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



PAPERS, 1957-2006
10 linear inches


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

Please cite materials from this collection as follows:
Penny Furgerson Papers, Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.


Collection Overview

The papers (donor no. 383) were donated by Penny Furgerson in 1996 and succeeding years.
The papers are open for research.
Copyright has been transferred to the University of Iowa. See gift agreement for additional instructions.
Two discs (d0028-d0029) shelved in digital collection.
In Boxes 1 and 2.
Processed by:
Jenny Meyer, 1999; Robert Jett, 1999; Sharon M. Lake, 2006. [FurgersonPenny.doc]


Penny Thomas Furgerson, pharmacist, dancer, choreographer, and theater director, was born in Bombay, India, in 1936. Thomas studied at Xavier College in Bombay; in 1956, she graduated with honors and received a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy. After graduation, Thomas moved to Des Moines for graduate work at Drake University where she met and married Lee B. Furgerson, Jr., a native of Waterloo, Iowa, who was a student at Iowa State University in Ames. Penny Furgerson graduated with honors from Drake in 1959 and began her career in pharmacy with internships at Katz Drug Store and Des Moines General Pharmacy. Over the next twelve years, Furgerson worked at several pharmacies in Iowa, largely in administrative capacities. In 1972, Furgerson was hired by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa, where she worked until her retirement in 1997. Penny and Lee B. Furgerson had three sons—Lee, Tom and John. Lee B. Furgerson died in October 1998.

Dance had always been a central part of Penny Furgerson’s life. She studied classical Indian dance for many years as a youth, and performed in college and public programs in India. She danced with the Ram Gopal Company representing India at the International Festival of Arts in Scotland in the late 1950s. Inspired by the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Penny Furgerson and her husband founded the Gateway Dance Theatre in Des Moines in 1972. The Furgersons saw the need for an alternative to the jazz and ballet classes offered by the local dance schools in Des Moines; they also wanted to make dance accessible to low-income students. The Gateway Dance Theatre blended styles from Africa, the Caribbean, and India into a unique, contemporary, experimental form of dancing. The purpose of the company, as described on a grant proposal, was to “develop and possibly create a totally new concept of dance by integrating elements of ethnic, classical, interpretive, popular, primitive, and folk dancing.” The Gateway Dance Theatre was both a dance school and a performing troupe. Lee Furgerson served as director and general manager while Penny Furgerson taught classes, and choreographed and danced in the theatre’s performances. Gateway offered master classes with guest artists and held many workshops. The dance theater was staffed by volunteers and partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Gateway Dance Theatre performed in many venues across the state, especially in schools and festivals.

Scope and Content Note

The Penny Furgerson papers date from 1957 to 2006 and measure 10 linear inches. The papers are arranged in four series: Biographical information, GatewayDance Theatre, Indo-American Association of Des Moines, and Professional.

The Biographicalinformation series (1957-2003 and undated) includes newspaper clippings about Furgerson, announcements of the Furgersons’ wedding in various newspapers, Furgerson’s resume, the funeral program of Furgerson’s grandmother, Dr. Anna Chandy Thomas, papers pertaining to the Furgersons’ sons and their musical band, and an undated family photo of Lee and Penny Furgerson with their three young sons. The correspondence includes letters from Furgerson’s mother and grandmother in India, and letters from her husband, Lee B. Furgerson. The letters from Lee Furgerson are on a disc, and hard copies have also been printed and included in the correspondence folder. In these letters, Lee Furgerson relates the racial barriers he encounters trying to find suitable housing for himself and his bride in the early 1960s.

The Gateway Dance Theatre series (1971-2006) constitutes the bulk of the collection. It includes administrative records (a list of board members includes Edna Griffin), dance programs, correspondence about the dance company, information on the classes and workshops sponsored by the theatre, materials on teaching dance to children, and details on the theatre’s performances around the state. Publicity materials, including a photo of three Gateway dancers, and information on various art programs in Des Moines and Iowa reflect the Furgersons’ efforts to provide performance opportunities for their dancers. In one disappointing turn of events, Furgerson wrote a letter respectfully declining to perform in the 1974 Midwest regional performance of the Second World Festival in Chicago because one of the requirements for participation was that all members of the company be of Afro-American descent. As Furgerson explained, although 98% of the company was African-American, she herself was Indian, and one of the primary dancers was white. “Rhythms of the World,” a DVD of a program aired on Iowa Public Television’s Living in Iowa in 2005, completes the series. The segment features an interview with Furgerson and footage of rehearsals and performances of the Gateway Dance Company.

The Indo-American Association of Des Moines series (1974-1997) consists of membership lists, treasurer's reports, incorporation papers, and flyers. Furgerson served on the executive committee of the association, which was formed by those interested in Indian culture.

The Professional series (1974-1994) consists of items related to Furgerson’s employment with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa (BCBS). The memorandums cover a variety of pharmacological programs including home infusion therapy and provider payment programs. Correspondence, performance evaluations, and job descriptions in this series depict tension between Furgerson and her employer: documents describe repeated efforts by Furgerson to obtain an office which suited her position, and disagreements over job duties and evaluations; a letter from Des Moines civil rights attorney Alfredo Parrish to BCBS is included. Lee B. Furgerson also worked for BCBS in the 1970s, and documents relating to his tenure as chair of the Humans Relations Council are included. An information brochure advertising a diabetic cookie company started by the Furgersons completes the series.

Related Collections

Betty Jean Furgerson papers, Lileah Harris papers, and Martha Nash papers
Furgerson, Harris, and Nash were Penny Furgerson's sisters-in-law (sisters of Lee B. Furgerson)

Box List

Box 1                          
  Biographical information              
    General, 1960-2003 and undated (photo)
      1957-1977 and undated
Letters from Lee Furgerson to Penny Furgerson, 1957-1962
[shelved in digital collection: d0028; hard copies in correspondence folder]
  Gateway Dance Theater, Inc.              
    Amos Hiatt School , 1994 and undated
Background information, 1976 and undated
Classes and workshops, 1975-1983 and undated
Community service announcements, undated
Correspondence, 1971-1997 and undated
Council Bluffs Recreation Department, 1973
Dance in the Schools, 1973-1974
Dancer measurements, undated
Grants, 1978, 1986 and undated
Guest performers
      Charles Grant, 1978-1984 and undated
Matteo and the Indo-American Dance Company, 1971-1972|
Rod Rodgers, 1977
Shirley Rushing, 1981-1982
Walter Nicks, 1974
    Iowa Arts Council, 1972-1976 and undated
Iowa Dance Council, 1973-1975
Iowa State Fair, 1971-1974
Iowa Summer Jazz Festival/Workshop, 1982
Karamu Theatre Proposal, 1972
Membership, 1972-1975 and undated
Newspaper Clippings, 1973-2006 and undated
Box 2                          
    Notes, undated
Publicity, 1973-1999 and undated (photo)
Receipts, 1974-75 and undated
“Rhythms of the World,” Living in Iowa, 2005 (DVD; 12 minutes)
      [shelved in digital collection: d0029]              
    Second World Festival, Chicago, 1974
“Something Else,” 1973
  Indo American Association of Des Moines      
    1974-1975 and undated              
    Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS)
      Conferences, 1991-1994
Employee Relations Committee, 1974 and undated
Human Relations Committee, 1974-1975 and undated
Job description, 1991
Memorandums, 1982-1994
Performance appraisals, 1982-1993
Position descriptions, 1987, 1991 and undated
Private office space, 1990-1993
        Cookie business, undated
Pharmacy, 1974 and 1980


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