Mary Arlene Cruikshank Grefe, educator, social activist, politician, and businesswoman, was born on November 7, 1922 to Arthur Cruikshank and Rena Cruikshank. The Cruikshanks had been farmers in the Algona area since 1905, and that is where Grefe spent her childhood. Grefe graduated from Algona High School in June 1939, and attended Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. She graduated from Morningside with a B.A. in English and Speech in January 1943.
Grefe began her lifelong commitment to education soon after graduation. Over the next few years she taught high school and also at a junior college. Grefe served twelve years on the Des Moines school board, twice as its president. She later became involved with adult education. In 1972, President Richard Nixon appointed Grefe as his personal representative to the UNESCO World Conference on Adult Education in Tokyo, Japan. She was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the National Advisory Council on Adult Education beginning in 1974, and was its chair in 1976. Grefe also received a Mid-Continent Federal Regional Council Award for Education in 1975. Grefe continued her commitment to adult education through her involvement in the Educational Foundation of the American Association of University Women. Grefe was national president of the AAUW from 1979 to 1981, as well as the AAUW Educational Foundation president.
Grefe was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1980. Grefe has published articles relating to adult education, leadership techniques and the women's movement, as well as a leadership manual with Claire Fulcher titled Techniques for Organizational Effectiveness (1973). Grefe founded LEAD Associates, Ltd., in Des Moines, Iowa, to give instruction on improving the quality of leadership in individuals as well as organizations.
Grefe has long been active in the women's movement. She represented the United States as a delegate to international meetings on numerous occasions, including the United Nations Mid-Decade Conference for Women in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1980, the United Nations Decade Conference for Women in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985, and the Commission on the Status of Women in Vienna, Austria in 1988. Grefe visited China as a guest of the All China Women's Federation in November of 1986.
The Mary Grefe papers date from 1943 to 1997 and measure 1.5 linear feet. The papers are arranged in nine series: Biographical, Correspondence, Conferences, Organizational Involvement and Activism, Politics, Rena Cruikshank papers, Travels, Writings, and Photographs.
The Biographical series (1943-1995 and undated) contains general information about Mary Grefe's life. The Honors subseries contains certificates of appreciation and awards from businesses, colleges and other organizations, as well as a copy of her Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the State University of New York. The Newspaper articles subseries contains a variety of clippings ranging in topic from Grefe's involvement in the American Association of University Women and national politics, to leadership and feminist issues. Before she became involved in the AAUW and political issues, Grefe spent several years as a high school and junior college teacher. Contracts, certificates and letters regarding this time are contained in the Teaching experience subseries.
The Correspondence series (1947-1997 and undated) contains personal as well as business letters, including an invitation from Mrs. George Bush to a tea at the White House. Some correspondence pertaining to a specific subject or activities can be found in other series. For example, letters from Grefe to her husband while she was on to trip to China as a guest of the All China Women's Federation are included in the Travels series.
The Conferences series (1972-1993) contains materials from and pertaining to international conferences that Grefe attended. The Regional Conference on International Adult Education subseries contains the drafts in addition to the official program from that mini-conference in Ames, Iowa. The United Nations Decade Conference for Women subseries contains conference materials, newspaper articles, a student research paper on that event, and materials from a national follow-up summit in the United States called "Equality by 2000." Grefe also attended the UNESCO Third World Conference on Adult Education in Tokyo, Japan, as an advisor to the United States delegation; the letters she wrote to her husband while she was in Tokyo document Grefe's thoughts and reactions to that conference.
The Organizational Involvement and Activism series (1955-1995 and undated) concerns Grefe's participation in various educational organizations. Adult Education documents Grefe's support of Adult Education through her involvement in the International Council for Adult Education and the National Advisory Council on Adult Education. The Tinker vs. Des Moines correspondence in the School Board subseries relates to the book Be the Judge, Be the Jury: Tinker vs. Des Moines, Student Rights on Trial by Doreen Rappaport, which is shelved in the printed works collection. Grefe was a member of the Des Moines school board when this Vietnam War protest took place.
The Politics series (1976-1989) contains materials from Grefe's involvement in the Republican Party at the state and national levels. The Iowa subseries consists of documents from Grefe's campaign for the Iowa House. The National subseries includes such items as correspondence from President and Mrs. George Bush and an invitation to the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan.
The Rena Cruikshank series (1977, 1990) contains the papers of Grefe's mother. Cruikshank organized the "Four Corners' Mothers' and Daughters' Club" in Algona and was its first president from 1915-1917. This series contains a paper that Cruikshank presented to the club at the age of eighty-six, and also a program from one of its meetings.
Grefe visited China in 1986, and this journey is documented in the Travels series (1983-1988). The diary is undated, but presumably from that trip and contains many descriptions and impressions of what Grefe encountered while visiting schools, fabric mills, and research facilities.
The Writings series (1966-1995) contains some Published articles, but mostly Speeches that Grefe has presented. The speeches are organized by topic (e.g., volunteering, women's issues, adult education) or by the organization to which they were presented.
The Photographs series (1960-1989) contains photographs mainly from public functions that Grefe attended such as conferences, meetings, and political gatherings, and include photographs of Grefe with President George Bush and other politicians.
Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Box 5
Artifacts in Box 2
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. 265) were donated by Mary Grefe in 1995.
Preferred Citation: Mary Grefe papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.