Guide to the Marta Werner papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1892-1989
Creator: Werner, Marta (1906-1989)
Extent: 5.00 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0361
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Native of Mexico who came to Fort Madison, Iowa in 1914. Her community activism centered on the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.

Administrative Information

Alternate Extent Statement: Artifacts in plaque case

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. 504) were donated by Maggie Werner-Washburne in 1998.

Preferred Citation: Marta Werner 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

Prison reformer and community activist Marta Lucia Brown Werner was born in 1906 in Hermosillo, Mexico, to Mexican national Maria (Concha) Concepcion Morales and miner Frank Russell Brown, a U.S. citizen. The Browns left Mexico during the nationalist uprising led by Pancho Villa and moved to Fort Madison, Iowa, in 1914. Marta Brown graduated from Fort Madison High School in 1924 and received her bachelor's degree in mathematics from Webster College in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928. Following graduation, she worked as a sales representative for Sheaffer Pen Company.

Marta Brown married Dr. Harold Theodore Werner in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, New York, in 1931. The couple settled in Fort Madison, Iowa, and raised six children: Harold Theodore, Jr. (Ted), Lucia Dean (Deana), Elizabeth (Libby), Adelaide, Maria, and Margaret (Maggie). Harold Werner died in 1968.

Following her husband's death, Marta Werner became involved in community service in Fort Madison. Werner's major volunteer activity was her work at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. She served as a lay minister for prisoners and assisted prison groups such as prison branches of the NAACP and Alcoholics Anonymous with meetings and programs. In addition, Werner personally corresponded with dozens of prisoners and their families between 1973 and 1989. For her tireless work at the penitentiary she was awarded the State of Iowa Volunteer Service Award in 1981. Werner ran for city mayor in 1973 and campaigned against the proposed rerouting of Highway 61 through Fort Madison's minority neighborhoods. Marta Werner remained active in her volunteer activities until she contracted bone cancer in June of 1988. She died in 1989.

Content Description

The Marta Werner papers date from 1892 to 1989 and measure 5 linear feet. The papers are arranged in seven series: Personal, Family, Community activities, Iowa State Penitentiary, Newspaper clippings, Photographs, and Artifacts.

The Personal series (1915-1989) contains annotated yearbooks from Werner's years at Webster College, travel receipts and newspaper articles from her work at the Sheaffer Pen Company, and letters to the editor Werner composed regarding Fort Madison community issues. Also included is Marta Werner's personal correspondence, including dated letters from family and friends. The bulk of the personal correspondence from 1927 to 1931 contains dated courtship letters from Marta Werner's husband, Harold Werner.

The Family series (1953-1968) includes articles about Werner's brother, Bill Brown, who died in combat during World War II, and undated correspondence and marriage programs from Werner's children and grandchildren. Newspaper clippings in this series document Werner's children, parents, and her grandmother, Maria Brown. A book about Maria Brown, Grandmother Brown's Hundred Years, completes the series. Marta Werner is mentioned on page 286 of the book as a child in Mexico.

The Community activities series (1892-1990) includes newspaper clippings documenting the community controversy over Highway 61 and Werner's research to gain admittance to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Papers related to Werner's work as a board member of the Southeast Iowa Homemaker Health Aide Service complete the series.

The Iowa State Penitentiary series (1973-1989) contains correspondence between Werner and prisoners both during and after incarceration; letters written by Werner to the parole board on behalf of prisoners; meeting minutes, programs, publications, and correspondence from prisoner organizations; albums Werner compiled containing correspondence, programs, photos, and newspaper clippings from her work at the institution; and complaint correspondence from prisoners to businesses. The albums have been disbound and placed into archival folders.

The bulk of the clippings in the Newspaper clippings series (1970-1989) are articles from the Des Moines Register or Ft. Madison Evening Democrat about the Iowa State Penitentiary that document prison issues such as administrative changes, changes in parole programs, specific prisoners' cases, sexual abuse among prisoners, and escapes and disturbances at the prison. Articles related to Catholic Workers and women in Iowa complete the series.

The Photographs series include snapshots of Werner's children and grandchildren, snapshots of prisoners, and photographs of Werner accepting awards.

Two plaques comprise the Artifacts series: an award Werner received in 1981 from the state of Iowa in recognition of her work at the Iowa State Penitentiary and a 1988 award from a prisoner Alcoholics Anonymous group.

A book about Werner's paternal grandmother, Maria Brown, is shelved in the printed works collection of the Iowa Women's Archives:

Grandmother Brown's Hundred Years, 1827-1927 (1929) by Harriet Connor Brown. [CT275.

Related Materials

Virginia Harper papers (IWA): Harper and Werner were friends and worked together on the Highway 61 controversy and prison issues.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Browse by Series:


This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.

Personal Names:
Werner, Marta, 1906-1989
Werner, Harold, -1968
Brown, Bill
Brown, Maria Dean Foster, 1827-1929
Brown, Harriet Connor, 1872-

Corporate Names:
Webster College
Iowa State Penitentiary at Fort Madison
Daughters of the American Revolution

20th century

Mexican American women
Family life

Community activists
Volunteers in social service

Geographic Names:
United States -- Iowa -- Fort Madison

Genre/Form of Materials:
Personal papers
Cultural artifacts

Latinas and Their Families
Nineteenth Century Women