Louise Rosenfield Noun, social activist, art collector, author, philanthropist, and co-founder of the Iowa Women's Archives, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1908, the daughter of Meyer Rosenfield and Rose (Frankel) Rosenfield. Noun attended Greenwood Elementary School, graduated from Roosevelt High School and attended Grinnell College for two years. She transferred to Wellesley College, but when her father became ill, she returned to Grinnell and graduated in 1929. She received an M.A. in art history from Harvard in 1933. In 1936 she married Maurice (Maurie) Noun, a dermatologist, in Des Moines. The Nouns adopted a daughter, Susan, in 1946. They were divorced in 1969.
Noun became widely recognized for her leadership and commitment to a number of organizations and causes. She served as president of the Des Moines chapter of the League of Women Voters in 1948, the Iowa Civil Liberties Union from 1964 to 1972, and the Des Moines chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) from 1974 to 1976. She was a charter member of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus. Noun was instrumental, also, in establishing the Young Women's Resource Center in Des Moines. The Center, which opened in 1978, offers individual counseling, group activities and an in-school program for teenage women. In recognition of her contribution to helping women and young girls, Noun received the Philanthropic Vision Award from the Ms. Foundation for Women in May 1995. In 1981 she was elected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. With her considerable financial resources Noun generously supported the causes in which she strongly believed.
Noun established the Chrysalis Foundation in 1989 to provide financial assistance to domestic violence victims in Iowa, fund day care services, and give financial aid to women students at Des Moines Area Community College. The foundation has sponsored "Women's Voices" conferences bringing Iowa women together to discuss social and political action.
Noun is the author of several books: Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (1969); More Strong-Minded Women: Iowa Feminists Tell Their Stories (1992), a series of biographical essays on the women's movement in Iowa during the 1970s; Iowa Women in the WPA (1999); and Journey to Autonomy:A Memoir (1990). She has also written Abastenia St. Leger Eberle (1980), an exhibition catalog of the Iowa sculptor's works, and articles for The Palimpsest on Harriet Ketcham, artist; Emily Blackmore Stapp, author of children's books; and Nellie Verne Walker, sculptor.
A respected art collector, Noun received her first painting as a gift from her mother when she was thirteen and she continued her interest in art in the following years. In the 1960s she began to concentrate her collection on art by women, focusing the collection on European and American women artists of the twentieth century. In 1990 the collection included more than sixty works by forty artists. Among them were works by Natalia Goncharova and others of the Russian avant-garde movement, Kathe Kollwitz, Hannah Hoch, Isabel Bishop, Lee Krasner, and Agnes Pelton. Noun's collection was exhibited as The Louise Noun Collection: Art by Women at the University of Iowa Museum of Art and the Des Moines Art Center in 1990.
Louise Noun realized a long-term goal in 1992 with the establishment of the Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives at the University of Iowa. During the research for Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa, Noun became aware of the lack of primary sources on women's history. She and her friend Mary Louise Smith agreed on the need for an archives to preserve women's papers and together they worked to interest others in the project. With the sale from her collection of Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Loose Hair (1947) for $1.5 million Noun was able to endow the archives. The Iowa Women's Archives, which opened in October 1992, is devoted to preserving the history of women by acquiring and preserving primary source material that documents the lives and experience of Iowa women.
In declining health, Louise Noun committed suicide on August 23, 2002, leaving behind a note denouncing the illegality of assisted suicide. A memorial service, titled "Celebrating Choices," was held in the State Historical Building in Des Moines on September 14, 2002. Noun's final book, Leader and Pariah: Annie Savery and the Campaign for Women's Rights in Iowa, was published by the Iowa Women's Archives in November 2002.
The Louise Rosenfield Noun papers measure 11.8 linear feet and date from 1926-2002. They are arranged in twelve series: Biographical information, Family history, Calendars, Fine arts, Women's organizations and activities, Civic and social activism, Publication and research files, Photographs, Scrapbooks, Correspondence, Personal journals and correspondence, and Artifacts. The collection is especially rich in its documentation of women activists of the mid-twentieth century in Iowa.
The Biographical information series includes several biographical articles about Noun; newspaper clippings; two audiocassettes of a 1-1/4 hour interview recorded in April 1991; two audiocassettes of an oral history interview by Virginia Wadsley recorded February 11 and 24, 1999; and six videocassettes. The series also includes various awards Noun received, including the Ms. Foundation award (1995), the Public Humanities Achievement Award (1995), and the Des Moines Jewish Academy Hall of Achievement Award (1999). Noun's obituaries, along with tributes and remarks made at her memorial service have been added to this series.
One video is a segment about Noun on "Living in Iowa," a weekly magazine program produced by Iowa Public Television (1993). The second video records a program, "In Celebration of Louise Noun," at the Johnson County Senior Center, March 19, 1992 with remarks by Sheila Creth, director of the University of Iowa Libraries, about the Iowa Women's Archives; a reading from Noun's book, Strong-Minded Women; and a review of Noun's autobiography, Journey to Autonomy. The third video (1994) describes the activities of the Young Women''s Resource Center in interviews with staff and clients and includes a brief comment by Noun. Also included is a video of Noun for the Iowa Jewish Heritage Project (1997) and the video, "Underwraps." The sixth video is a recording of Louise Noun's memorial service, given in Des Moines on September 14, 2002.
The Family History series includes biographical information about various members of Noun's family, including her parents, Rose Rosenfield and Meyer Rosenfield, her brother, Joseph Frankel Rosenfield, and her sister, Ruth Rosenfield McGregor. The biographical information about Louise Noun's parents and siblings is a rich source of Des Moines and Iowa history. Included is the transcript of an oral history interview of Joseph Frankel Rosenfield conducted by Virginia Wadsley for the Des Moines Oral History Project. Louise Noun's sister, Ruth Rosenfield, travelled to Geneva in 1926 to attend the Geneva Institute of International Relations and the assembly of the League of Nations. The scrapbook of newspaper clippings in this series reflects her experience there and the public appearances she made upon her return.
The Calendars series contains Noun's date books and agendas for the period 1979-2000. Noun used the calendars and appointment books, noting meetings, travel, etc. While the notations are spare, the calendars do reflect how active Noun was in the community on behalf of organizations and initiatives that she supported.
The Fine arts series includes several exhibition catalogs including Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, written by Noun to accompany an exhibit of the Iowa sculptor's works at the Des Moines Art Center in 1980; The Louise Noun Collection: Art by Women at the University of Iowa Museum of Art (1990); Three Berlin Artists of the Weimar Era (Des Moines Art Center, 1994) for which Noun wrote the introduction. Biographical information about Irma Rene Koen, a midwestern artist, is included in this series. Background information about the Frida Kahlo painting, which Noun sold to permanently endow the Iowa Women's Archives is found in the Christie's catalog, Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture (1991). This series contains a wealth of information on the Des Moines Art Center, and includes the exhibition guide to the center's opening exhibit, 19th and 20th Century American and European Art...The Opening of the Des Moines Art Center (1948), as well as several other exhibition catalogs from the center. Also included is information about Louise Noun's personal art collection.
The Women's Organizations series contains reports, correspondence and newspaper clippings from groups in which Noun was active, including the National Organization for Women, the League of Women Voters, the Commission on the Status of Women (1965), the International Women's Year meeting in Des Moines in 1977, the Iowa Women's Political Caucus, and the Iowa Abortion Rights Activists League Steering Committee (1978-1980). Also included are the records and a copy of the board manual of the Chrysalis Foundation, an organization founded by Noun in 1989 to assist women in Iowa financially.
The bulk of the collection is devoted to the Publication and research files. This series has been broken down into sub-series by Noun's publications. The sub-series are: Journey to Autonomy, Strong-Minded Women, More Strong-Minded Women, Iowa Women in the WPA, Leader and Pariah: Annie Savery and the Campaign for Women's Rights in Iowa, 1868-1891 and articles and research files. This series contains correspondence, research files, drafts, and manuscripts of Noun's various publications. The bulk of the series pertains primarily to the publication of More Strong-Minded Women: Iowa Feminists Tell Their Stories. The sub-series includes the taped interviews (recorded by Louise Noun in 1989 and 1990), the transcriptions of the tapes, and correspondence with the twenty-two women profiled in the book and four who were not included in the final publication. Publisher's proofs and correspondence about the book are included as well. The research files also include Noun's detailed research on Abner Kneeland, and her notes for the Annie Savery biography that the Iowa Women's Archives published in November 2002.
Journey to Autonomy, More Strong-Minded Women, Leader and Pariah: Annie Savery and the Campaign for Women's Rights in Iowa, 1868-1891, and Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, are shelved in the printed works collection.
The Photographs series includes family photographs, photos of Noun taken at a dinner in her honor in May 1990, at the Women's Voices conference in 1993, with Mary Louise Smith in 1996 and photographs from her Des Moines apartment. Also included are photographs of Noun's art collection and of the Young Women's Resource Center.
The Scrapbooks are rich in information about Noun's activities and interests in the last half of the twentieth century. The 1940s scrapbook contains newspaper clippings about the League of Women Voters in Des Moines, the city manager campaign (led by Louise Noun and Kay Stroud), and letters from Eleanor Roosevelt and J. N. "Ding" Darling. The original scrapbook is closed to researchers due to its fragility. However, a photocopy of the scrapbook is available for research use.
The 1950s scrapbook continues to document Noun's social activism through newspaper clippings. This book contains more family history and some photographs. But the bulk of the book is devoted to documenting various civil liberties cases that the Iowa Civil Liberties Union was involved in, including the 1969 United States Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, often referred to as the "black arm-band case." Also included are clippings about the draft issues and other freedom of expression issues, including cases revolving around hair length of men and women in public schools in Iowa and an exhibit at the Des Moines Art Center in 1968 that was declared to be "obscene."
The 1972-1986 scrapbook also contains information about the Des Moines Art Center and the Iowa Civil Liberties Union. This scrapbook begins to document Noun's involvement in women's and feminist organizations and activities, including the volunteerism campaign by the Des Moines National Organization for Women, campaigns for women's involvement in politics, and the Young Women's Resource Center in Des Moines. Included are several editorial columns written for The Des Moines Register by Louise Noun on subjects ranging from write-in votes for Minnette Doderer for Governor, gender bias in language, volunteerism, woman suffrage in Iowa, feminism and civil liberties, and the gendered wage gap.
The 1986-1997 scrapbook continues to document Noun's involvement in women's and civil libertarian causes and in the world of fine art. This book contains more programs from activities and conferences, but still relies on newspaper clippings to provide the bulk of the information. This book also contains photographs from the Tribute to Louise Noun Dinner in 1990. It also contains details about the founding of the Chrysalis Foundation and the founding of the Iowa Women's Archives with the sale of the Freda Kahlo painting.
The Correspondence series includes letters and memoranda relating to Noun's wide range of social concerns.
The Personal journals and correspondence series contains a printout of Louise Noun's personal journal in which she recorded her thoughts and opinions on a variety of topics. Also included are letters from family members and a journal of birthdays and anniversaries.
The Artifacts series includes buttons relating to feminist issues and an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) pendant. Also included are artifacts from the induction of Annie Nowlin Savery into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame and two posters: a campaign poster from Shirley Chisholm's 1972 campaign and a poster promoting a speaking engagement by Gloria Steinem in Des Moines sponsored by the Chrysalis Foundation, along with various medals and plaques awarded to Noun throughout her life.