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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Ruth Scharnau papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1970-2013
Creator: Scharnau, Ruth (1933- )
Extent: 5.60 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0224
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Teacher and community activist who was a founding member of the Dubuque National Organization for Women.

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. 308) were donated by Ruth Scharnau in 1995 and succeeding years.

Preferred Citation: Ruth Scharnau 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 Ellen Cotter Scharnau, teacher and civil rights and community activist, was born in 1933 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1957 with a BS in speech therapy. She married Ralph Scharnau and they lived in DeKalb, Illinois, while he completed his PhD in history at Northern Illinois University. The Scharnaus had three children: Andrea, Keith, and Gregg. In 1970, the Scharnau family moved to Dubuque when Ralph Scharnau took a position in the history department at the University of Dubuque. Ruth Scharnau worked as a speech therapist in the Galena, Illinois, schools for many years and later worked with children who had behavioral disorders.

Ruth Scharnau was very active in her community of Dubuque, Iowa. She served on the Dubuque Human Rights Commission from 1972 to 1973, but resigned to protest the lack of resources committed to the Commission. Scharnau became involved in the women's movement in the early 1970s, and was a charter member of the Dubuque chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which was established in 1974; she served as president of Dubuque NOW in 1978. Working to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was one of Scharnau's main political activities in the 1970s and early 1980s. She was also a proponent of gay and lesbian rights, civil rights, and nuclear disarmament. She participated in the first gay rights rally in Dubuque in the fall of 1988, and attended a protest at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, in 2001. In 2002, the Dubuque branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) honored Scharnau with the Ruby Sutton award.

The Ruth Scharnau papers date from 1973 to 2013 and measure 5.6 linear feet. The papers are arranged in five series: Personal, Issues and activities, Correspondence, Photographs, and PFLAG.
Scharnau is a subject in Louise Noun's book, More Strong-Minded Women: Iowa Feminists Tell Their Stories (1992).

The Personal series (1973-1997) includes correspondence between Scharnau and Louise Noun, and a draft of Noun's chapter on Scharnau. This series also contains the obituary of Louise Herron Halliburton, an artist and activist from the Dubuque area with whom Scharnau was friends.

The Issues and activities series (1973-2009) is arranged alphabetically and contains many documents such as meeting minutes, notes by Scharnau, brochures, general information, newspaper clippings, flyers, and newsletters related to Scharnau's involvement with local groups and issues. Also included are many published letters to the editor written by Scharnau, and some newspaper clippings include photos of, or quotes from, Scharnau.

The focus of Scharnau's activities was largely local. For instance, the environmental folder contains information on protests against large hog confinements in eastern Iowa. The gay and lesbian rights folder includes a letter Scharnau wrote to the proprietor of a local restaurant; Scharnau tells him that she and her husband will never patronize his restaurant again because of the comments he made to her about gay people in San Francisco when she last dined at his establishment.

Scharnau was a program committee member for "Faces and Voices," an annual conference sponsored by the city of Dubuque and the Dubuque Human Rights Commission at the request of concerned citizens following racial violence and Ku Klux Klan (KKK) activities in Dubuque in the early 1990s; both the "Faces and Voices" and the human relations conference folders relate to Scharnau's participation in organizing this annual conference. The folder on sex discrimination inclues a speech Scharnau gave when she was a member of the Human Rights Commission. The September 11, 2001 folder consists mainly of email exchanges among family member on the significance of that day's events. Additionally, Scharnau was elected to Dubuque's Planned Parenthood board in 2008. The materials from this part of the series are mostly newspaper articles related to Planned Parenthood's activity in Dubuque and correspondence between board members.

The Correspondence series (1973-2009) is organized into general, personal, and political correspondence, although the personal and political intersect a great deal. The general correspondence consists of letters to and from Scharnau concerning the issues with which she was involved and some correspondence she wrote or received as an officer in Dubuque NOW and the Dubuque Human Rights Commission. Personal correspondence includes the letters and cards exchanged with her immediate and extended family. The political correspondence consists of letters to and from local, state, and national legislators concerning issues of importance to Scharnau.

The Photograph series (c. 1970) consists of photos taken on a visit to PFLAG headquarters and at a national ERA rally in Springfield, Illinois. Several photos depict women and men marching with large banners saying, "Iowans for ERA."

The PFLAG series records the creation of the Dubuque's PFLAG chapter. Founded in 1972, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is a national organization "committed to advancing equality and societal acceptance of LGBT people through its threefold mission of support, education and advocacy" ("About" pflag.org). Ruth Scharnau and Cathy Bartels applied for incorporation in February of 1999 thereby officially creating a PFLAG chapter in Dubuque. This chapter expanded to include the tristate area. Scharnau remained active in the chapter through 2007. The chapter produced several newsletters and actively participated in national campaigns like "From our House to the Schoolhouse." This series contains the 1997-2002 PFLAG manual, correspondence, grant application record, and other items of interest.
National Organization for Women, Dubuque Chapter records (IWA).

Louise Rosenfield Noun papers (IWA): Included are the tapes and transcript of Noun's interview with Scharnau for the book More Strong-Minded Women.

Sister Gwen Hennessey papers (IWA): Peace activist from Dubuque who participated in civil disobedience at the School of Americas Watch; her papers include two videos about the School of the Americas.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: PERSONAL
Series 2: ISSUES AND ACTIVITIES
Series 3: CORRESPONDENCE
Series 4: PHOTOGRAPHS
Series 5: PFLAG

  • Series 1: PERSONAL
  • Box 1:
  • Education - 1989
  • Halliburton, Louise Herron - 1991
  • Newspaper clippings - 1973, 1994, 2011
  • Retirement - 1993-1994
  • TeacherĀ“s retirement and certification - 1989-1995
  • Resume and educational stuff - 1989-1997
  • More Strong-Minded Women - 1990-1993
  • Series 2: ISSUES AND ACTIVITIES
  • Box 1:
  • Adult Children of Alchoholics - undated
  • Advertisement for U.I Hospitals - 1999
  • AIDS Coalition - 2003
  • Alliance for the Mentally Ill - 1987-1992
  • Anytown, Iowa - 1992 and undated
  • Articles of interest - 1979-2004
  • Arts - 1997-2004
  • ArtStart - 2000-2001
  • Audubon - 2002
  • Audubon Adventures - 2001- 2004
  • Big Brothers/Big Sisters - 1997-2005
  • Bone Marrow donor drives - 1997-2001
  • Box 2:
  • Civil rights - 1986-1993 and undated
  • Condo challenge - 2003-2004
  • "Faces and Voices" - 2002 (photos)
  • Emma Goldman Clinic - 1971
  • Environmental concerns - 1995-2002
  • Environmental concerns - 2003-2009
  • Environmental concerns/ 1000 Friends of Iowa - 1998-2000
  • Environmental concerns/ 1000 Friends of Iowa - 2001-2002
  • Environmental concerns/ 1000 Friends of Iowa - 2001-2002
  • Box 3:
  • Gay and lesbian rights - 1987-2009
  • Human relations conference - 1998-2001
  • Human Rights, Affirmative Action, Dubuque - 1973-1974
  • Iowa legislature - 1998-2000
  • Peace - 2000-2008
  • Peace activities - 1984-2003
  • Nuclear disarmanent - 1983-1987
  • Political activities, Democratic party - 1985-1990
  • Political activities, Dubuque Area Women's Political Caucus - 1973-1975
  • Political activities, Election registration - 1984
  • Political activities, Senator Roger Jepsen, newspaper clippings - 1980-1984
  • Political activities, Senator Roger Jepsen, radio interview - undated [AC356]
  • Political activities, Precinct 7, captain - 2004
  • Political activities, Political campaigns - 2002-2007
  • Box 4:
  • Political activities, Eric Tabor campaign - 1990
  • Political activities, Vote America Walk Across Iowa - 1984
  • Political activities, Karla Braig for City Council - 2005
  • Political activities, Karla Braig for City Council - 2005
  • Racial bias - 1976-1990
  • September 11 - 2001
  • School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) - 2002
  • Social justice issues - 1995-2002
  • Social justice issues - 1998-2008
  • Volunteer activities - 2000-2002
  • Box 5:
  • Women's issues, International Women's Year - 1977
  • Women's issues, National Organization for Women (NOW) - 1973-1974
  • Women's issues, National Organization for Women (NOW) - 1974-1975
  • Women's issues, National Organization for Women (NOW) - 1974-1975
  • Women's issues, National Organization for Women (NOW) - 1975
  • Women's issues, National Organization for Women (NOW) - 1976
  • Women's issues, National Organization for Women, Structure and Organization undated
  • Women's issues, National Organization for Women letters - 1976-1980
  • Women's issues, Pornography - 1984 and undated
  • Women's issues, Miscellaneous - 1974-2002
  • Box 6:
  • Women's issues, Rape - 1974-1986
  • Women's issues, Rape - 1974-1978
  • Women's issues, Rape case - 1975
  • Women's issues, Sex discrimination - 1973 and undated
  • Women's issues, Sex discrimination in Schools - 1972-1978
  • Women's issues, Sexism in education - 1977-1983
  • Wome's issues, Women and Gender Historians Midwest Conference Panel - 2010
  • Planned Parenthood - 1991-2007
  • Planned Parenthood - 2008
  • Planned Parenthood - 2009
  • Planned Parenthood - 2010-2012
  • Series 3: CORRESPONDENCE
  • Box 7:
  • General - 1973-1995
  • Personal - 1970s
  • Personal - 1981-1984
  • Personal - 1985-1988
  • Personal - 1990-1997
  • Personal, Casual friends - 1995-2005
  • Personal, Extended family - 1991-2005
  • Box 8:
  • Personal, Extended family - 1991-2005
  • Personal, Extended family - 1991-2005
  • Personal, Extended family - 1991-2005
  • Personal, Extended family - 1999-2005
  • Personal, Extended family - 2004-2007
  • Personal, Extended family - 2007-2009
  • Box 9:
  • Personal, Extended family - 2009-2011
  • Personal, Extended family - 1979-1988
  • Personal, Extended family - 1979-1988
  • Personal, Family letters - 1990-1994
  • Personal, Feminist friends - 1991-2005
  • Box 10:
  • Personal, Feminist friends - 1991-2005
  • Personal, Feminist friends - 1984-2005
  • Personal, Feminist friends - 2008-2010
  • Personal, Feminist friends - 2011-2013
  • Personal, Ireland and Germany - 1997-2001
  • Box 11:
  • Political - 1973-1995
  • Political, legislators - 1995-2000
  • Political, Hennessey sisters - 2001
  • Political, elected officials - 2001-2003
  • Political, legislators - 2004-2005
  • Political, legislators - 2005-2007
  • Political, legislators - 2009-2012
  • Series 4: PHOTOGRAPHS
  • Box 12:
  • Equal Rights Amendment - 1970
  • More Strong-Minded Women, Peace Activities - 1983-2003
  • PFLAG
  • Photos and Articles returned from Louise Noun
  • Series 5: PFLAG
  • Box 13:
  • PFLAG manual - 1997-2002
  • PFLAG manual - 1997-2002
  • PFLAG manual - 1997-2002
  • PFLAG manual - 1997-2002
  • PFLAG manual - 1997-2002
  • PFLAG correspondence - 1999-2007
  • PFLAG correspondence - 1999-2007
  • PFLAG correspondence - 1999-2007
  • Box 14:
  • PFLAG minutes and agendas - 2001-2007
  • PFLAG newsletters - 2000-2004
  • PFLAG mailing list - 2003-2005
  • PFLAG items of interest - 1998-2006
  • PFLAG grant - 2003-2004
  • PFLAG From our House to the Schoolhouse - 2000-2006
  • PFLAG stationery and newsletter heading
  • Human Rights Commission GLBT Sub-committee - 2003-2004