Thank you very much for inviting me to speak with you today. And congratulations to all those being honored at this wonderful luncheon. I myself am honored to be here as we celebrate the grants and awards you are receiving. Thanks to all of you for your inspirational achievements.
I couldn’t be more impressed by the work of the Iowa Women’s Foundation. Your leaders Della McGrath, Peggy Doerge, and Susan Frye sent me materials about the Foundation in preparation for my visit. And I was struck by the subtitle of the booklet outlining your history: “Investing in the dreams of girls and the power of women.” Dreams and power are intimately related. They are also the sources of equality. In 1960, Wilma Rudolph was the first American woman runner to win three gold medals at a single Olympics. She brought these concepts together beautifully when she said, “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
It is the visionary work of the Foundation to link dreams and power. Through your support, the potential for greatness of women and girls in Iowa can be realized. That is a remarkable gift of the human spirit, and I thank you for the magnificent work you do.
Today I’d like to share with you a few stories about Iowa women. These women have linked dreams and power in various ways to achieve success, and to make life better for others. I hope they can inspire and guide your own ambitious spirits, at least a little bit.
I admit I’m going to talk a little about myself first. Now, I’ve lived my entire adult life in the Midwest. So I know that our fabled regional modesty sometimes prevents us from self-promotion. I’m reminded of a joke: Two Midwestern farmers are talking. Which one is the extrovert? He’s the one looking at the other guy’s shoes. I know that women are said to be better at talking than men, but I’m Midwestern enough to avoid bragging. So what I’ll do first here is just introduce myself to you, since I’m a new Iowan. I’ll leave you to decide if my story is a good one about dreams and power.
I suppose it will be no surprise that I believe education is one of the most important keys to unlocking dreams into power. I come from a family that strongly believed in the power and privilege of education, even though my parents were not able to pursue its higher levels. My mother barely finished high school before she entered the workforce. My father, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, only finished the eighth grade. But the spirit of learning was fierce in them. Upon arriving in this country at age 12, my father spoke no English. When they put him in kindergarten as a result, he read the dictionary for a whole year so that they would put him in the sixth grade.
Although my parents’ educational attainment was limited, they passed their strong beliefs in learning on to their children. I was the only child in my family to go to college, but they supported me wholeheartedly, even when it was financially difficult. I am extraordinarily proud of my educational and professional achievements, and if my parents were still alive, I know they would be, too. I try to keep a sense of their pride in my imagination as I now embark on this wonderful, amazing task—being the President of a world-renowned University.
Now, my dream was never really to become a university administrator, let alone a president. My dream was to be a scientist. For a young woman in the 1960s and 1970s, that was a tough hill to climb.
But my path did start out positively. Perhaps the key event of my undergraduate career happened right away during my freshman year. A professor asked me to work on a research project with him. That experience and that support gave power to my dreams. They sparked my passion for research, for education, and for the world of the university.
However, when I began graduate school in the early 1970s, my adviser pulled all of us women aside and told us we were only admitted because we were women, not because we were necessarily good. Before that, one of my undergraduate professors told me that I should focus on lab work because women weren’t capable of doing field biology. I suppose some people—women or men—would have shriveled at such insults. But rather than fearing these obstacles, I confronted them. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” So although these disheartening—and objectional—statements from my professors got my attention, they didn’t discourage me. I had developed a dream, a passion for biology and research. I was determined to pursue that passionate dream.
Life, of course, is full of twists, turns, and unexpected opportunities. I won’t go into the why’s and how’s, but eventually I ended up as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at The University of Kansas, then Provost at Purdue University, and now President of The University of Iowa.
Many women who enter into leadership roles find themselves as exemplars of firsts. That cuts different ways. It’s spectacular to break down walls of prejudice and glass ceilings. So I am proud to have been the first woman Provost at Purdue. As you may know, with Purdue’s strengths in engineering, aviation, and other sciences, its male student population still outnumbers the female by about a 60/40 margin. So it was not only pioneering, but also novel, for a woman to be the academic leader at this university.
I am very proud of my accomplishments in diversity at Purdue. Over 800 new faculty were hired while I was there, 300 of which were new positions. Fifty-six percent of those hires were women and/or minorities. But I think I’m even more proud of spearheading the diversity leadership group while I was there. Called “Mosaic,” our goal was to enhance the diversity of our culture at Purdue, and society generally. I think I did well in transforming my dream into power—the power of realizing change—at Purdue. But at the same time I was a successful Provost, I often remained a “woman Provost.” Sometimes I was as much “pioneer,” even “novelty,” as leader.
To tell you the truth, I am very, very happy not to be the—quote—First Woman President of The University of Iowa—unquote. Thanks to the success of President Mary Sue Coleman, the question of my being a female candidate never once entered the interview process. That was liberating to me, and I think that is liberating for all women. I think it shows that women’s power is taking hold, and our dreams are becoming easier to realize.
But enough about me. I’m tired of looking at your shoes. Let’s talk about some great Iowa women.
A week or two ago, I had the great privilege of visiting the Iowa Women’s Archives. I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with this remarkable collection in our UI Main Library. For those who aren’t, the Iowa Women's Archives holds more than 900 manuscript collections that chronicle the lives and work of Iowa women, their families, and their communities. Personal papers and organizational records from the 19th century to the present tell the stories of Iowa women’s trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
The origin of the Archives is a great story in and of itself. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the collection’s founders. Louise Noun was an art collector, historian, social activist, and philanthropist. She first recognized the need for a women's repository as she researched her 1969 book on the history of women's suffrage in Iowa, Strong-Minded Women. Mary Louise Smith was a Republican Party activist and the first woman to chair the Republican National Committee, serving from 1974 to 1977. These two prominent Des Moines women established the Archives in 1992. Their initial vision, gifts, and hard work are currently under the great stewardship of Kären Mason, Janet Weaver, and a wonderful staff of volunteers and students, both graduate and undergraduate. We are also grateful to the generous donors who help keep the Archives strong and growing.
So let me share with you a couple of stories from the Archives.
Of course, Iowa is known as a rural state. Farm women, historically, have been the backbone of our culture. Beverly George Everett was born on January 28, 1926 in Janesville, Iowa. The daughter of dairy farmers and musicians, she grew up in the midst of farmland and music. Beverly received a bachelor’s degree in institutional management from Iowa State, and later did post-graduate work at the University of Iowa and Berkeley. She also received teacher certification through William Penn College in Oskaloosa. She, her husband Lawrence, and their five children farmed 300 acres in New Sharon.
Many, many unsung Iowa women have contributed to our culture and our society by spending their lives as traditional “farm wives.” Beverly Everett, however, also had the dream of improving the lives of all women on the farm, and women in general throughout the world. Perhaps her international consciousness began when she planted a victory garden during World War II. Her talents at organizing, speaking, writing, and leadership soon became apparent. Much of her young adult life was spent as a 4-H and Farm Bureau leader. In a speech in 1963, she said, “A great proportion of farmer co-operatives are forgetting to use the talents of women.”
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Beverly became a leader in the American Association of University Women. As President of the Iowa Division of the AAUW, she spoke extensively throughout the U.S. And as her horizons broadened, her concern for women expanded globally. Her talks more and more focused on improving the status of women throughout the world.
Beverly soon became the AAUW representative to the United States National Commission for UNESCO. And in 1976 and 1977, she was appointed by President Gerald Ford, and reappointed by President Jimmy Carter, to serve as a commissioner to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. Beverly was a leader in the National Women’s Conference in 1977, which focused on such issues as battered women, the Equal Rights Amendment, and women’s education. It was the first such meeting since the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.
Into the 1980s, Beverly Everett traveled extensively throughout the world through the auspices of many organizations. She spoke about, learned about, and volunteered in the areas of women’s roles in society, economics, and agriculture. But Beverly never forgot her Iowa rural roots. One of her major accomplishments was in the mid-1980s. She initiated the Rural Music History Celebration, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Iowa rural production of The Bohemian Girl. She continued to teach and write about Iowa rural music even as she crossed the globe advocating for women everywhere.
It’s no surprise that Beverly Everett was nominated to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. Sadly, we lost this great Iowa woman in 2001.
One of the Iowa Women’s Archives superb efforts is the Mujeres Latinas Project. Few people realize that Latinos began arriving in Iowa as early as the 1880s. By the 1920s, boxcar communities had grown up near railroad yards in towns such as Fort Madison, Davenport, and Bettendorf. Throughout the 20th century, workers from Texas and Mexico followed the migrant stream through Iowa to work the tomato and sugar beet harvests. Some chose to settle in communities such as Muscatine and Mason City well over fifty years ago. And of course we all know that the Latino/Latina population is growing robustly in our state today.
Despite their significant presence in Iowa, Latinas remain largely invisible in our state's history due to the lack of historical documents available to researchers. The Mujeres Latinas Project collects and preserves materials which document the lives and contributions of Latinas and their families to Iowa history. And all of those stories are not historical. Mujeres Latinas is just as interested in today’s Latina Iowa residents. Let me share one with you.
Maria Eugenia Escamilla-Góngora Rundquist was born in 1951 in Yucatán, Mexico. When she was nine, her widowed mother went back to work at her family’s pharmacy to raise her six children. Maria Escamilla went on to earn degrees in accounting and business from community colleges in Mexico.
As an administrator at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, she helped organize an exchange program between Mexican doctors and medical students from The University of Iowa. While working on this program, she met her future husband, medical doctor Rex Rundquist of Sloan, Iowa. They married in 1978, and Maria Escamilla moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. with her new husband and two children from a previous marriage. She and Dr. Rundquist had two more children, and Maria Rundquist became an American citizen.
Later, Maria worked and volunteered for a number of organizations while the family lived in Alaska. They then moved to Sioux City in 1991. Maria became active in local politics. Ultimately, she served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. In 1994, she won a leadership award for her elected service to the Woodbury County Extension Council.
Maria has worked and volunteered in positions that have helped improve the lives of Latinos and Latinas in Iowa. She has served with Latinos en Siouxland, La Casa Latina of Sioux City, the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs, and the Sioux City Human Rights Commission. She has received a Friends of Iowa Civil Rights Award, the Governor’s Volunteer Award, and many more honors.
Maria changed her political affiliation in1998 and served as chair of Iowa Latinos for Bush in the 2000 election. U. S. Senator Charles Grassley appointed her as an adviser to the Senate Republican Hispanic Affairs Task Force in 2002.
But Maria Rundquist also kept her commitment and her skills in Iowa. In 1998, she opened her own business, the Rundquist Linguistic and Cultural Consulting Services. Her company provides translation services and Spanish lessons to individuals and businesses, as well as cultural programs to schools and organizations. Maria maintains admirable success as both a private business owner and active volunteer. She leads in making life better for Latinos and Latinas in Iowa and throughout the country.
Whether we start from a poor immigrant family in New York, a farm family in Iowa, or a single-mother-headed household in Mexico, we all have dreams. And we all have power, waiting to be activated. Dreams and power are the keys to success, when they are matched with passion and the influence of the human spirit. As Maria Rundquist and Beverly Everett have shown us, these intangibles are more important than material support. As another great and inspirational woman, Helen Keller, said, “The most beautiful things in the world are not seen nor touched. They are felt with the heart.”
The Iowa Women’s Foundation believes in the primacy of our dreams and power. And despite my last statements, they also do know that investing in those dreams and that power helps their realization—a lot. So we do thank everyone who has supported the Foundation with their generous gifts. And we thank the Foundation for sharing those gifts with Iowa girls and women so that they can make a difference for their sisters—and brothers—everywhere. The Iowa Women’s Foundation’s grants, education, programming, and inspiration are all links between dreams and power—and that’s a remarkable gift to us all.
Once again, congratulations to all who are being honored today. And thank you all for making Iowa a great place for women to follow their passions and to prosper.