Guide to the Myrle Olive Ward papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1876-1992
Creator: Ward, Myrle Olive (1897-1992)
Extent: 1.00 linear foot.
Collection Number: IWA0078
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Native of Hamburg, Iowa and missionary to the West Indies and the Belgian Congo from 1925 until 1959.

Administrative Information

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. 134) were donated by Betty H. Victor in 1991.

Preferred Citation: Myrle Olive Ward 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

Biographical Note

Myrle Olive Ward was born December 5, 1897, in Hamburg, Iowa, the fourth of eight children of Cyrus and Augusta Miller Ward. In 1908, at the age of eleven, she moved to Farragut, Iowa, to live with her maternal aunts, Izetta and Winnie Miller. In1915 she graduated from Farragut High School, and in 1919 she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri. For the following four years she taught English and Latin in high schools in Maywood, Missouri, and Farragut and Essex, Iowa.

For two years, from 1923 to 1925, she attended the College of Missions in Indianapolis, Indiana. After her graduation she began her thirty-year career as a missionary for the Disciples of Christ Church. During those years she continued her education, at the University of Chicago in 1933 and at the University of Colorado in the summers of 1940 and1945.

Her first missionary assignment was a three-year general service in Jamaica, West Indies, from 1925 to 1928. For the next twenty years she served at the Disciples of Christ Congo Mission in the Equatorial Province (Belgian Congo, now Zaire)where she supervised village schools at Wema and Lotumbe.

In 1950 she was re-assigned to Jamaica and stayed there until 1957, as matron of a dormitory, treasurer of the mission and co-director of three work camps. In 1957 she returned to the Congo as treasurer of the District of Christ Mission, but because of family illness she returned to the United States in 1959 and settled in Red Oak, Iowa.

During her years in Red Oak she was an active volunteer in church and community activities such as the Good Samaritan Nursing Home and Church Women United.

Myrle Ward was widely honored for her outstanding service. She received awards as the Outstanding Alumna at Culver-Stockton University (1963); volunteer of the year, Iowa Health Care Association (1981);30 year plaque from the American Cancer Society in 1985; and in 1988 she received the Governor's Award for her participation in the adult literacy program.

Ward continued to travel widely during these years, to South America, to the Far East, Australia and New Zealand in 1970, and to Alaska in 1976.

Ward died in Red Oak on April 28, 1992, of leukemia.

Content Description

This collection focuses primarily on Ward's missionary experience, especially her service in the Belgian Congo during the 1930s and 1940s. The two five-year diaries and most of the correspondence, as well as many photographs, are from these years in Africa.

A book describing these years, In the Footsteps of the Elephant, was privately published in 1992. It contains three chapters. One is a thirty-nine day diary of a journey in Africa; another contains excerpts from letters to her family and friends, the originals of which are included in this collection; and the third chapter is a report about the educational program in the Belgian Congo, a paper she submitted for a summer school course at the University of Colorado in 1945.

Biographical information, vital papers, photographic portraits and snapshots of Ward, as well as genealogical information and family photographs comprise the remainder of the collection.

Artifacts from Africa have been given to Culver-Stockton University in Canton, Missouri along with black and white photos of her missionary work. Her large collection of color slides of Africa and the photo albums of her travels have been given to Red Oak Community Media Center.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Browse by Series:


This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.

Personal Names:
Ward, Myrle Olive, 1897-1992

20th century

Voyages and travels
Women in education
Women in church work


Geographic Names:
Democratic Republic of the Congo (Nation)

Genre/Form of Materials:
Personal papers
Cultural artifacts
Slides (photographs)
Photograph albums
Autograph albums

Teachers and Teaching