Guide to the Proteus Club (Des Moines) records

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1896-2009
Creator: Proteus Club (Des Moines, Iowa)
Extent: 2.50 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0096
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Women's study club organized in 1896 by college graduates for their intellectual improvement.

Administrative Information

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in box 6.

Access: The records are open for research.

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

Acquisition: The records (donor no. 156) were donated by the Proteus Club, Des Moines, Iowa in 1993, 1997, and 2009.

Preferred Citation: Proteus Club (Des Moines) records, 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

In October of 1896, seven young women, having graduated from college and finished touring Europe, founded the Proteus Club. In Greek mythology Proteus was a learned sage with knowledge of all things past, present, and future. The object of this newly formed club was intellectual improvement. A letter, written in 1937 by Louise Elbert Everett, founding member, recalls the small group of women who "....met together and unhesitantly decided, (to) have a study club....swathed in many underpinnings, long skirts, high-boned collars, lots of hair, hour-glass figures,...we had a beautiful and sublime trust in God, our country, our state, our city, our families, ourselves." The membership soon grew to 25. In 1922 the first delegates were appointed to the city and State Federation of Women's Clubs.

Members take turns preparing papers to be read at the club's meetings. A wide range of topics has been dealt with over the years, including: "Is co-education desirable?", "Should a married woman hold a job?", the League of Nations, American diplomacy, planning and zoning in Des Moines, Golda Meir, Iowa wetlands, Gorbachev, Native Americans, computers and alcoholism.

One of the remarkable characteristics of Proteus is longevity, both in the members and the club itself. Many members have remained active until their deaths, some for 70 years or more. In 1993 the club had 58 members, the longest active member having joined in 1938.

Noteworthy projects of the club include publishing a cook book to raise funds for an art gallery in 1900, supporting two war orphans in France and Belgium during the first world war, buying and selling towels made by the blind, and donating materials to the Des Moines Art Center.

Content Description

The Proteus Club records measure 2.5 linear feet and date from 1896 to 2009. The records are arranged in four series: Administrative files, Programs, Photographs, and Projects.

The first series, Administrative files (1897-1996), includes the constitution, by-laws, and articles of incorporation; correspondence (including one letter from the Woman's Peace Party and one letter from the Woman's Section of the Navy League of the United States); financial reports; and a history written in 1993 by Mrs. Julian (Win) Bruner. A nearly complete set of minutes, dating from 1897-1911 and 1917-1986 forms the core of this series.

Programs (1900-2009) are arranged in three sub-series: Papers presented at meetings, Special events and celebrations, and Program yearbooks. Papers, dating primarily from the 1970s to the 2000s, are arranged chronologically. A list of authors and titles is appended. In 1913 the club presented a skit that parodied the British suffragettes, entitled "The Militant Husbandette." A booklet containing photographs and text from the performance is included in the special events and celebrations sub-series. The club's twentieth (1917) through the seventy-fifth (1971) anniversaries are represented by various speeches, skits, newspaper clippings, and papers. Program yearbooks contain lists of the club's officers, members, and papers presented.

Photographs (1937, 1980, 1996, 2003) consist of two group photos from 1937 showing members wearing clothing from the early 1800s, a 1980 photograph, photographs from the Centennial Celebration meeting on October 7, 1996, and a 2003 group photo.

The Projects series contains a recipe box and cards dating from 1909 and the Proteus Club cookbook from 1900. Both of these were used as fund raisers.

Detailed Description of the Collection

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This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.

Corporate Names:
Proteus Club (Des Moines, Iowa)

20th century

Women and war
Intellectual life
World War, 1914-1918
Social participation
Women in charitable work

College graduates

Geographic Names:
United States -- Iowa -- Des Moines

Genre/Form of Materials:
Administrative records

Nineteenth Century Women
Women and War
Women's Clubs and Organizations