Erma B. Plaehn Papers, 1915-1973

Collection Overview

Title: Erma B. Plaehn Papers, 1915-1973

Record Series: 12/05/02/01

Creator: Plaehn, Erma B.

Date: 1915-1973

Extent: 5 boxes (3.25 linear feet)

Repository: Special Collections & University Archives at Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa

Language: Materials entirely in English.

Access and Use

Accessing the Collection:

No restrictions. Materials are open for research.

Related Archival Materials:

Related archival materials can be found in 12/05/01 Department of Political Science Collection at Special Collections & University Archives at Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

Sensitive Materials Statement:

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy or similar laws, and the Iowa Open Records Law (see Iowa Code § 22.7). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Northern Iowa assumes no responsibility.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], in the [Series Title] #[series number], [folder number or title when applicable], [Collection Name], Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

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Historical Note

Erma B. Plaehn was born on October 28, 1906. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell College in 1928 before beginning her teaching career in Algona, Iowa, where she taught for three years. In 1931, she enrolled at the University of Iowa (then the State University of Iowa) and earned her Master of Arts and Ph.D. degrees in political science.

Plaehn began her 37 years of service at the Iowa State Teachers College (ISTC) in 1936 as a Laboratory School instructor. In 1945, she joined the Department of Social Science with the rank of Assistant Professor of Political Science. Teaching was her life's work and her classrooms and office were among the busiest on campus.

As the number of political scientists on staff increased, she led the successful movement to create a separate Department of Political Science, becoming its first head in 1969. After two years, she left her administrative position and returned to full-time teaching. She was awarded emeritus status at the end of the 1972-1973 academic year.

Plaehn was a member of many community organizations and was named to the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women as well as the Board of Iowa Center for Education in Politics. She was active professionally and during her career was a member of more than a dozen national academic or service organizations, including the Midwest and American Political Science Associations, the American Civil Liberties Union, and AAUP. Additionally, she helped establish the Iowa Conference of Political Scientists and served as one of its early officers.

Her scholarly writings included contributions to the Iowa State Course of Study for American Government, the State Civics Course Study, and "Taxes Underwrite Education," which appeared in the publication, The Palimpsest, in March 1945. Plaehn also co-authored, with Professor Henry Nelson, a series of filmstrips on Iowa history and geography. In 1969, she received the outstanding Woman Educator award from Torch and Tassel, UNI's Women's Association, and twice received the Alumni Service Award.

Plaehn passed away on September 11, 1974.


  • Series 1: Biographical/Personal
  • Series 2: Correspondence
  • Series 3: Ephemera
  • Series 4: Mixed Materials
    • Subseries 1: General Clippings
    • Subseries 2: Iowa Cultural Heritage & Tourism
  • Series 5: Visual Materials
    • Subseries 1: Photographs
    • Subseries 2: Scrapbooks
  • Series 6: Miscellaneous
  • Series 7: Artifacts

Scope and Content

The Erma B. Plaehn Papers, 1915-1973, feature a wide array of materials reflecting Plaehn's personal life and interests, as well as her academic and professional activities. It has been arranged into seven series.

The Biographical series includes obituaries and clippings about Plaehn's family, notably her brother, Willis, and their mother, Anna. Many items relate to Plaehn's education, with a few concerning her early schooling while the bulk focus on her time at Cornell College and the University of Iowa. An item of particular note is her 1936 University of Iowa Convocation program (Ph.D.), which also lists Daryl Pendergraft and James Maucker as master's degree recipients.

The Correspondence series spans 1920-1973 and is comprised primarily of incoming correspondence, with a small number of outgoing correspondence. Correspondents consist of Plaehn's family; individuals from ISTC/UNI; schoolchildren; State of Iowa politicians; and various other groups and individuals. Subjects include her early teaching career, ISTC/UNI, conferences and trips, and speaking engagements. A handful of letters express support and appreciation for the "Our Iowa Heritage" radio broadcasts. Subjects of a personal nature include holiday greetings and a few items about Plaehn's brother Willis and the 1958 death of her mother. Items of note include:

  • Set of letters from Iowa Congressman Fred Schwengel concerning Plaehn's July 1959 trip to Washington D.C. as part of the "Week in Washington" program
  • A January 1961 photograph release form signed by former United States Vice President Henry A. Wallace with a small annotation
  • September 1936 letter from President O.R. Latham welcoming Plaehn to the ISTC faculty
  • February 1942 packet of notes from ISTC seniors to Plaehn
  • Handful of letters from the 1950s from President James Maucker
  • October 1963 letter from Governor Harold Hughes appointing Plaehn to the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women
  • Undated postcards from Erma to her family, presumably sent while on her world travels

Series 3, Ephemera, spans 1928-1973 and contains a wide variety of materials documenting events and activities throughout Plaehn's life, many of which are related to politics. A handful of items concern a Mississippi River steamboat excursion in which Plaehn participated. The series includes many interesting items, notably:

  • A menu for the U.S. House of Representatives restaurant, signed by nine House members
  • A handful of tickets for the 1948 Democratic National Convention
  • A 1939 invitation from the White House and Eleanor Roosevelt, inviting Plaehn to visit in conjunction with the American Political Science Association
  • Certificates for Plaehn's memberships for State Historical Society of Iowa and Governor's Commission on the Status of Women (1963)

The Mixed Materials series consists primarily of clippings (both originals and photocopies), as well as a handful of brochures and pamphlets. It is divided into two subseries. The General Clippings subseries, dates from 1963-1972, with one item from 1947. The bulk of the subseries is undated. Clippings focus on Plaehn and her career at ISTC/UNI, such as speaking engagements, trips, and being voted one of campus' favorite professors. Also included are a handful of clippings about regional and national topics and ISTC/UNI more generally. Items of note are a 1972 clipping related to Plaehn's campaign as the Democratic candidate for the County Board of Supervisors and articles from The College Eye written by Plaehn, including "Constitutional Amendments Have Merit" and "Election Year Brings Questions On How To Vote." The Iowa Cultural Heritage & Tourism subseries consists of clippings and a small number of brochures and pamphlets related to Iowa's cultural heritage and tourist industry. It includes information about efforts to boost Iowa tourism; county and state parks; and Iowa landmarks, museums, and historical societies.

The Visual Materials series consists of two subseries. The first, Photographs, includes undated family photographs, among others. A notable item is a photograph of Plaehn and Iowa Congressman Fred Schwengel, signed by him. The second subseries, Scrapbooks, contains five scrapbooks. One covers the American Political Science Association 1963 World Tour Seminar and includes clippings, trip itineraries, correspondence, photos, participant information, and tickets. The green scrapbook consists of clippings about the history of Cedar Falls. There are also loose scrapbook pages which include photos, documents, and clippings related to ISTC/UNI. Two scrapbooks focus solely on politics. The first largely concerns President Franklin D. Roosevelt seeking his third term and the selection of Iowan Henry A. Wallace as his running mate. The second focuses on G.O.P. politics, both at the regional and national level. Note that these last two scrapbooks are located in Box 5.

Series 6, Miscellaneous, contains assorted items such as articles, exams (1934 and 1935), ads for the "Iowa: Land and People" filmstrip, co-developed by Plaehn and H.L. Nelson of the Department of Science; and items related to ISTC/UNI. The materials span the 1930s-1960s, though most are undated. The series also contains the 1926 "Royal Purple" yearbook from Cornell College. The rest of the series consists of bundles in which their groupings have been maintained. Please see the inventory for the full list.

The final series, Artifacts, contains three plaques: the "Torch and Tassel" Award, given to Plaehn in 1969-1970; the "UNI Alumni Service" Award, given to Plaehn in 1973' and one for Plaehn's NAACP life membership (1971).


Box 1

  • Folder 1: Biographical Materials, 1915-1966; undated [Series 1]
  • Folder 2: Correspondence, 1920-1961 [Series 2]
  • Folder 3: Correspondence, 1961-1973; undated [Series 2]
  • Folder 4: Ephemera, 1928-undated [Series 3]
  • Folder 5: Ephemera, undated [Series 3]
  • Folder 6: Ephemera, "Assassination of a President," 1963 [Series 3]
  • Folder 7: Mixed Materials - Clippings, 1947; 1963-1972; undated [Series 4, Subseries 1]
  • Folder 8: Mixed Materials - Iowa Cultural Heritage & Tourism [Series 4, Subseries 2]

Box 2

  • Folder 1: Mixed Materials - Iowa Cultural Heritage & Tourism [Series 4, Subseries 2]
  • Folder 2: Mixed Materials - Iowa Cultural Heritage & Tourism [Series 4, Subseries 2]
  • Folder 3: Visual Materials - Photographs [Series 5, Subseries 1]
  • Folder 4: Visual Materials - Scrapbooks [Series 5, Subseries 2]
  • American Political Science Association 1963 World Tour Seminar scrapbooks [Series 5, Subseries 2]

Box 3

  • Cedar Falls history scrapbook [Series 5, Subseries 2]
  • Folder 1: Miscellaneous, 1930s-1960s; undated [Series 6]
  • Folder 2: Miscellaneous - "Our Iowa Heritage Radio Scripts," 1961-1964 [Series 6]
  • Folder 3: Miscellaneous - "Iowa" songs [Series 6]
  • Folder 4: Miscellaneous - "European Social Science Seminars/Trips" [Series 6]
  • Folder 5: Miscellaneous - "Iowa History" [Series 6]
  • Folder 6: Miscellaneous - "Notes" [Series 6]
  • Folder 7: Miscellaneous - [Research Notes?] [Series 6]
  • Folder 8: Miscellaneous - [Research Notes?] [Series 6]
  • 1926 Cornell College yearbook

Box 4

  • Artifacts [Series 7]

Box 5

  • Political scrapbooks [Series 5, Subseries 2]

Processing Information

Finding aid created by Library Associate Dave Hoing, July 2017. Updated December 2017 and April 2018 (dh). Updated by Archival Processor Tessa Wakefield, February 2019. Linear feet updated August 28, 2017.

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