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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Jane Elliott papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1968-2011
Creator: Elliott, Jane (1933-)
Extent: 3.50 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0832
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Riceville, Iowa schoolteacher and anti-racism activist who pioneered diversity sensitivity training with her famous "Blue Eyed, Brown Eyed" exercise

Alternate Extent Statement: Extent statement: Photographs in box 8; one poster shelved in map case; d0093-d0098, v500-503, AC1490-AC1495, in audiovisual collection; one book in printed works.

Access: The papers are open for research, but not to be placed online until April 4, 2028.

Use: See staff for copyright restrictions.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no.1210) were donated by Jane Elliott in 2010 and 2011.

Preferred Citation: Jane Elliott 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

Jane Elliott, school teacher, anti-racism activist and educator, and creator of one of the most controversial sociological exercises in the United States of America in the 20th century, was born outside Riceville, Iowa in 1933. The fourth of seven children born to Lloyd Jennison and Margaret Benson Jennison, she grew up helping on the family farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse until high school. Upon graduating from high school in 1952 she attended Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), where she completed a five-quarter emergency elementary teaching certificate and began teaching in a one-room school in Randall, Iowa, in 1953. Elliott married Darald Elliott and left teaching for a time to raise their family. The Elliotts lived in Waterloo for a time, where the National Tea food store that Darald ran was the first store picketed by the NAACP in the city. To escape the tension in Waterloo, the family moved back to Riceville, where Jane Elliott took over her sister's job teaching third grade in 1963.

Early in her time at Riceville, Elliott developed an interest in assisting dyslexic children learn to read, which grew upon realizing that her own son, Brian, suffered from the condition, and that it was severely under-recognized in the population in general. After a number of years teaching the third grade, she moved to teaching reading and remedial reading at the junior high level, before retiring from teaching in 1984 to conduct diversity sensitivity training exercises and workshops around the world.

Jane Elliott is most famous for the Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed exercise, first conducted in her third-grade class in 1968. Inspired by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she attempted to discuss the event, and racism in general, with her class the next day; Elliott became discouraged when she did not seem to be getting through to the students. Inspired by the memory of reading [i]Mila 18[/i], by Leon Uris, and her father's reactions to newsreels about the Holocaust during World War II, Elliott decided to create a miniature climate of discrimination among her all-white students, separating them by eye color, and designating one color as second-class citizens; she hoped to help the children understand discrimination and prejudice and empathize with persons who had to face those issues.

Elliott's classroom activity caused some upset among her colleagues, but did not raise much attention until it was picked up by the Associated Press and featured on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Subsequently, and again after the American Broadcasting Company ran a documentary on her, Jane Elliott began to receive a lot of response, primarily negative. She has said that her family suffered from the publicity and negative feeling surrounding the activity. To this day, the topic of Jane Elliott and her Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed exercise arouses strong, mixed feelings in Riceville.

In December 1970, Elliott was invited to attend the White House Conference on Children, where she staged her activity for adults, primarily educators, physicians, social workers, and others whose professional work involved children. Despite criticism of her methods and the field of diversity training that she helped pioneer, Elliott continues to teach her exercise in workshops.

The Jane Elliott papers date from 1968 to 2011.  The papers are arranged in six series: Biographical; Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed Exercise; White House Conference on Children; General; Photographs and Audio-Visual Materials.

The Biographical (1966-2009) series contains Elliott's personal writing and correspondence, letters to the editor of the [i]Riceville Recorder[/i] regarding an article covering Elliott's exercise and experiences, and the transcript of her 2009 oral history interview with Iowa Women's Archives curator Kären Mason.

The Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed Exercise (1968-2011) series documents the fallout from Elliott's classroom exercise, including student self-portraits and surveys, material regarding William Peters' [i]A Class Divided[/i], news items, and the numerous written responses Elliott received after newspaper and television coverage of her classroom.  Additional materials relate to the diversity training workshops she went on to lead after leaving teaching.

The White House Conference on Children (1970-1971) series contains correspondence, reports, and other materials related to the 1970 conference, where Elliott was invited to participate in a forum called "Children without Prejudice".

The General (1970-2010) series contains material not related to the Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed exercise, including material related to Elliott's special interest in teaching students with dyslexia and her class of 1972's efforts to fund and plan a local park.

The Photographs (1968) series contains photographs and proofs of students in the first class Elliott conducted her famous exercise with, as well as undated photos of the Elliott family.

The Audio-Visual (1971-2009) series contains material in multiple formats, including reporting on the "Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed" exercise, a Public Broadcasting Systems  [i]Frontline[/i] special, footage from Elliott's workshops, and audio recordings of her 2009 oral history interview.  It is shelved separately, in the IWA audio-visual collection.

Browse by Series:
Series 4: GENERAL

  • Series 1: BIOGRAPHICAL
  • Box 1:
  • Diary about blue-eyed, brown-eyed exercise - 1968
  • Notes - 1979
  • Letters to the editor - 1999
  • Oral history interview - 2009
  • Personal writings, "Effect of discrimination on children in a school environment" - 1968-1986
  • Personal correspondence - 1966-1994
  • Personal correspondence - 2002
  • Box 1:
  • "The Angry Eye" film - 2001
  • "A Class Divided" by William Peters, manuscript - 1971
  • Box 2:
  • Article explaining the exercise - 2002
  • Awards - 2000-2001
  • Business concerning book by W. Peters - 1971
  • Correspondence - 1968
  • Correspondence - 1969
  • Correspondence about book and television program - 1970
  • Correspondence (2 folders) - 1970
  • Box 3:
  • Correspondence (5 folders) - 1970
  • Box 4:
  • Correspondence - 1970
  • Correspondence: negative letters - 1970
  • Correspondence - 1970-1971
  • Correspondence (3 folders) - 1971
  • Correspondence - 1972
  • Box 5:
  • Correspondence - 1986-1987
  • Correspondence - 1990-1998
  • "Eye of ths Storm," list of video purchasers - 1987
  • Israeli television - 2011
  • Newspaper clippings - 1698-1999
  • Notes, undated
  • Partial manuscript of book, undated
  • Related articles - 1971-1999
  • Screenplay for "A Class Divided" - 1997
  • Student self-portraits - 1970
  • Student survey - 1970
  • Study guide for "Wide Eyed" video, undated
  • Box 6:
  • Wall maps of the world used in workshops, undated
  • Working papers - 1969
  • Workshops - 1985-1986
  • Workshops - 1987
  • Workshops - 1990-1991
  • Workshops - 1992-1998
  • Workshops and lectures - 1997
  • Workshops in Australia - 1997
  • Workshops - 2001-2011
  • Box 7:
  • Meetings and activities - 1970-1971
  • Report, correspondence, conference news - 1970-1971
  • Report - 1970
  • Follow-up letter - 1971
  • Series 4: GENERAL
  • Box 7:
  • Dyslexia, undated
  • Places of interest in Iowa - 2010
  • Planning a park - 1972
  • Repeal of Emergency Detention Act of 1950 - 1970
  • Series 5: PHOTOGRAPHS
  • Box 8:
  • Family - undated
  • Students - 1968
  • Sub-Series: VHS
  • Box 9:
  • "The College Eye", undated [V500]
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • London, and Ontario, Canada [V501] - 2001
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • "The Stolen Eye", undated [V502]
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Sub-Series:
  • Box 9:
  • "Blue-Eyed" [V503] - 1996
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • "Perception is Everything" [d0093] - 2004
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • "Wide-Eyed" [d0094] - 2008
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • "Frontline: A Class Divided" [d0095] - 2003
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • "Indecent Exposure," workshop in Canada [d0092] - 2005
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Sub-Series: AUDIO CASSETTE
  • Box 9:
  • Jane Elliott, Tape 1 [AC1490] - 2009
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Jane Elliot, Tape 2 [AC1491] - 2009
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Jane Elliot, Tape 2 [AC1493] - 2009
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Jane Elliot, Tape 1 USE COPY [AC1493] - 2009
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Jane Elliot, p. 32-54, undated [AC1494]
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Jane Elliot, p. 55-66; p. 64-67, undated [AC1495]
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Sub-Series: COMPACT DISC
  • Box 9:
  • Jane Elliottt interview, part 1-2 [d0096] - 2009
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Jane Elliottt interview, part 3-4 [d0097] - 2009
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Jane Elliottt interview, part 5-6 [d0098] - 2009
    [shelved in audio-visual collection]
  • Sub-Series: BOOK
  • Box 8:
  • "A Class Divided, Then and Now," by William Peters - 1971
    [shelved in printed works collection]
  • Sub-Series: POSTER
  • Box 9:
  • "Australian Workshop" - 1998
    [shelved in map case]