Skip to content
print page header

The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Polly Ely papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1937-2008
Creator: Ely, Polly (1920-2008)
Extent: 4.20 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0829
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Peace and civil rights activist who was a longtime member of Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist in Cedar Rapids.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The Polly Ely papers (donor number 1218) were donated by Martha Goralka in 2010.

Preferred Citation: Polly Ely 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

Shirley "Polly" Mathews Ward Ely, peace and civil rights activist, was born in 1920 to Nathaniel F. and Grace Mathews Ward of Worcester, Massachusetts. After earning a degree in zoology from Mount Holyoke College in 1941 and doing graduate work at Wellesley College, she married Cedar Rapids native John M. Ely, Jr., in 1942. The couple lived in New York City before settling in Iowa.

Polly Ely worked on behalf of numerous causes. She helped to found the first Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, the Iowa Medical Aid Fund, and the Iowa City chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She protested the Vietnam War and worked with Women for Peace, was active in Iowans Against the Death Penalty and the United Nations Association, and was a lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In later years she lobbied for RESULTS, an organization dedicated to ending poverty.

A longtime member of Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist (UU) of Cedar Rapids, Polly Ely served in the following capacities over the years: congregation president, director of religious education, and UU church camp chaperone. She was also active in Prairie Star District, the UUA's regional organization. Polly Ely died of breast cancer in 2008.

The Polly Ely papers date from 1937 to 2008. The papers are arranged in ten series:  Biographical, Correspondence, Education, Organizations: General, Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, Global Cedar Rapids, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Nations, Artifacts, and Audiovisual.


The Biographical series (1937-2008) contains material from throughout Ely's life, from swim meet ribbons and items from her time at Mount Holyoke College to her obituary, including a journal and materials from her participation in various organizations. Also included are wall calendars kept by Ely over a 25-year period, as well as a weekly at-a-glance pocket calendar.


Many aspects of Ely's life are represented in the Correspondence series (1942-2008): personal and family life, church activities, and the outpouring of sympathy upon her death.  The folder of political correspondence from the 1970s contains responses to letters Polly and John Ely wrote to Iowa congressmen on such varied issues as cuts to social programs, the Indochina War, and President Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon.


The Education series (1935-2001) is largely comprised of detailed notes Ely took during for her coursework at Mount Holyoke College and beyond. Also in this series are textbooks, college events memorabilia, and alumnae reunion materials.


The Organizations: General series (1962-2005) includes material related to the American Red Cross and Women for Peace, as well as resources on arms control and disarmament, including a chronology of events during the critical cold war years of 1961 and 1962. Material concerning Ely's work with RESULTS, a citizens' lobbying organization dedicated to eradicating hunger and poverty, is also included in this series. Completing the series are handbooks, notes, and other resources from workshops Ely attended.


The Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission series (1963-2000) contains a history of the group and annual reports, as well as a brief filed on behalf of the complainant in a wrongful termination case centered on the question of whether alcoholism should be considered a disability under Cedar Rapids municipal code.


The Global Cedar Rapids series (1989-1995) concerns this charitable and educational organization Polly and John Ely helped found to promote discussion of international affairs and global citizenship.


The Unitarian Universalist Association series (1869-2007) contains handwritten notes and other material related to Ely's life as a member and leader of the Unitarian Universalist Peoples Church of Cedar Rapids.  A history of Peoples Church is included.

The United Nations series (1966-1995) contains assorted Iowa United Nations Association-related materials, including nationally published booklets on issues such as peace and the status of Native American women, business papers and correspondence, and fundraising campaign information.


The Artifacts series (1981-2007) includes awards received by the Elys, among them the 2007 Louise Noun Civil Liberties Award presented by the Iowa Civil Liberties Union.


The Audiovisual series (1988-2007) consists for the most part of audio and video recordings relating to RESULTS and the Results Educational Fund. Also included is a recording of the an Easter service at Peoples Church and a 1990 videotape of interviews about the history of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: BIOGRAPHICAL
Series 2: CORRESPONDENCE
Series 3: EDUCATION
Series 4: ORGANIZATIONS: GENERAL
Series 5: CEDAR RAPIDS CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION
Series 6: GLOBAL CEDAR RAPIDS
Series 7: UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION
Series 8: UNITED NATIONS
Series 9: ARTIFACTS
Series 10: AUDIOVISUAL

  • Series 1: BIOGRAPHICAL
  • Box 1:
  • Obituary - 2008
  • Timeline of Polly Ely's religious life - 1997
    [shelved in map case]
  • Calendar - 1981
  • Calendar - 2002
  • Calendar for Income/Mileage Tax Deductions - 2003
  • Calendar - 2005
  • Calendars - 1980-2001
  • Journal - 1980
  • Journal - 1980
  • Series 2: CORRESPONDENCE
  • Box 2:
  • General - 1942-1969
  • General - 1970-1989
  • General - 1970-1989
  • General - 2000-2008
  • Church related - 1958-2008
  • Political - 1971-1974
  • Condolences on Polly's death - 2008
  • Series 3: EDUCATION
  • Box 3:
  • Mount Holyoke College - 1937-1941
  • College days newspaper clippings - 1937-1941
  • "Mount Holyoke--Everybody's College" - 1948
  • College notes: Physiology - 1937
  • College notes: Chemistry 101-102 - 1989-1939
  • College notes: Chemistry 101 - 1938-1939
  • College notes: Chemistry - 1939
  • College notes: Chemistry 101-102 - 1939
  • College notes: Zoology, Embryology - 1939-1940
  • College notes: Chemistry 206, Zoology 202 - 1940
  • Box 4:
  • College notes: Chemistry - 1940
  • College notes: Chemistry - 1940
  • College notes: Organic Chemistry - 1940
  • College notes: Chemistry - 1940
  • College notes: Qualitative Analysis - 1941
  • College notes: Biochemistry - 1941
  • College notes: Organic Chemistry, undated
  • College notes: Chemistry 22, undated
  • College notes: Science, undated
  • College notes and miscellanous - 1938-1940
  • Box 5:
  • College materials: Lectures and Bulletins - 1938-1941
  • College materials: Physiology 101-102 Textbook - 1937
  • College materials: Difco Manual - 1935
  • Harvard course schedule - 1941
  • Nursing notes - 1945
  • Nursing notes - 1945
  • Emergency Treatment notes - 1945
  • Clinical Lab and H&S notes - 1945
  • Mount Holyoke College reunions - 1986-1991
  • Mount Holyoke College reunions and alumnae association - 1995-2001
  • Series 4: ORGANIZATIONS: GENERAL
  • Box 6:
  • American Red Cross: International Humanitarian Law, undated
  • Cedar Rapids Medical Aid Fund: meetings, by-laws - 1984-1989
  • Committee for Equal Justice Under Law - 1973
  • Iowa-American Assembly on Arms Control and Disarmament - 1962
  • Iowa-American Assembly on Arms Control and Disarmament - 1962
    "Arms Control: Issues for the Public"
  • Iowa Clergy Consultation Service - 1973-1975
  • Iowa International Peace Camp and Global Village - 1990-1991
  • Women for Peace - 1984-2005
  • Miscellaneous - 1952-1995
  • Newspaper clippings - 1975-2005
  • RESULTS fundraising events - 1998
  • RESULTS fundraising events manual - 2000
  • RESULTS newsletters - 2000
  • Box 7:
  • RESULTS meeting with Rep. James Leach - 2002
  • RESULTS- Bread for the World - 2005
  • RESULTS partnership with Unitarian Universalist Association - 2007
  • RESULTS conference call - 2007
  • Workshop: Focus on Sex Crimes, ca. - 1976
  • Workshop: Fundraising (Mount Mercy College) - 1990
  • Workshop: Heritage Area Agency on Aging, undated
  • Workshop: How to Listen, undated
  • Workshop: Leadership workshop - 1980
  • Workshop: Focus on Sex Crimes, ca. - 1976
  • Series 5: CEDAR RAPIDS CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION
  • Box 7:
  • Histories, 1963-2000 - 1973-2000
  • Annual reports - 1986-1990
  • Meetings and case reviews - 1982-1983
  • Meetings and case reviews - 1984-1985
  • Leadership Conference - 1984
  • Iowa Civil Rights Commission - 1980-1983
  • Histories, 1963-2000 - 1973-2000
  • Annual reports - 1986-1990
  • Series 6: GLOBAL CEDAR RAPIDS
  • Box 7:
  • By-laws - 1989-1990
  • By-laws - 1989-1990
  • Box 8:
  • Newsletters - 1989-1990
  • Solicitations - 1989-1991
  • Conferences - 1989-1991
  • Conferences - 1992-1993
  • Minutes of meetings - 1991-1992
  • Meeting minutes (2 folders) - 1993-1995
  • Women Hold Up Half the Sky: Vision and Voices for the 1990s - 1990
  • General - 1954, 1988
  • Series 7: UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION
  • Box 8:
  • Unitarian Universalist history, undated
  • "History of the Peoples Church, 1869-1959" by Gertrude James - 1959
  • Peoples Church general - 1962-2008
  • Peoples Church education director - 1962-1965
  • Peoples Church educational material - 1961-1965
  • Peoples Church talks, undated
  • Peoples Church annual reports - 1977-1978
  • Peoples Church president's report and historical notes - 1978-1994
  • Box 9:
  • Peoples Church conflict resolution - 1993
  • Peoples Church tribute to Rev. Waldemar Argow - 1996
  • Notes - 1963-1965
  • Notebook - 1989
  • Notes - 1992-2003
  • Notes, undated
  • Programs - 1955-1990
  • Camp Unistar and Polly's poem - 1979-2000
  • General assembly - 1993-1996
  • Middle-sized church conference notes - 1994
  • Edgar Peara, miscellaneous - 1980, 1990
  • Series 8: UNITED NATIONS
  • Box 9:
  • Booklets - 1966-1968
  • Box 10:
  • Booklets - 1977-1995
  • Iowa Division fundraising - 1988-1989
  • Iowa Division fundraising - 1989-1993
  • Iowa Division "The World is Our Business" campaign - 1989-1991
  • Iowa Division: general - 1995
  • Native American Women - 1975
  • Notes, undated
  • Teaching World Understanding curriculum - 1970
  • UNICEF greeting card sales - 1992
  • Series 9: ARTIFACTS
  • Box 10:
  • ACLU of Iowa Louise Noun Civil Liberties Award - 2007
  • Laubach Literacy International delegate badge, undated
  • NAACP Life Membership plaque - 1983
  • Women's Equality Day recognition plaque - 1981
  • YMCA Cedar Rapids swim meet ribbons, undated
  • Box 11:
  • ACLU of Iowa Louise Noun Civil Liberties Award - 2007
  • Laubach Literacy International delegate badge, undated
  • NAACP Life Membership plaque - 1983
  • Women's Equality Day recognition plaque - 1981
  • YMCA Cedar Rapids swim meet ribbons, undated
  • ACLU of Iowa Louise Noun Civil Liberties Award - 2007
  • Laubach Literacy International delegate badge, undated
  • NAACP Life Membership plaque - 1983
  • Women's Equality Day recognition plaque - 1981
  • YMCA Cedar Rapids swim meet ribbons, undated
  • Series 10: AUDIOVISUAL
  • Sub-Series: AUDIO
  • Box 11:
    Shelved in audiocassette collection
  • RESULTS audiotape: November 14 conference call, undated [AC1378]
  • RESULTS audiotape: Global Basics Tape (2 tapes) [AC 1373 and 1374] - 1996
  • RESULTS audiotape: December 6, undated 6 [AC 1379]
  • RESULTS audiotape: April 4 [AC 1377]
  • RESULTS audiotape: Domestic February 10 [AC 1376] - 2007
  • RESULTS audiotape: -A&B- Conference Call, October 10 [AC 1375] - 1998
  • Peoples Church Easter service CD, March 23, 2008 [d0083] - 2008
  • Audiotape: On Beyond War Issue No. 71 [AC 1372] - 1991
  • RESULTS audiotape: November 14 conference call, undated [AC1378]
  • RESULTS audiotape: Global Basics Tape (2 tapes) [AC 1373 and 1374] - 1996
  • RESULTS audiotape: December 6, undated 6 [AC 1379]
  • RESULTS audiotape: April 4 [AC 1377]
  • RESULTS audiotape: Domestic February 10 [AC 1376] - 2007
  • RESULTS audiotape: -A&B- Conference Call, October 10 [AC 1375] - 1998
  • Peoples Church Easter service CD, March 23, 2008 [d0083] - 2008
  • Audiotape: On Beyond War Issue No. 71 [AC 1372] - 1991
  • Sub-Series: VIDEO
  • Box 11:
  • Videotape: Making a Decision About War: USA-USSR Dialogues [V 470] - 1988
  • Videotape: Senator Tom Harkin's Monthly Cable Show: "Peace Dividend" [V 461] - 1990
  • Videotape: EngenderHealth: "Once Choice, One World" [V 466] - 2003
  • Videotape: Saving the Very Poor, undated [V 465]
  • Videotape: Four Oaks: Connections, undated [V 469]
  • RESULTS videotape: Health, Hope and Opportunity [V 467]
  • RESULTS Educational Fund video (2 copies) [V 463 and 464] - 1997
  • RESULTS videotape: "Ordinary People…Extraordinary Results", undated [V 468]
  • The First 25 Years of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission- Interviews [V 462] - 1990