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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Ruth Laughlin papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1956-1997
Creator: Laughlin, Ruth (1954-1986)
Extent: 3.35 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0185
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Social activist and writer.

Access: The papers are open for research.

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

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 264) were donated by Lois and Don Laughlin in 1999.

Preferred Citation: Ruth Laughlin 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

Ruth Laughlin, an advocate for social justice, was born on July 25, 1954, in Iowa City, Iowa. Laughlin attended public elementary schools and attended high school at the Scattergood Friends School in West Branch, Iowa, from which she graduated in 1972. As a young adult, Laughlin worked as an apple-picker with the Young Friends of North America and was a member of Amnesty International. Laughlin moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1978. In the summer of 1983 Laughlin married Ben Kazina, an African immigrant. Kazina returned to Africa and was killed in a café bombing approximately three years after their marriage.

Laughlin completed her undergraduate education in 1984 by earning a B.A. summa cum laude in urban studies from Temple University. While in Philadelphia, Laughlin also devoted her time and intellect to many advocacy projects: she lived in cooperative housing sponsored by the Movement for a New Society (MNS), contributed to and helped produce the COMMUNITY activist newsletter, and was employed by the Quaker publication Friends Journal. Laughlin also participated in organizations such as the Coalition on the Utility Crisis and the Workers' Rights Law Project. Laughlin crafted a diverse advocacy that included resistance to class-, gender-, and race-based oppressions and participation in anti-nuclear organizations and the peace movement. Ruth Laughlin was raped and murdered in her apartment in Philadelphia on May 29, 1986.

The Ruth Laughlin papers date from 1956 to 1997 and measure 3.35 linear feet.  The papers are arranged in thirteen series: Personal Documents, Education, Religion, Personal Correspondence, Community, Financial Accounts, Employment, Diaries, Death, Tafataono P. Mahoso, Political and religious essays and articles, Poetry, and Photographs.  As Ruth's mother Lois Laughlin writes in the Introduction to the Diaries, the material  in this collection tells "the feelings of a young woman of the turbulent mid-years of th[e] twentieth century when the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, and the feminist movement had massive impact on the behavior and attitudes of just about everybody and every institution" of American society.

The Personal Documents (1965-1985) include Laughlin's passport, birth certificate, eye donation card, and 1981 calendar.

The Education series (1960-1985) includes grade reports, teacher assessments of Laughlin, and Laughlin's poetry and other writings.  Laughlin's concern with and efforts to attain the ideal feminine body are evidenced in the earliest writings of this series.  Also included in the Education series are Laughlin's college notes and writings concerning her formal study of Marxism and her creative writing.

The Religion series (1964-1982) concerns primarily the Young Friends of North America.  This material demonstrates Laughlin's  growing network of friends, some of whom she met while working with the apple picking crews in Ohio.  The correspondence reflects Laughlin's desire and attempts to establish intimate relationships.

The Personal Correspondence series (1971-1986) includes four subseries: Family, Friends, Life Center and Movement for a New Society, and Political Action.  The correspondence for the Family series is arranged chronologically by Incoming and Outgoing categories. 

The Friends series is arranged alphabetically by friend, with incoming and outgoing correspondence together in the same folder.   Of particular interest may be Laughlin's correspondence with friends Brigitta Jecko and Thilo Weichert, whose communications discuss the international peace and anti-nuclear movements.  George Clayton was a prison inmate with whom Laughlin corresponded. Throughout the Family and Friends subseries Laughlin's interest in social justice and her attempts to set and achieve personal goals in terms of education, personal relationships, and self-awareness are all evidenced.  

Together with the material in the Diaries series, Laughlin's correspondence indicates her constant introspection concerning her need to establish a value system.  Laughlin cohabited with Tafataona P. Mahoso, and their correspondence is included within the Friends subseries; Mahoso's correspondence with Laughlin's mother Lois subsequent to Laughlin's murder is held in the Death series.

Laughlin was briefly married to Ben Kazina, an African immigrant; his cards to her are included in the Friends subseries; her poem written upon his murder is in the Poetry series. The Political Action subseries of the Personal Correspondence series includes material concerning the United States' intervention in El Salvador, coffee plantation workers in Nicaragua, and Laughlin's refusal to pay income tax.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: PERSONAL DOCUMENTS
Series 2: EDUCATION
Series 3: RELIGION
Series 4: PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE
Series 5: COMMUNITY
Series 6: FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS
Series 7: EMPLOYMENT
Series 8: DIARIES
Series 9: DEATH
Series 10: TAFATAONA P. MAHOSO
Series 11: POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
Series 12: POETRY
Series 13: PHOTOGRAPHS

  • Series 1: PERSONAL DOCUMENTS
  • Box 1:
  • General - 1965-1985
  • Series 2: EDUCATION
  • Box 1:
  • Grades 1-9, undated
  • Grades 1-9 - 1960-1968
  • Scattergood Friends High School, West Branch, Iowa - 1972-1986
  • Scattergood Friends High School, West Branch, Iowa - 1969-1972
  • Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa - 1972
  • University of Iowa - 1973-1978
  • Temple University - 1980-1982
  • Temple University - 1981-1982
  • Temple University - 1983-1985
  • Series 3: RELIGION
  • Box 2:
  • Writings and New Testament - 1964-1982
  • Young Friends of North America - 1972-1977
  • Series 4: PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE
  • Box 2:
  • Family - Incoming - 1972-1975
  • Family - Incoming - 1978-1979
  • Family - Incoming - 1980
  • Family - Incoming - 1981
  • Family - Incoming - 1982-1983
  • Family - Incoming - 1984
  • Family - Incoming - 1985-1986
  • Box 3:
  • Family - Outgoing - 1970-1977
  • Family - Outgoing - 1978-1980
  • Family - Outgoing - 1981-1986
  • High school friends - 1971-1980
  • Iowa City Meeting House roommates - 1976-1985
  • Adams, Joe - 1981-1982
  • Boardman, Ben - 1974-1976
  • Clayton, George - 1979-1984
  • Collins, Julius, undated
  • Durbin, Mike - 1973-1974
  • Earles, Ash - 1979
  • Friedkin, Steve - 1978-1979
  • Gallagher, Steve - 1981-1982
  • Hughes, John - 1978
  • Huwiler, Kurt - 1980-1981
  • Jecko, Brigitta - 1980-1986
  • Box 4:
  • Kazina, Ben - 1984
  • Lapon, Chris - 1982-1984
  • M, Hannah - 1979
  • McAndrews, Jamie - 1978-1980
  • Mosquera, Chris - 1976
  • Perez, Brian - 1977
  • Ruskin, Bob - 1981-1982
  • Shalita, Geoffrey - 1984
  • Schlesinger, Lila - 1979-1984
  • Taussig, Marilee - 1980-1985
  • Tenneriello, Carol and Ascenzi, John - 1983-1985
  • Weichert, Thilo - 1979-1984
  • Zangger, Ursula - 1983-1984
  • Gail (roommate) - 1981
  • Gil, undated
  • Joe - 1981-1982
  • Lenny - 1980
  • Lenny and Doris - 1984-1985
  • Simon - 1984
  • Miscellaneous - 1981-1986
  • Life Center and Movement for a New Society - 1978-1983
  • Political Action - 1979-1984
  • Series 5: COMMUNITY
  • Box 4:
  • Writings - 1981
  • Series 6: FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS
  • Box 4:
  • General - 1984-1985
  • Series 7: EMPLOYMENT
  • Box 5:
  • Assessments and resumes - 1984
  • Series 8: DIARIES
  • Box 5:
  • Introduction, Index, and Excerpts - 1986-1987
    [by Lois Laughlin]
  • Chronological - 1969-1974
  • Chronological - 1970-1971
  • Chronological - 1974
  • Chronological - 1974-1975
  • Chronological - 1974-1976
  • Chronological - 1975-1976
  • Chronological - 1976-1977
  • Chronological - 1977-1978
  • Box 6:
  • Chronological - 1978
  • Chronological - 1978-1979
  • Chronological - 1979
  • Chronological - 1979-1980
  • Chronological - 1980
  • Chronological - 1980-1981
  • Box 7:
  • Chronological - 1981-1982
  • Chronological - 1982-1983
  • Chronological - 1983-1984
  • Chronological - 1985
  • Box 8:
  • Chronological - 1986
  • Series 9: DEATH
  • Box 8:
  • Newspaper Clippings - 1986-1997
  • Memorials and Obituaries - 1986, 1989
  • Condolence Correspondence - 1986-1987
  • Series 10: TAFATAONA P. MAHOSO
  • Box 8:
  • Correspondence with Ruth Laughlin - 1980-1985
  • Correspondence with Lois Laughlin - 1986-1992
  • Resum and Writings - 1981-1985
  • Series 11: POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
  • Box 8:
  • General - 1961-1981
  • Series 12: POETRY
  • Box 8:
  • General - 1979, 1986
  • Series 13: PHOTOGRAPHS
  • Box 8:
  • Childhood - 1956-1961
  • School Pictures - 1960-1972
  • Jans Wedding - 1979
  • Christmas - 1980
  • Daves - 1981
  • Steve Gallagher - 1981
  • Family - 1979-1984
  • Philadelphia Days - 1979-1986
  • Mahoso, Tafataona and son - 1982, 1984, 1989
  • Temple University graduation - 1984
  • Slides of Ruth Laughlin