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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Ruth Suckow Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1887-1988
Creator: Suckow, Ruth (1892-1960)
Extent: 34.00 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0706
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Novelist and pacifist. Correspondence, diaries, subject files, notes, and preliminary drafts of writings. Also includes the work of Ferner Nuhn and William Suckow.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Series I, II, III, V; audio tape in Series III; VHS in Series I; CDs in Series III and V; slides in Series I.

Access: This collection is open for research.

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

Acquisition: The bulk of this collection was donated to the University of Iowa Libraries by Ferner Nuhn over a period of years. Several other sources have contributed Suckow material to this collection, including John T. Frederick, Leedice Kissane, and Knopf Publishing Company. In 2003 the Earlville Public Library donated their exhibit materials to the University of Iowa Libraries. The Ruth Suckow Memorial Association donates records to the libraries on an ongoing basis. The Bernice Suckow Wailes scrapbooks CD was donated in 2007 by Virginia Gentry.  Guide posted to the Internet November 1998.

Preferred Citation: Ruth Suckow 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

Ruth Suckow (1892-1960) was born to William S. and Anna (Kluckhohn) Suckow in Hawarden, Iowa. William Suckow was a Congregationalist minister. He and the family (Anna, Ruth, and elder daughter Emma) lived in a number of Iowa towns including LeMars, Algona, Fort Dodge, and Manchester as he moved from one pastorate to another. Ruth attended Grinnell College (her sister's alma mater) for three years, leaving without a degree. She next attended the Curry School of Expression in Boston. When she graduated in 1915, she returned to Iowa to keep house for her father who now had a church in Manchester. Emma, who was married with a family, was living in Denver, Colorado. She had contracted tuberculosis and their mother was there helping with the household while attending to her own health problems. Ruth opened a school in Manchester where she taught public speaking, but she was not happy and the school was not a success. The following year, she and her mother traded places. Ruth went to Denver to help Emma and enrolled in the University of Denver to complete her college degree. She received her B.A. in 1917. In 1918 she completed her M.A. and published her first poetry.
Anna Suckow died suddenly the following year. Once more Ruth returned to Iowa to live near her father. This time it was to Earlville, where she set up the "Orchard Apiary" and began beekeeping. The business flourished and she tended her hives for six years. However, these were not years of uneventful solitude. Saving her money for half of each year allowed her to spend her winters writing and traveling. Her first short story was published in 1921 in John T. Frederick's The Midland. He in turn introduced her work to H.L. Mencken who published her stories in The Smart Set and encouraged her to write a novel. "Country People" was published in 1924 in serialized form in The Century Magazine. Ruth Suckow had established herself as an important new voice in regional literature.
While her writing career was blossoming, it was also a period of change in her personal life. In 1923 her sister Emma Hunting died. Her father was remarried and moved away, leaving Ruth alone. It was also during this time in Earlville that she met Ferner Nuhn (1908-1989). He visited her at the Orchard Apiary after becoming an admirer of her writing. They were married in 1929 and spent the next seven years living in different places around the country. She and Ferner moved back to Cedar Falls, Iowa, in the 1930s to take charge of his family's business. In 1952 they moved to Claremont, California.
The 1920s were the most successful years of Ruth's career. But she continued to write all of her life, leaving a new novel unfinished at the time of her death in 1960. But writing was never her only activity. She had been a pacifist since the First World War. Later in her life she became a Quaker, like her husband, and devoted much of her time and energy to the conscientious objectors camps during WWII.

The Suckow collection is an extensive collection of manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, and artifacts from the life of an importation regionalist author. The collection is divided into three series. Series I is Ruth Suckow Subject Files and Correspondence. Here are kept items from her personal life, such as artwork and needlework, recipes, bookplates, and her spectacles. Here also are kept clippings, records from her days as an apiarist, biographical materials, address books, and other personal materials. There is a large subseries of photographs here, as well as a collection of clippings. Suckow's correspondence comprises an important subseries, as do the records of the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association.

Series II is comprised of Suckow's manuscripts. This series contains manuscripts for most of her work, including some unpublished work. Usually included are the typescript, but sometimes there are extensive notes on characters, and some short stories include the published piece.

Series III, Other Writers and Family Members encompases materials from members of Ruth's extended family. Here are included items from the Washburn, Suckow, Kluckhohn, and Dafoe families, as well as materials from Ruth's husband, Ferner Nuhn, a writer himself and a painter. Also included here are scholarly essays on Ruth Suckow by students as well as international scholars.

Series IV, the 2007 addendum, is comprised of photocopies of a scrapbook of the extended Suckow family. This is accompanied by a CD of the images contained in the scrapbook.

Series V, 2001 addendum, was acquired long after the original collection, in 2011. It is a gift of Barb and Scott DePenning via Bob Suckow and the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association. It is comprised of letters from Ruth to her partner in the Earlville apiary business, Laura Werkmeister. It deals mostly with bees and cats, but there is a letter here that starts, "Ferner and I were married yesterday." In previous letters she had made reference to "the boy who visited us at the apiary last year" presumably meaning Nuhn. There is also a photograph here of the method, apparently originated by Suckow, that was used at the Orchard Apiary for wintering their beehives.

Several items that were with the Suckow collection were deaccessioned because they seemed to have no relation to this writer, but they are listed here along with the collection with which they were placed.

Mother's Whirring Wheel Rug: A Lady Family Genealogy. Transferred to Dickinson County Historical Society, 412 S. Campbell, Abilene, KS 67410

Diary/Calendar of Hall F. Greef, September 10 [1918?] to March 10 [1919?] Goings-on at Grinnell College. Transferred to Special Collections at Grinnell College

Fifty Years a Minister: A Tribute to Rev. William E. Grassie. Transferred to Erie County (PA) Historical Society

Colonel Hinman Rhodes pocket diary 1866. Typewritten transcription. MsC906

More information on these items can be found in the Suckow administrative file. Inquire at Special Collections.
The Ruth Suckow Newsletter xPS3537 U255 S4586

The Ruth Suckow Memorial Association ( has obtained the permission of Suckow's executor, Barbara Camamo, to present three of her stories on the web so they are readily available to teachers for nonprofit, educational (classroom) purposes. The stories, linked here, are "A Start In Life," "A Rural Community," and "The Crick."

Clyde Kluckhohn Papers (MsC 640)

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