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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Lucy and Henry Vargas papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1930-2013
Creator: Henry Vargas (1929-)
Extent: 2.50 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0886
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Mexican American activists from Davenport, Iowa.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Biographical series and 'LULAC' folder.

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. 1064) were donated by Henry Vargas in 2014.

Preferred Citation: Lucy and Henry Vargas 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

The youngest of six children, Lucy Juarez was born in Pemberton, Minnesota, in 1930. Her parents, Sara and José Juarez, emigrated to the United States during the Mexican Revolution; José Juarez had served as a treasurer in Pancho Villa's army and Sara Juarez was a member of Villa's extended family. Shortly after Lucy Juarez's birth, the family moved to Davenport, Iowa, where they settled in a Mexican barrio known as Cook's Point. She attended St. Alphonsus Elementary School and continued her education until she was sixteen when her father thought she should stay home to help manage the household.

In 1949, Lucy Juarez eloped with Henry Vargas, the brother of her best friend. In the 1960s, they moved to west Davenport, where they were the only Mexican-American family in the neighborhood, and their children, the only non-white students at the local school. The prejudice the family faced inspired Lucy Vargas' political activism, which included participating efforts to improve conditions for Mexican American agricultural laborers in California as well as within Iowa. She regularly organized fundraisers for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and worked on her daughter Rita Vargas's successful campaign for Scott County recorder. An advocate for education, Lucy Vargas volunteered as a teacher's aide and special education assistant in Davenport schools. Lucy Vargas died in 2013.

Henry Vargas was born in Cook's Point, Davenport, Iowa, in 1929, to Mexican parents. His childhood was marked by tragedy-- one brother was fatally struck by a bus while sledding and, on New Year's Eve 1941, his father was killed by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident. Following the death of his father and the enlistment of his older brothers in the U.S. Army, Vargas dropped out of school in order to help support his family. He worked at the Rock Island Arsenal, the Milwaukee Railroad, and Oscar Mayer before securing employment at the John Deere Plow Works in Moline, Illinois, where he would work for forty years.

In 1959, Henry Vargas and other local Mexican Americans, on the advice of Jesse Mosquada, decided to form a local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens to combat the ongoing discrimination faced by Mexican Americans in the Quad Cities. LULAC Council 10 received its charter on February 16, 1959, and elected Henry Vargas its first president. In 1962, Vargas represented the council on Davenport's first Human Relations Commission in 1962 and served on the Executive Committee of the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council, working to secure fair housing legislation in Iowa at the state and local level and advocating for the employment rights of Latina women. A staunch supporter of the national boycott of California table grapes, Vargas regularly picketed outside local supermarkets with his nine-year-old daughter Rita Vargas. In 1967, he supported the passage of Iowa's first migrant child labor law and called for a boycott of Heinz Company products in Iowa, known locally as the "tomato boycott," to support the rights of migrant workers employed seasonally on Iowa farms.

The Lucy and Henry Vargas papers date from 1930 to 2013 and measure 2.5 linear inches.  The collection is divided into two series: Biographical and Latino activism.

The Biographical series includes photographs of Henry Vargas, his family and an article about his volunteer work under the title, ''Everyday Heroes.''  Also included are photographs of Alice Vargas, Henry's younger sister.

The Latino activism series includes newspaper clippings relating to LULAC Council 10's support of the grape boycott campaign and a photograph of Henry Vargas with Cesar Chavez, taken in 1992 when Cesar Chavez received the Pacem in Terris award of the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council and correspondence relating to the formation of Council 10.   Also included are documents relating to Council 10's advocacy for workers' rights in the Quad Cities.

Browse by Series:

  • Series 1: BIOGRAPHICAL
  • Box 1:
  • Henry Vargas
  • Alice Vargas
  • Lucy Vargas oral history - 2006
    In digital library-Mujeras Latinas project
  • Henry Vargas oral history - 2006
    In digital library-Mujeras Latinas project
  • Box 1:
  • LULAC - 1959-1985
  • Newspaper clippings - 1960-2013
  • "Peregrinacion" - 1967-1972
  • "Stranger in One's Land" - 1970
  • "The Mexican-American and the United States" - 1969
  • "A Donde Vamos Ahora? (where are we going now)" - 1970
  • 'Regeneracion' - 1971
  • "The Hispanics: A missing link in public policy" - 1979