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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Mary Vasquez Olvera papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1923-2003
Creator: Olvera, Mary Vasquez (1927-)
Extent: 1.50 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0559
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Davenport, Iowa, woman whose parents came to Iowa from Mexico in the 1910s.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in box 1.

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. 1009) were donated by Mary Olvera in 2005.

Preferred Citation: Mary Vasquez Olvera 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

Mary Vasquez Olvera was born in Fairport, Iowa, in 1927 to Jesus and Jose Vasquez Jesus (later known as Jenny) Vasquez was born in Quiroga, Michoacan, Mexico. She came to Muscatine, Iowa, with her family in approximately 1910 where she worked in a button factory as a teenager. Jesus (Jenny) Vasquez later met and married railroad worker Jose Vasquez who was born in Nahuatzen, Michoacan, Mexico. The couple moved to Nahant, just outside of Davenport, Iowa, where they lived in a converted boxcar near the railroad tracks and the city dump. They had six children, three boys and three girls. In 1938 the Vasquez family moved to the predominantly Mexican and Mexican American community of Cook's Point in Davenport, Iowa, where they purchased a houseboat.

Mary Vasquez attended Rockingham School, the old Monroe School, and Frank L. Smart Jr. High School in Davenport. At the age of sixteen she left school and began working at the Fala Company, located near the Kohr plant, where she made covers for air rifles. Her next job was at the Black Hawk Egg Company where she worked as an egg candler. Two of Mary Vasquez's brothers enlisted in the military during World War II and both died on active duty: Albert Vásquez in December 1944 and her younger brother, Ralph Vasquez, just three months later in March 1945. Following the war, when the Vasquez family decided to purchase a home in a Davenport neighborhood outside of Cook's Point, the neighbors circulated a petition in an attempt to prevent the Mexican family from moving in. However, when neighbors learned that two Vasquez sons had died during World War II, they stopped circulating the petition and the Vasquez family moved in.

In 1948 Mary Vasquez married Augustine Olvera, a machinist who worked for the Rock Island Arsenal. The couple had four children, Albert, Donna, Augustine Jr., and Mario. Following her marriage, Mary Olvera concentrated on raising the couple's children and did not return to her factory job. Mary and Augustine Olvera were both active in politics and founded a Davenport chapter of the "Viva Kennedy" club. Augustine Olvera founded the Iowa chapter of the American G. I. Forum in 1958 and Mary Olvera was active in the Ladies Auxiliary of the organization. In this capacity she was asked to entertain Rose Kennedy when Kennedy visited Davenport during John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign. As a result of their political activism, the Olveras were invited to attend the inaugurations and presidential balls of President Kennedy and President Johnson. Augustine Olvera passed away in 2005.

The Mary Vasquez Olvera papers date from 1923 to 2005 and measure 1.5 linear inches. The biographical information contains Augustine Olvera's obituary, a condolence letter from one of Albert's fellow soldiers following the death of Mary Olvera's brother, Albert Vasquez, in World War II and a copy of a baptismal certificate in Spanish. The Albert Olvera materials pertain to the work of Mary Olvera's son, Albert, with the Equal Employment Opportunity program for the Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle, Washington. The photographs include family snapshots, a color photograph of Mary Olvera at age eighteen, and a black and white photograph of Mary and Augustine Olvera and Juanita and Ernest Rodriguez with Robert Kennedy at the 1963 American G.I. Forum convention in Chicago. The photograph album contains black and white photographs of Mary Olvera's friends and family. Several of the photographs are labeled with first names and dates.
Mujeres Latinas Oral Histories (IWA): Mary Olvera oral history interview, 2006.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: GENERAL

  • Series 1: GENERAL
  • Box 1:
  • Biographical information - 1923-2005
  • Olvera, Albert - 1977-1980
  • Photographs - 1945-1995
  • Photograph album - 1950s
  • Loose photographs removed from 1950s photograph album - 1950s