SUBTITLE:»»PAPERS, 1860s-1996 and undatedDATES:»

»(bulk dates 1944-1996)

1.75 linear feet QUANTITY:»

and audiovisual material




The »papers (donor no. 393) were donated by Esther J. Walls in 1996».


The »papers are open for research.


»In box 4.


One videocassette shelved in videocassette collection (V180)».


»Copyright has been transferred to the University of Iowa.


»In box 3.


James Zachary Henshaw, 1997, and Kathryn M. Neal, 1998. [WallsEsther.doc]Your name, year»


Esther Jean Walls, librarian, administrator, and educator, was born to Eldist (E.S.) and Jewette Walls on May 1, 1926 in Mason City, Iowa.  In 1944, Walls graduated from Mason City High School, the valedictorian of her class.  She attended Mason City Junior College before transferring to the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa), where she majored in romance languages with a minor in education.  She was the first African-American female student at the State University of Iowa to be elected to the Alpha of Iowa Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and was a member of Phi Sigma Iota, an honorary Romance Languages fraternity.  She graduated summa cum laude in 1948 with a B.A.  Although she found no teaching positions open to her in Mason City, Walls did secure employment at the Mason City Public Library.  She went on to attend Columbia University, where she received an M.S. in Library Science in 1951.


Walls began working for the New York Public Library in 1950 and held various professional assignments, including serving as director of the North Manhattan Library Project and as head of the Countee Cullen Regional Library.  From 1965 to 1970, Walls worked for the non-profit international publishing organization Franklin Book Programs, Inc.  She served as program officer, supervising and administering activities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  She also served as director of Book and Library Services, assistant director for Africa, and director of Adult New Literates Project.


Walls was elected director of the United States Secretariat for the International Book Year 1972.  In this capacity, she coordinated the activities of the U.S. Secretariat, an agency established to promote the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-sponsored year during which all member states of UNESCO focused attention on the role of books and related materials.  Her other duties included lecturing, writing, and stimulating interest in the International Book Year through education, promotion, and publicity.


In 1973, Walls became head of the Teachers Central Laboratory at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY).  She served as associate director of Libraries at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Stony Brook from 1974 until her retirement in 1988.  Walls served as chairperson of the International Relations Committee of the American Library Association (ALA) and as a commissioner and member of the executive board of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.  She also served as vice president of the United States Committee for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).


Walls traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as a consultant on books, libraries, and women’s activities and lectured to business, professional, and educational groups.  Throughout her career, she focused on issues pertaining to youth literacy, both in the United States, with particular focus on the urban environment, and abroad, with particular focus on African nations.  She has publicly addressed issues relating to the African-American experience in the United States and the role of women in society.


Scope and Content Note


            Begin text here:The» Esther J. Walls papers date from the 1860s to 1996» and measure 1.75» linear feet, plus audiovisual material.  The »papers »are arranged in five» series:  Biographical material, Correspondence, Writings, Photographs, and Scrapbooks.  The bulk of this collection documents Walls’s educational and professional activities from 1944 to 1996.


            The Biographical material series (1946-1996 and undated) includes dance cards and programs that Walls collected as a college student.  Messages from her then-boyfriend and names of bands at the dances are found within these memento booklets.  Bandleaders, such as Woody Herman and Tex Benke signed some of these items.  The series also includes material that reflects Walls’s participation in International House, a New York-based organization devoted to promoting peace, an open exchange of ideas, and international understanding.  Additional material in this series includes journal and newsletter articles in which Walls was featured, transcripts of two interviews with Walls, and a videotaped interview with Walls.


            The Correspondence series (1949-1991 and undated) contains greeting cards, correspondence, invitations, and programs.  Walls received some of the greeting cards from acquaintances who were affiliated with the United Nations.  The correspondence includes letters received by Walls in connection with her student life and with her professional career.  Of particular note are two letters written to Walls by Des Moines attorney S. Joe Brown in 1949.  In one letter, Brown, a State University of Iowa alumnus who was the first African American man to be elected to the Alpha of Iowa chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, congratulates Walls on becoming the first African-American woman to attain the honor.  The correspondence relating to the Franklin Book Programs consists of letters and schedules associated with Walls’s trips, primarily to Africa, to promote literacy.  The series also includes correspondence, arranged chronologically, from authors such as Chinua Achebe and Phyllis A. Whitney, bandleader Lawrence Welk, and television broadcaster Hugh Downs.  Invitations to and programs from various events held both in the United States and in various African countries are also included in this series.


            Featured in the Writings series (1944-1980 and undated) are essays written by Walls when she was a student, her published articles, professional reports, and speeches.   The student essays include biographies of two African-American women whom Walls knew while growing up in Mason City.  Elderly at the time that Walls wrote the essays during the 1940s, each woman had direct ties to slavery.  In a course paper dating from the same period, Walls describes having been a young African-American woman reared in a predominantly white city.  Topics examined in the professional reports include public libraries, youth literacy, vocational education, African literacy and libraries, book procurement, and African-American history.  In her speeches, Walls addressed such subjects as the role of African-American women in society and in librarianship.


            The Photographs series (1860s-1994) include photographs and color photocopies of photographs.  They feature members of Walls’s family, including a color photocopied image of ancestors who were homesteaders in Kansas that dates approximately from the 1860s.  Walls’s grandparents and parents are also featured in photocopies of photographs that date from approximately the 1890s and early 1900s.  The series also consists of  images of Walls as a college student, as a librarian, and as a promoter of literacy around the world.  Included among these photographs are images of Walls and the other women who integrated Currier Hall at the State University of Iowa in 1946 and images of Walls with nationally and internationally known authors, photographers, and performing artists.


            The Scrapbooks series (1971-1972) includes two volumes documenting the International Book Year 1972, during which Walls served as director of the U.S. Secretariat.  Pamphlets, flyers, and articles describe the efforts to promote International Book Year, particularly Walls’s participation.




Related Collections

Virginia Harper papers.

Virginia Harper was one of the women who integrated Currier Hall

dormitory with Esther Walls at the State University of Iowa (now the

University of Iowa).

Begin text here:»Virginia Harper papers.

Harper was another of the five African-American women who integrated Currier Hall dormitory at the University of Iowa in 1946.


Box no.   Description

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Box 1

Biographical material

     Awards, appointments, and resumes, 1958-1996 (scattered) and undated

     Certificates, 1974, 1982 [shelved in map case: drawer 10]

Dance cards and programs, 1946-1948

     International House, 1949-1951


          Transcript of dissertation research interview with Esther J. Walls conducted by Miriam Braverman, and related correspondence, August-September 1972

          “Speaking Volumes,” radio program transcript, undated

          Videotaped interview with Esther J. Walls, October 1986 (VHS, 23 mins.) [shelved in videocassette collection: V180]

     Journal and newsletter articles




     Newspaper clippings, 1951-1991 and undated



     Cards, 1960-1969 (3 folders)

     Franklin Book Programs

          Trip 1, December 1965-August 1966

          Trip 2, August 1966

          Trip 3, April-May 1967

          Trips 4, 6, and 8, May 1968-1970


          1949 (includes letters from attorney S. Joe Brown)




Box 2




     Prominent figures, 1955-1991 (scattered) and undated

          Mordvinoff, Nicolas, autographed program, 1955

          Whitney., Phyllis A., 1958

          Erlich, Lillian (Mrs. John), 1963

          Miller, Michael M., 1972

          Welk, Lawrence, 1972

          Jeffries, Susan, 1974

          Downs, Hugh, 1984

                             Prominent figures, 1955-1991 (scattered) and undated

          Hamilton, Antonia W., 1991

          Ives, Burl, autographed program, undated

          Achebe, Chinua, undated

          Panteleone, Helenka, undated

     Invitations and programs


          1966-1978 and undated



     Student essays, 1944?-1946

          “Stella Penny,” 1944?

          “She Climbed the Hills [Carrie N. Reeler],” 1945

           “My Racial Inheritance and Its Effect on My Personality,” 1946








          1964-1968 and undated




Box 3


          1959 and circa 1959

          1963, 1969




     Family life, 1860s-1994

     Student life, 1946-1951

                 Professional life, 1963-1973

                      Includes photographs of:

                      Achebe, Chinua

                      Bennett, Tony

                      De Carava, Roy

                      Ginsburg, Allen

                      Jones, Leroi (Amiri Baraka)

                      Kelley, William

                      Killens, John

                      Lomax, Louis                                                                                         

                      Milford, Nancy


Box 4



     International Book Year 1972 (no. 1), 1971-1972

Box 5



     International Book Year 1972 (no. 2)