Iowa Women's Archives
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, Iowa


PAULA WATTS BROWN (1909-1974 )

PAPERS 1930-1974
10 linear feet


Iowa Women's Archives
100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, Iowa 52242

Phone: 319-335-5068
Fax: 319-335-5900
E-mail the Iowa Women's Archives

Collection Overview

The papers (donor no.2 ) were donated by Kenneth R. Brown in 1976.
The papers are open for research.
Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.
In Boxes 14, 18, 23 and 24.
Processed by:
Randel W. Lackore, 1995 and Special Collections Staff (MsC 313) 1976 . [ BrownPaula.doc]


Born in Arkansas, Paula Watts was raised in Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma, where she met and married Kenneth R. Brown. For the first seven years of their marriage, the couple lived in Rockford, Illinois, before moving to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1937. In Des Moines, Kenneth Brown operated his own engineering company. During World War II, while her husband was in the service, Paula Watts Brown took over the management of Brown Engineering Company. The Browns raised three daughters and one son and were both active in public service organizations.

In 1958 Paula Watts Brown resigned from all public service organizations to begin her own one-woman campaign of political involvement, feeling that she could accomplish more good as an individual than as the member of a group. A June 1, 1967 Perry Daily Chief article said, "Mrs. Brown of Des one of those rare individuals who stands up to be counted--even if she's the only one standing." Brown attended school board and city council meetings and was instrumental in changes to the education policy of the board and the beautification of Des Moines.

Brown campaigned on various issues at school board meetings and in editorial letters to the newspaper. All of her efforts were directed at improving the quality of education by increasing the emphasis on math, the sciences and student achievement. In 1954 Brown spearheaded a movement to get the school board to begin a policy of recognizing academic achievement in high school. Later, Honors Day ceremonies to honor academic merit and special scholarship recipients were instituted. "Enriched" courses were offered in the high schools enabling more students to prepare for college. She also worked for programs to upgrade the science fair held in school. Academic awards and an emphasis on the science fair were ways in which Brown hoped to motivate more students to excel in science and technical courses. The creation of the college track system and better recognition of scholarship were results of Brown's confrontations with the school board.

Brown also used her activism to improve the civic beauty of Des Moines. She fought to preserve the Old Federal Building in downtown. Though the building was lost, the effort made many people conscious of the need to preserve historic buildings. Brown saw billboards as an eyesore; she called them "obnoxious and dangerous" since they are designed to divert a driver's attention from the road. She helped get the Iowa legislature to prohibit future installation of billboards adjacent to interstates and state highways in 1972. Brown's urging convinced the greater Des Monies Chamber of Commerce to acquire most of the land around Gray's Lake to protect it from commercial development. With contributions from the Chamber, businesses, clubs and school classes, Gray's Lake became a park. Brown said afterwards that this campaign had been her only success.

Brown's public service included heading an early membership drive for the Des Moines Art Center. She was one of the first two women to be a member of the Edmundson Foundation Board of Trustees. She served on this art center board for ten years.

Scope and Content Note

The Paula Watts Brown papers date from 1930 to 1974 and measure 10 linear feet. The papers are arranged in seven series:

SERIES I Personal life Boxes 1-2
SERIES II Assorted causes Boxes 3-8
SERIES III Billboards Boxes 9-16
SERIES IV Des Moines Art Center Boxes 16-18
SERIES V Educational interest Boxes 18-22
SERIES VI. Gray's Lake Boxes 22-23
SERIES VII Old Federal Building Box 23

The Personal life series (1930-1974 and undated) contains primarily correspondence between Brown and her family and friends. The journals subseries contains three diaries each written at a different period of Brown's life: when she was a college student, as a young mother and towards the end of her life.

The Assorted causes series (1948-1974 and undated) is broadly based and eclectic. Included in the series are Brown's papers and research on topical issues such as: city planning, the environment, public housing, population growth, and world peace, among others.

Brown was actively involved in making her community a better place to live. The Billboards series (1953-1974 and undated) contains material from her campaign to restrict billboards that marred the aesthetics of the community. Brown collected resources from across the country from private and public groups to help in her fight. The series contains reports from the subcommittee assigned to evaluate the Des Moines sign ordinance. Brown presented proposals to the city council and wrote several letters to the editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune concerning billboards. The series also includes correspondence and newspaper clippings relating to the billboard campaign.

The Des Moines Art Center series (1949-1973 and undated) contains papers from Brown's tenure as a trustee of the Edmundson Art Foundation, charged with the administration and operation of the art center. The series includes pamphlets and notices of some of the exhibitions at the center from 1958 to 1973.

The Educational interest series (1950-1974) is comprised of materials relating to the Des Moines school district and education in general. Brown addressed the school board concerning the recognition of academic excellence, promotion of greater student interest in the sciences, student parking, athletics and intramural sports. Included in this series is correspondence between Brown, other concerned citizens and the school board. The series also contains articles and speeches written by Brown and additional articles from magazines and newspapers about issues which interested Brown.

Although Brown's campaigns encountered varying success with the Des Moines City Council, one of her victories was the conservation of Gray's Lake. The Gray's Lake series (1960-1974 and undated) contains reports on the acquisition and zoning of Gray's Lake as a flood zone and newspaper clippings that chronicle the progress of establishing the lake as a recreational area. That the public supported this campaign is evident by the petition and pamphlets that are included in the series. The series also contains a reel-to-reel recording of the September 27, 1966, public hearing.

The drive to save the Old Federal Building (1964-1970 and undated) in downtown Des Moines was not accomplished. This series contains copies of the Des Moines City Council agendas, newspaper clippings and correspondence from Brown to members of city government. Included are maps of downtown Des Moines and drawings of the parking ramp built on the site of the old Federal Building.



Box 1
Biographical material, 1971
  Business correspondence, 1961-1974 and undated
  Club membership list, 1956-1958
Correspondence, 1946-1974 and undated (5 folders)
Box 2    
Illness, 1973-1972

Kenneth R. Brown, 1950-1972

Newspaper clippings, 1944-1972
Notebooks, 1931-1950. 1968-1969
Removed from binder

Gardening, 1954-1959 and undated


Health, 1955-1961 and undated


Miscellaneous, undated

  Party lists, 1946-1952 and undated
Rental building, 1970 and undated
Various club pamphlets, 1951-1959


Box 3  
Architecture Institute of America (AIA) speech, 1967
City parks, 1961-1970 and undated
City planning and aesthetics, 1961-1969
Civic responsibility, 1964-1970 and undated
Community Playhouse of Des Moines, 1951-1954

Box 4

Curb cutouts, 1971-1973  
Des Moines City Airport, 1966-1971 and undated  
"Do You Suppose There is Intelligent Life on This Planet" (sermons), 1970  
Box 5


  Air pollution, 1971-1973
  Coal fuel use, 1971-1972 and undated
  Conservation, 1967-1973
  Noise pollution, 1966-1970 and undated
  Soil erosion, 1964-1972
  Solid waste and sanitary landfills, 1971-1973
  SST and Sonic Boom Handbook , 1969
  Water pollution, 1968-1971
"Hawkeye avant-garde" speech, 1961
Highway beautification, 1958-1971 and undated
Highway safety, 1948, 1963-1965
  Camara v. San Francisco and See v. City of Seattle, 1969
  Non-segregated neighborhoods, 1961-1965
Box 6
  Public housing, 1969-1972 and undated
Iowa Power and Light Company, 1965-1971
Iowa study commission on international peace-keeping report, 1969
Junior League of Des Moines, 1971
League of Women Voters, 1954-1956
Local city government, 1968-1971 and undated
Midwest Conference on Bail and Right to Counsel, 1965
Planned Parenthood, 1964-1968 and undated
Police salaries, 1965-1967
Population growth, 1948, 1963-1965

Box 7

Privacy and unsolicited mail, 1970-1973 and undated
Property tax and land use, 1971-1973 and undated
Radio and television, 1964-1970 and undated
Television transcripts
  "Bible Reading in the Public Schools," 1963
  "Solitude," 1958
  "The Square," 1959
  "The Water Famine," 1961
Urban affairs, 1964-1966 and undated
World peace, 1953-1969 and undated
Newspaper clippings, 1956-1974 (3 folders)
Box 8    
Newspaper clippings, 1956-1974 (7 folders)


Box 9                        
  Articles and speeches, 1964-1971 (7 folders)          

Box 10

  Articles and speeches, 1964-1971 (4 folders)        
  California Roadside Council, Inc., 1967-1973
Box 11
Box 12
  Court case summaries, 1962-1967
  Des Moines City Council agendas, 1965-1973 (4 folders)
  Des Moines City Planning and Zoning Commission minutes and agendas, 1965-1971 (2 folders)
  Improving the Mess We Live In , undated
Box 13
  Lamm v. Volpe, 1971
  Legislative materials, 1965-1972
  Newspaper clippings, 1963-1971 and undated (5 folders)
Box 14
  Newspaper clippings, 1963-1971 and undated (4 folders)      
  Ordinance and proposals, 1966-1972        
  Pamphlets, 1964-1973 and undated          
  Photographs, 1967-1968          
Box 15
  Proposed amendment to city sign regulation, 1973          
  Request for public hearing, 1964          
  Sign codes in the United States, 1958-1972          
  Stoner-McCray system, 1956-1971          
  Sub-committee #3 reports, 1967 (3 folders)          
Box 16              
  Visual survey and design plan, 1973          
  West Des Moines city sign ordinance, 1973          


Box 16 (cont.)                        
    Acquisition and activities committee, 1949-1953        
    Acting director reports, 1956          
    Correspondence, 1950-1967          
    Edmundson Art Foundation          
      Articles of incorporation, 1946          
      Board of trustees minutes          
Box 17
      Report on audit            
    Education, 1950-1957            
    Exhibitions, 1958-1973              
      Building and equipment, 1952-1957          
      Operating, 1952-1958          
    "Des Moines--Commerce--Competition and Culture" (address by Jim Schramm), 1958  
    Landscape, 1950-1952          
    Library, 1951-1956          
    Membership drive, 1950-1957          
    Newspaper clippings, 1951-1968          
Box 18
    Personnel, 1950-1957          
    Photograph, 1956          
      1953-1957 and undated            
      "Conformity and the Arts" (Lester D. Longman), 1961      
      "Portrait of the Artist as Neighbor" (Paul Engle), undated      


Box 18 (cont.)                        
    Articles and speeches, 1950-1974 (folders 1-5)        
Box 19
    Articles and speeches, 1950-1974 (folders 6-15)        
Box 20
    Articles and speeches, 1950-1974 (folders 16-18)      
      1953-1955 (2 folders)              
      1956-1959 (3 folders)              
      1960-1973 and undated (3 folders)          
Box 21
    Magazine articles, 1950-1964 (5 folders) [folder 5 shelved in map case drawer]  
    Newspaper clippings, 1952-1974 (4 folders)        

Box 22

    Newspaper clippings, 1952-1974 (1 folder)        
    Pamphlets, 1950-1964          
    Roosevelt High School            
      Landscape, 1962-1965            
      Parking, 1955-1962            
    Study of St. Monica School for Girls, 1955          


Box 22 (cont.)  
Acquisition report, 1962
Articles, 1966-1967 and undated
Correspondence, 1961-1974
Des Moines City Council agendas, 1962-1970
Des Moines zoning map, 1965
Newspaper clippings
  1962-1963 and undated
  1966-1972 and undated
Pamphlets, 1960-1970 and undated
Box 23
Petition, 1967
Photographs, 1970
Proposed concession agreement, 1970
Public hearing, September 27, 1966, (reel-to-reel, 96 minutes)  
Speeches, 1968 and undated  


Box 23 (cont.)  
Correspondence, 1965-1970
Des Moines City Council agendas, 1967-1969
Historical preservation grant application, 1968
Newspaper clippings, 1964-1970 and undated
Parking ramp drawings, 1967
Parking ramp review, 1969
Photographs and slides, 1965
Planning and Zoning Commission agendas and minutes, 1967
Polk County Historical Society newsletters, 1967-1968


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Last updated July 20, 2004.