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The histories behind the Federation

History of Iowa Press Women

Martha Mordini was writing for an Italian-American newspaper in Des Moines, Iowa, when a group of newspaper women from around the state met in her office in 1937.

purple jagged-edged circle with text 80 years in black and in white, around the edge above 80, dates of the orgnization.

They formed a "club," which is now an affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women.

Mordini married a man named Contri, but continued to write as Mordini. When her husband accepted a job as an electrician in the Navy yard in Charleston, S.C., in October, 1941, Martha began her long journey of finding ways to use her writing skills wherever she lived.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, her husband volunteered for duty to help repair the damage. Martha went along and soon found an outlet for her writing ability by publishing a neighborhood newspaper. And so it went. In Honolulu she found employment with the fledgling unemployment compensation agency, while there she wrote a manual for employers on handling the new paperwork. The manual was later adapted by several states.

group of Iowa members posing for the camera. Julie Hoffman and Marsha Hoffman of Council Bluffs served as hosts for the 2011 NFPW Conference post-tour, which included touring the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, the Amana Colonies and taking a photo at the largest rocking chair in the state.

Later, when she lived in California, she continued to work for the unemployment compensation commission and produced a publication for her church. Only when eye and other health problems developed did she restrict her activities.

And through it all, although she never again lived in Iowa, she continued to pay her dues to Iowa Press Women and became the first 65-year member of IPW and the National Federation of Press Women.

In 2003 Iowa Press Women voted her an honorary member and NFPW President Ella Wright of Alaska awarded her a special plaque, which was presented to her in California by NFPW member Betty Bartley.

Back in Iowa

The National Federation of Press Women was organized in 1937, too, and Iowa became one of the first affiliates, with 16 charter members, according to an IPW history compiled in 1979-80 by Dorothy H. Shrader, then IPW president, and others.

She wrote that, starting in 1943, IPW historians and committees "suffered from the longest writer's block in history," but after sorting through "six huge boxes of papers" and a start of a history by Edith McElroy, who had died, Shrader produced several copies of the history.

A copy of the history she developed, with input from charter members and various officers, along with more recent items, were presented to the Iowa Women's Archives in the University of Iowa Library in Iowa City, where they have been cataloged and are available for research.

profile view of speaker talking to group sitting at tables. Mary Ann Hanusa of Council Bluffs speaks to a joint spring conference of Iowa Press Women and Nebraska Press Women in Council Bluffs in 2011. Hanusa served as Director of the Office of Presidential Personal Correspondence for President George W. Bush and discussed evacuating the White House complex on 9/11. Hanusa is currently serving her fourth term in the Iowa House.

Some interesting tidbits from Shrader's history:

"In the early days, unpaved roads were a serious consideration. The members voiced their desire to have organized districts with educational programs and a social good time to which prospective members could be invited."

In February, 1939, charter membership was closed, with 38 women from almost as many different newspapers listed. The original entrance fee was $1 and 72 members paid this fee, but that was raised to $3 at the February meeting and annual dues were put at $2. "The $3 entrance fee was questioned by some, since young newspaper women made very low salaries and $3 was quite a sum."

In May, 1938, there was a requirement that prospective members be "actively engaged in journalistic work as a profession . . .and receive remuneration." At the next meeting the phrase for payment was deleted "because many newspaper women worked on newspapers for their husbands and received no pay!"

In 1942 articles of incorporation were drawn up and filed in the courthouse at Indianola, which had become IPW's official place of business. They became effective Jan. 1, 1943.

In 1941 Willa Mae Robinson was elected president of IPW. She resigned in February, 1942 to enlist in the WAACS (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps—later WACS)

In 1940 "a secret ballot" was cast to invite NFPW to hold its 1943 convention in Des Moines. This was a war year, even though it was before Pearl Harbor, and Des Moines was the headquarters for the new WAACS, which made it timely to bring the national women's press group to the state.

"Also, with the limitations on travel and expenditures for non-essentials curtailed, it provided a sound foundation on which to base the request. The invitation was accepted by NFPW."

group posing for the camera. One of Iowa Press Women's largest national conference entourages in years attended the 2010 NFPW Conference in Chicago to promote the 2011 Conference that was co-hosted by IPW.

IPW had only about $150 in the treasury, "but a fine roster of speakers was lined up, meals were sponsored by Meredith Publishing Co., Wallace's Farmer, The Register and Tribune, and a First Lady's Tea was sponsored by Mrs. Burke B. Hickenlooper, wife of the Governor. The only meal to be paid for was the final banquet.

"With the conference scheduled for June, the shocker came on May 5th in the form of a telegram from National: 'Quorum vote NFPW board decides against convention.' The following day a return telegram was dispatched: 'Quorum board and conference committee's investigation decides no cause now for cancellation WARTIME PUBLISHING CONFERENCE. What is the real reason? WAAC alone warrants newswomen's travel and our going ahead, as does journalism wartime benefits.

"Contract cancellations dangerous. Unity of National and state organizations jeopardized. We request names of National quorum vote by return wire.' By May 8 another telegram was dispatched to Iowa: 'Malloch (national president) gave us go signal National Conference tonight.' The convention was held and was a great success."

In 1940 IPW had 53 members; in 1941, 71 (68 active, 4 associate and 1 honorary); 1942, 91; 1943, 99; 1950, 146, and 1952, 154, of whom 123 were active, 6 were associate and 2 were honorary. In 1940 there had been concern about membership because IPW needed 80 members to have two voting delegates at NFPW conferences. Only 58 had paid their dues. By 1941 active membership had risen to 63 with 32 new members. A summer roundup was held at Lake Okoboji in the fall, with husbands, fun and fellowship included, and 73 members were listed. Dimes were collected and $5 worth of defense stamps were purchased.

At some point it was decided that IPW's scrap book should be presented to Ora Williams, state curator, to be preserved in the archives of the State Historical building in Des Moines. "It should be noted," Shrader wrote in the history, "that the care of the scrap book had been totally irresponsible. Part of it had disintegrated and had to be remounted. The later addition, of the Wartime Conference material, was mounted on somewhat better paper and was in better condition."

Four women posing with champaign bottles raised. Iowa Press Women and Nebraska Press Women co-hosted the 2011 NFPW Conference in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb. From left, Julie Hoffman and Marsha Hoffman of Council Bluffs served as the Iowa hosts, while Stephanie Geery-Zink of Lincoln and Sherry Thompson of Omaha co-hosted for Nebraska. Needless to say, this toast was their final action as co-hosts after the conference's Saturday evening banquet.

World War II was still a vital consideration. IPW sent $20 for children's hospitals in England, $10 was taken out of the treasury and the other $10 was donated by three members.

The club voted to present a $25 war bond to a senior woman student in journalism at the State University of Iowa. Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, director of the WAACS. was invited to become an honorary member and accepted the honor. (The history later says, without explanation, that she was dropped from membership.)

The NFPW board voted unanimously for the postponement of the annual national conference until three months after the close of the war in Europe.

By 1949 the magic barrier had been crossed and 101 members were counted. The treasury stood at $350.

In 1955, "Jo Baumgartner was beating the drums for the Equal Rights Amendment. According to Jo, this amendment had been brought up in every session of Congress for 30 years."

In more recent history, IPW co-hosted the 2011 NFPW Conference with its Nebraska Press Women neighbors in Council Bluffs and Omaha. Julie Hoffman and Marsha Hoffman of Council Bluffs co-hosted with Sherry Thompson and Stephanie Geery-Zink of Nebraska.

Iowa Press Women have served in many capacities in the National Federation of Press Women, including three who were national president:

  • Helen Vanderburg, 1961-1962
  • Lois Jacobs, 1987-1989
  • Marsha Hoffman 2015-2017