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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Sonja Larsen papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1977-1982
Creator: Larsen, Sonja (1941- )
Extent: 1.00 linear foot.
Collection Number: IWA0439
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Republican representative in the Iowa legislature who ran for mayor of Ottumwa in 1981.

Alternate Extent Statement: One audiocassette [AC883]; Photographs in box 3.

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.645) were donated by Sonja Larsen in 1999.

Preferred Citation: Sonja Larsen 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

Sonja Leistad Larsen, state representative from 1979-1980, board member of the Iowa League of Women Voters and mayoral candidate for the city of Ottumwa, was born in 1941 to Einar and Marie Leistad in Elk Horn, Iowa. Sonja Leistad graduated from Elk Horn- Kimballton Schools in 1959. In 1960, she married Richard Larsen, and the couple moved to Ottumwa in 1968. The Larsens had three children.

Larsen worked as a real estate agent from 1973-1980. She served on the Ottumwa Board of Realtors, where she became active in lobbying efforts through the Legislative Action committee. As a member of the Ottumwa Chamber of Commerce, Larsen served on the urban-rural development committee, chairing special projects such as Ag Day. Larsen also became the first president of the Ottumwa League of Women Voters. Other community activities include serving as first president of the Ottumwa Girls Softball League, president of the Ottumwa Newcomers Club, executive board member of the Iowa Junior Miss Development Corporation, program director for the YMCA, and volunteering with the United Way , Welcome Wagon, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Larsen was recruited to run for office by Governor Robert Ray. Her previous political experience was limited to serving as a delegate at county, district and state Republican conventions. In 1979, Larsen was elected by a small margin to represent the 89th district of Iowa, a district heavily dominated by Democrats. During her tenure as a Republican representative in the state legislature, Larsen distinguished herself as a staunch supporter of lower state taxes. Larsen sponsored bills designed to reimburse elderly Iowans for property taxes, develop veteran exemptions from property taxes, push for the adoption of a balanced budget amendment to the U. S. constitution, establish group insurance for families of public employees, reduce mobile home taxes for the elderly, and require private agencies receiving state grants or contracts to submit to an audit prior to receipt of those funds. She also supported the 1979 "indexed" income tax adjustment that was designed to be responsive to inflation rates, a bill to increase the pay of elected officials, efforts to increase exemptions from the state inheritance tax, and a reduction in unemployment compensation. Larsen supported efforts to put the Equal Rights Amendment on the ballot and was pro-choice, despite her identity as a loyal Republican.

In 1981, Larsen campaigned unsuccessfully for mayor of Ottumwa . In 1984, Larsen received a grant for an extensive oral history project to be conducted for the Danish Immigrant Museum in Elk Horn entitled, "The Danish Immigrant Experience." She remained active in politics, leading Jim Leach's successful Congressional campaign in Iowa and heading his constituent office.

The Sonja Larsen papers date from 1977 to 1982 and measure 1 linear foot. The papers are arranged in five series: Political campaigns, Political career, Post-political career, Photographs, and Artifacts.

The Political campaigns series comprises Larsen's campaigns for state representative andher campaign for mayor of Ottumwa, dating from1977-1981. This series includes campaign analysis, brochures and literature, correspondence, campaign finance documents, the state Republican campaign handbook, newspaper clippings, documents relatingto publicity efforts, speeches, and lists of campaign volunteers and potentialdonors.

The Political career series spans Larsen's tenure as an elected official, dating from1977-1982. This series includes literature relating to Larsen's position on proposed legislation, particularlyon issues such as abortion, education, creationism, the ERA, and conservationof natural resources. The series also comprises constituent contact records, the text of proposed legislation forwhich Larsen was a sponsor, a legislative handbook, newsletters, newspaper clippings, press releases and speeches.

The Post-political career series dates from 1981-1982 and includes correspondence relating to Larsen's electoral defeat in 1980 and continued involvement in politics through her editorship of the Wapello County Republican News, as well as newspaper clippings.

The Photographs series dates from the late 1970s and consists primarilyof campaign photographs and shots of Larsen at speaking engagements.

The Artifacts series includes campaign materials, nametags, and a guestbook from a 1978 fundraiser.
A Political Dialogue: Iowa's Women Legislators (IWA):  This collection includes the transcript of a 1989 oral history interview with Sonja Larsen.

Browse by Series:

  • Box 1:
  • Analysis - 1980
  • Brochures, undated
  • Campaign plan - 1980
  • Correspondence - 1978
  • Correspondence - 1980
  • Finances - 1978, 1980-1981
  • Handbook - 1979-1980
  • Newspaper clippings - 1981
  • Official campaign documents - 1977-1981
  • Publicity - 1977-1978
  • Speeches, undated
  • Supporters - 1978, 1980
  • Box 1:
  • Abortion - 1978-1979
  • Bike paths - 1979
  • Constituents - 1979-1980
  • Box 2:
  • Correspondence - 1977-1979
  • Correspondence - 1980
  • Creationism - 1977-1979
  • Education - 1978-1979
  • Equal Rights Amendment - 1976, 1979-1980
  • House joint subcommittee on forestry - 1974, 1978-1980
  • House Republican news - 1981
  • Iowa coal utilization advisory committee - 1979-1981
  • League of Women Voters - 1979-1981
  • League of Women Voters - 1982
  • Legislation - 1979-1980
  • Legislative handbook - 1972, 1979
  • Miscellaneous, undated
  • Newsletters - 1980-1981
  • Newspaper clippings - 1978
  • Newspaper clippings - 1979
  • Newspaper clippings - 1980
  • Box 3:
  • Newspaper clippings, undated
  • Pilot project - 1979-1980
  • Pre-audit bill - 1979
  • Press releases - 1980
  • Speeches - 1980
  • Union - 1976, 1980
  • Box 3:
  • Correspondence - 1981
  • Newspaper clippings - 1981-1982
  • Series 4: PHOTOGRAPHS
  • Box 3:
  • Circa late 1970s - 1976-1979
  • Series 5: ARTIFACTS
  • Box 3:
  • Bumper stickers: "Iowa coal equals good jobs"
  • Bumper stickers: "Elect Sonja Larsen"
  • Campaign pin and nametags
  • Box 4:
  • Childs campaign t-shirt
  • Felt campaign flag
  • Guest book - 1978-1980