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


MARTA WERNER (1906-1989)

PAPERS, 1892-1989
[bulk 1929-1989]

5 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

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


Collection Overview

The papers (donor no. 504) were donated by Maggie Werner-Washburne in 1998.
The papers are open for research.
Copyright has been transferred to the University of Iowa Libraries.
In plaque case.
In Boxes 9, 12 and 13.
Processed by:
Heather Stecklein, 2003. [WernerMarta.doc].


Prison reformer and community activist Marta Lucia Brown Werner was born in 1906 in Hermosillo, Mexico, to Mexican national Maria (Concha) Concepcion Morales and miner Frank Russell Brown, a U.S. citizen. The Browns left Mexico during the nationalist uprising led by Pancho Villa and moved to Fort Madison, Iowa, in 1914. Marta Brown graduated from Fort Madison High School in 1924 and received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Webster College in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928. Following graduation, she worked as a sales representative for Sheaffer Pen Company.

Marta Brown married Dr. Harold Theodore Werner in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, New York, in 1931. The couple settled in Fort Madison, Iowa, and raised six children: Harold Theodore, Jr. (Ted), Lucia Dean (Deana), Elizabeth (Libby), Adelaide, Maria, and Margaret (Maggie). Harold Werner died in 1968.

Following her husband’s death, Marta Werner became involved in community service in Fort Madison. Werner’s major volunteer activity was her work at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. She served as a lay minister for prisoners and assisted prison groups—such as prison branches of the NAACP and Alcoholics Anonymous—with meetings and programs. In addition, Werner personally corresponded with dozens of prisoners and their families between 1973 and 1989. For her tireless work at the penitentiary she was awarded the State of Iowa Volunteer Service Award in 1981. Werner ran for city mayor in 1973 and campaigned against the proposed rerouting of Highway 61 through Fort Madison’s minority neighborhoods. Marta Werner remained active in her volunteer activities until she contracted bone cancer in June of 1988. She died in 1989.

Scope and Content Note

The Marta Werner papers date from 1892 to 1989 and measure 5 linear feet. The papers are arranged in seven series: Personal, Family, Community activities, Iowa State Penitentiary, Newspaper clippings, Photographs, and Artifacts.

The Personal series (1915-1989) contains annotated yearbooks from Werner’s years at Webster College, travel receipts and newspaper articles from her work at the Sheaffer Pen Company, and letters to the editor Werner composed regarding Fort Madison community issues. Also included is Marta Werner’s personal correspondence, including dated letters from family and friends. The bulk of the personal correspondence from 1927 to 1931 contains dated courtship letters from Marta Werner’s husband, Harold Werner.

The Family series (1953-1968) includes articles about Werner’s brother, Bill Brown, who died in combat during World War II, and undated correspondence and marriage programs from Werner’s children and grandchildren. Newspaper clippings in this series document Werner’s children, parents, and her grandmother, Maria Brown. A book about Maria Brown, Grandmother Brown’s Hundred Years, completes the series. Marta Werner is mentioned on page 286 of the book as a child in Mexico.

The Community activities series (1892-1990) includes newspaper clippings documenting the community controversy over Highway 61 and Werner’s research to gain admittance to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Papers related to Werner’s work as a board member of the Southeast Iowa Homemaker Health Aide Service complete the series.

The Iowa State Penitentiary series (1973-1989) contains correspondence between Werner and prisoners both during and after incarceration; letters written by Werner to the parole board on behalf of prisoners; meeting minutes, programs, publications, and correspondence from prisoner organizations; albums Werner compiled containing correspondence, programs, photos, and newspaper clippings from her work at the institution; and complaint correspondence from prisoners to businesses. The albums have been disbound and placed into archival folders.

The bulk of the clippings in the Newspaper clippings series (1970-1989) are articles from the Des Moines Register or Ft. Madison Evening Democrat about the Iowa State Penitentiary that document prison issues such as administrative changes, changes in parole programs, specific prisoners’ cases, sexual abuse among prisoners, and escapes and disturbances at the prison. Articles related to Catholic Workers and women in Iowa complete the series.

The Photographs series include snapshots of Werner’s children and grandchildren, snapshots of prisoners, and photographs of Werner accepting awards.

Two plaques comprise the Artifacts series: an award Werner received in 1981 from the state of Iowa in recognition of her work at the Iowa State Penitentiary and a 1988 award from a prisoner Alcoholics Anonymous group.

A book about Werner’s paternal grandmother, Maria Brown, is shelved in the printed works collection of the Iowa Women’s Archives:

Grandmother Brown’s Hundred Years, 1827-1927 (1929) by Harriet Connor Brown. [CT275. B7657B7 1929]

Related Collections

Virginia Harper Papers
Harper and Werner were friends and worked together on the Highway 61 controversy and prison issues.

Box List

Box 1                          
    Biographical, 1957-1989 and undated
Diplomas and certificates, 1924-1947 [shelved in awards and certificates case]
Webster College yearbook
      1925-1928 (3 folders)              
    Sheaffer Pen Company, 1930-1931 and undated
Marriage certificate and guest list, 1931
Receipts and legal documents, 1931-1989
University of Iowa student papers, 1969 and undated
Letters to the editor, 1975-1984 and undated
Personal calendar, 1983
Awards and certificates, 1978-1988 and undated
Religious cards and writings, undated
Personal correspondence
      1915, 1926              
Box 2                          
      1927 (2 folders)
1928 (2 folders)
1930 (3 folders)
1931 (1 folder)
Box 3                          
      1931 (2 folders)
1932-1934, 1936-1937
1938, 1948, 1957-1958, 1965-1966, 1968
Box 4                          
1980 (2 folders)
1982 (2 folders)
Box 5                          
      1985 (2 folders)
Personal correspondence, undated (3 folders)
Courtship correspondence, undated
Box 6                          
    Bill Brown, missing in action, returned letter and newspaper clipping, 1943
Newspaper clippings, 1948-1960 and undated [see Grandmother Brown’s 100 Years, shelved in printed works]
Harold Werner, 1934-1968 and undated
Werner children certificates and programs, 1959-1961 and undated
Family correspondence, undated (7 folders)
Grandmother Brown’s Hundred Years, 1827-1927 [shelved in IWA printed works collection]
Box 7                          
  Community activities              
    Sacred Heart Hospital Guild, 1956-1957 and undated
Highway 61, 1970-1978 and undated
Daughters of the American Revolution, 1892-1990 [certificate shelved in awards and certificates case]
Fort Madison mayoral campaign, 1973
Southeast Iowa Homemaker Health Aide Service, 1977
Lee County Care Facility newsletters, 1977, 1983, 1984
  Iowa State Penitentiary, Fort Madison, Iowa        
    General, 1976-1983 and undated
“Varieties of 1945” programme presented by inmates, 1945
Department of Corrections petitions, 1982
Southeast Iowa Community Corrections Advisory Board, 1976
Essays on prison conditions by Marta Werner, 1974 and undated
Prison poems by Marta Werner “inspired by the men,” 1973-1985
Prison Volunteers
      General, 1975-1984 and undated
Correspondence, 1973-1987 and undated
Meeting minutes, 1974-1975
    Prison notebooks, 1980-1986 and undated
Prison notes and lists
Box 8                          
    Prisoner publications  
      ISP News and Walled Report, 1976-1979 (scattered)
Captive Comments, 1979-1981(scattered)
Presidio, Vol. XLIII No. 4 and XLIV Nos. 1 & 2, undated [c. 1970s]
Miscellaneous publications and writings, 1979 and undated
    Inmate resumes, 1975 and undated
Parole/work release, 1978-1986 and undated
Grievance papers, 1982
Inmate uprising, 1981
Prisoner organizations
      Afro-American Heritage Organization, 1977-1978
Alcoholics Anonymous
        Lainett News, 1979-1981
Lainett Group, miscellaneous, 1978-1988 and undated
Tiny-Enfield AA Group, 1979-1985 (2 folders)
Box 9                          
        Tiny-Enfield AA Group, 1979-1985 (1 folder)    
      Alternative Directions Program, undated
The Black Culture Organization, 1981
Church of the New Song, 1974
Creative Thinking Gavel Club, 1976
Jacob’s Well Ministries, undated
Living in Final Effort (LIFE), 1977-1981
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Iowa State Penitentiary branch, 1979
New Life Ministries, 1978-1980 and undated
Operation HELP, 1973-1975
Organization for the Realistic Delineation and Evaluation of the Abjured Lifer (ORDEAL), 1976
7 th Step Foundation, 1975-1977 and undated
United Native American Religions, 1980
    Prison albums              
      American Indian/Chicano Cultural Center, 1974-1981
General Iowa State Penitentiary albums
        Album 1, 1976-1984 (2 folders)
Album 2, 1973-1987
Album 3, 1975-1980
Album 4, 1974-1986
Album 5, 1973-1977 [photos]
Box 10                          
        Album 6, 1975-1985        
    Inmate correspondence        
      1974-1983 (10 folders)        
Box 11                          
      1984-1987 and undated (6 folders)
Consumer comment letters, 1973-1974
    Werner correspondence on prison conditions, 1975-1983 and undated    
  Newspaper clippings, 1970-1989      
    Iowa State Penitentiary Ft. Madison (folder 1)      
Box 12                          
    Iowa State Penitentiary Ft. Madison (folder 2)
Prison issues in Iowa
Religion and Catholic Workers
Women in Iowa
    Family (folder 1)

Box 13                          
    Family (folder 2)
Prison (4 folders)
  Artifacts [shelved in plaque case]          
    Tiny-Enfield AA service award, 1988
Volunteer service award, 1981

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