amendment to city sign regulation - 1973
  • Request for public hearing - 1964
  • Sign codes in the United States - 1958-1972
  • Stoner-McCray system - 1956-1971
  • Sub-committee #3 reports (1) - 1967
  • Sub-committee #3 reports (2) - 1967
  • Sub-committee #3 reports (3) - 1967
  • Box 16:
  • Visual survey and design plan - 1973
  • West Des Moines city sign ordinance - 1973
  • Series 4: DES MOINES ART CENTER
  • Box 16:
  • Acquisition and activities committee - 1949-1953
  • Acting director reports - 1956
  • Bulletin - 1949-1956
  • Bulletin - 1964-1970
  • Correspondence - 1950-1967
  • Edmundson Art Foundation - 1946
  • Edmundson Art Foundation, board minutes - 1949-1954
  • Edmundson Art Foundation, board minutes - 1955-1958
  • Box 17:
  • Edmundson Art Foundation, audit report - 1953
  • Edmundson Art Foundation, audit report - 1954
  • Edmundson Art Foundation, audit report - 1955
  • Education - 1950-1957
  • Exhibitions - 1958-1973
  • Expenses: Building and equipment - 1952-1957
  • Expenses: Operating - 1952-1958
  • "Des Moines--Commerce--Competition and Culture" (address by Jim Schramm) - 1958
  • Landscape - 1950-1952
  • Library - 1951-1956
  • Membership drive - 1950-1957
  • Newspaper clippings - 1951-1968
  • Box 18:
  • Personnel - 1950-1957
  • Photograph - 1956
  • Programs - 1948-1952
  • Programs - 1953-1957
  • Speeches: "Conformity and the Arts" (Lester D. Longman) - 1961
  • Speeches: "Portrait of the Artist as Neighbor" (Paul Engle), undated
  • Series 5: EDUCATIONAL INTEREST
  • Box 18:
  • Articles and speeches (1) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (2) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (3) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (4) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (5) - 1950-1974
  • Box 19:
  • Articles and speeches (6) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (7) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (8) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (9) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (10) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (11) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (12) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (13) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (14) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (15) - 1950-1974
  • Box 20:
  • Articles and speeches (16) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (17) - 1950-1974
  • Articles and speeches (18) - 1950-1974
  • Correspondence (1) - 1953-1955
  • Correspondence (2) - 1953-1955
  • Correspondence (1) - 1956-1959
  • Correspondence (2) - 1956-1959
  • Correspondence (3) - 1956-1959
  • Correspondence (1) - 1960-1973
  • Correspondence (2) - 1960-1973
  • Correspondence (3) - 1960-1973
  • Box 21:
  • Magazine articles (1) - 1950-1964
  • Magazine articles (2) - 1950-1964
    [see also map case]
  • Magazine articles (3) - 1950-1964
  • Magazine articles (4) - 1950-1964
  • Newspaper clippings (1) - 1952-1974
  • Newspaper clippings (2) - 1952-1974
  • Box 22:
  • Newspaper clippings (3) - 1952-1974
  • Pamphlets - 1950-1964
  • Roosevelt High School: landscape - 1962-1965
  • Roosevelt High School: parking - 1955-1962
  • Study of St. Monica School for Girls - 1955
  • Series 6: GRAY'S LAKE
  • Box 22:
  • Acquisition report - 1962
  • Articles - 1966-1967
  • Correspondence - 1961-1974
  • Des Moines City Council agendas - 1962-1970
  • Des Moines zoning map - 1965
  • Newspaper clippings - 1962-1963
  • Newspaper clippings - 1966-1972
  • Pamphlets - 1960-1970
  • Box 23:
  • Petition - 1967
  • Photographs - 1970
  • Proposed concession agreement - 1970
  • Public hearing, September 27 - 1966
    [reel-to-reel, 96 minutes]
  • Speeches - 1968
  • Correspondence - 1965-1970
  • Des Moines City Council agendas - 1967-1969
  • Historical preservation grant application - 1968
  • Newspaper clippings - 1964-1970
  • Parking ramp drawings - 1967
  • Parking ramp review - 1969
  • Photographs and slides - 1965
  • Planning and Zoning Commission agendas and minutes - 1967
  • Polk County Historical Society newsletters - 1967-1968