Skip to content
print page header

The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Jay Sigmund Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1911 - 1975
Creator: Sigmund, Jay (1885-1937)
Extent: 4.00 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0697
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Insurance agent, poet, story writer, and lecturer on literature. Preliminary drafts of plays, poetry, an unpublished novel, and correspondence with writers of note.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs: Box 1

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Acquisition: The collection was given to the University of Iowa Libraries in 1982 by Sigmund's son, James B. Sigmund.

Preferred Citation: Jay Sigmund Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Jay G. Sigmund, author, poet, naturalist, wood carver, taxidermist, and insurance company executive, was born in Waubeek, Iowa, on the eleventh of December, 1885. A graduate of Central City High School, Sigmund lived in Waubeek until the age of 19, when he moved to Cedar Rapids. A few years later, on August 9, 1910, he married Louise B. Herns of Cedar Rapids. In 1907, Sigmund began work with the Cedar Rapids Life Insurance Company and became, in 1924, vice president and agency manager. When in 1936 the insurance company in Cedar Rapids merged with Mutual of Omaha, Sigmund was offered the post of vice president of the expanded company on the condition that he move to Omaha. He refused, choosing instead to remain near his beloved Wapsipinicon Valley. Sigmund and his son, James, then became insurance company operators of the Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company. He died on October 19, 1937 as the result of a hunting accident near his summer home in Waubeek. He was 51.
Much of his verse describes lyrically his love for the natural beauty of the Wapsipinicon Valley northeast of Cedar Rapids. Sigmund recognized the essential kinship between nature and man, the cycle of birth, growth, death, and decay that is common both to the earth and its inhabitants. Morning Mists on the Wapsipinicon, Waubeek in June, and Stone City Iowa each reflect Sigmund's sense of wonder toward his native land. Still more verse and several one-act plays cover religious themes. Sigmund had a deep and abiding interest in the Catholic faith especially, and was a frequent visitor of New Melleray Abbey, near Dubuque, and the Sinsinawa Dominicans in southwestern Wisconsin.
He was a regional poet, though he brought the spirit of the Wapsipinicon to readers far beyond his native Iowa. Though a life-long Iowan and a regular contributor to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, he was praised by the likes of H.L. Mencken, Carl Sandburg, and Sherwood Anderson. The poet Robinson Jeffers described Sigmund as having fine powers of imagination and imaginative sympathy, as well as musical verse. Shortly before his death, Sigmund collaborated on several works with Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Jay Sigmund was a member of the Midland Authors' Society and the Iowa Press and Authors' Club.

The papers of Jay G. Sigmund consist of four linear feet of manuscripts dating from 1911-1975. Arranged alphabetically, within larger groupings of plays, poetry, and short stories, the collection documents his literary career with subject files and correspondence. There are early drafts of his published and unpublished plays, poetry, short stories, and his final work, the novel, Purple Washboards. The collection also includes three of Jay Sigmund's scrapbooks. The correspondence includes letters from: Sherwood Anderson, Marcus Bach, Edmund Blunden, William Robert Boyd, William Braithwaite, Johnson Brigham, Witter Bynner, George Elliston, Don Farran, Arthur Davison Ficke, Charles J. Finger, Norman Foerster, John T. Frederick, James Norman Hall, John Hammill, Harry Hansen, Robinson Jeffers, Raymond Kresensky, Alfred Kreymborg, William F. Leonard, Verne Marshall, H.L. Mencken, Frank Luther Mott, Lewis Mumford, Edward J. O'Brien, Julia Peterkin, Edwin Ford Piper, Herbert Quick, Opie Read, Edward Rowan, George Russell, Carl Sandburg, Lew R. Sarett, Wilbur Schramm, Betty Smith, Henry J. Smith, George Sterling, Jesse H. Stuart, Ruth Suckow, Louis Untermeyer, and Carl Van Vechten.
See also the papers of William and Karlton Kelm for correspondence.

Browse by Series:
The detailed description has not been entered into the repository.
To view the content list, please follow this link.