»PAPERS, DATES:»1910-1991 (bulk 1942-1991)»

QUANTITY:»1.3 linear feet and audiovisual material




The »papers (donor no. 336) were donated by »Catherine Williams in 1996.


The »papers are open for research.


In box 3.


»Six audiocassettes shelved in audiocassette collection [AC334-AC339].


»Copyright has been transferred to the University of Iowa.


»In boxes 1 and 2.


Your name, year»Natalie S. Brody, 1996.


Robert Jett, August 12, 1998, version WORD97.



Begin text here:»Catherine Gayle Williams was born on November 21, 1914 in Des Moines, Iowa, the fourth of Godfrey and Ethel Wells Williams's seven children.  Although she graduated as valedictorian of her class from North High School in 1932, she could not afford to go to college.  She pursued, instead, the first of her two careers, tap dancing.  Williams began dancing in Chicago, toured in a number of large eastern cities, lived in California for four years, where she appeared in several movies, and in 1940 toured with the Hot Mikado in which Bill "Bojangles" Robinson starred.  During this time she married Charles Atkinson, a dancer.  They were divorced in 1944.  Williams meanwhile attended the Cortez Peters Business College in Chicago (1942-1943).  For a brief time she worked in an office and,  with a friend, started a short-lived dress shop.  When her parents became ill, she returned to Des Moines in 1947.


Williams took a job as a secretary with the Polk County Welfare Department and advanced to Public Assistance Worker II by 1955.  She thus began her second career, in the field of social work.  After thirteen years of part-time study at Drake University, she graduated in 1961 with a degree in psychology and sociology.  In 1962 she was appointed to the position of Public Welfare Supervisor.  The following year she took a two-year "educational leave" to attend the School of Social Work at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa).  She and Richard Williams were married in 1963.  He died in 1995.  In 1965 at the age of fifty-one, she graduated and returned to the Polk County Welfare Department, soon rising to the position of Social Work Supervisor IV.  From 1975 to 1981 Williams was the Deputy Commissioner of the Iowa Department of Social Services, and for a six-month period in 1979 served as the acting Commissioner.  At the time she retired in 1981, after thirty-two years of service, she was the highest-ranking black official in the state government.  Throughout her career she focused her concerns on the family and family relationships, initiating a number of innovative programs in the Department of Social Services.  After her retirement she became a consultant in social and management systems for Johnson and Williams Associates.


Williams has served on numerous boards and committees and has been honored extensively for her contributions to the field of social work.  In 1980 she was named to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame and cited as Iowa's Social Worker of the Year.  The following year she received an Alumni Distinguished Service Award from Drake University and an honorary degree from Simpson College.  In 1990 she was awarded the YWCA/Mary Louise Smith Racial Justice Award and the University of Iowa School of Social Work Distinguished Alumnae Award.


Scope and Content Note


            Begin text here:The» Catherine Gayle Williams papers date from »1942 to 1991, including some undated items from approximately the 1910s, and measure »1.3 linear feet.  The »papers »are arranged in »seven series:  »Biographical information, Education, Racial concerns, Retirement, Writings, Photographs, and Delta Sigma Theta.


            The Biographical information series (1942-1991) includes a taped interview with Williams by David A. Smith.  A copy of his master's thesis based on these interviews is filed with printed works in the Iowa Womens Archives  Materials relating to awards Williams received and a scrapbook (disbound) of events in her life, which includes photographs, complete the series.


            Williams's 1965 master's thesis, "Attitudes toward Adoptions in the Negro Community of Des Moines"; papers she wrote as a student; and some class notes comprise the Education series (1960-1965, 1982).


            The Racial concerns series (1968-1970 and undated) encompasses varied topics, including seminar and workshop materials, bibliographies, and the "Racial Ethnic Census Report" of the Iowa Public Schools, 1968-l969.


            In 1981 Williams was honored for her thirty-two years of service at the Iowa Department of Social Services.  The Retirement series (1981) includes letters and articles of tribute to Williams.


            The Writings series (1968-1982 and undated) comprises reports Williams wrote and lectures she delivered.


            The Photographs series ([1910s], 1940s-1980s and undated) contains photographs of Williams, her family, and friends.


            Williams was a member of the Phi chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, a prominent national black sorority, founded in 1913 at Howard University.  The Delta Sigma Theta series (1947-1989, scattered) includes materials about the national organization and the Phi chapter in Des Moines which was organized in 1923.  Copies of The Delta newsletter and journal complete the series.



Related Collecton


Verda Williams papers.

            The Verda Williams papers contain three interviews on audio cassettes [AC392, AC393, and AC394] with Catherine Williams conducted for the video "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard"


Box no.   Description

**PRESS <control n> to indent each level.**

**PRESS <control e>1 to insert box number.**

**PRESS <control v>2 to return to sublevel.**

**PRESS <control v>1 to return to level 1.**

Box 1

»Biographical information

Awards, 1980, 1981, 1991

General background, 1942-1983 (scattered)

"A Role Model for Social Work: Catherine Gayle Williams," David A. Smith, Master of Social Work, School of Social Work, University of Iowa, December 1982 [shelved in printed works collection]

Interview by David A. Smith, 1982 [shelved in audiocassette collection]

Early years of Catherine Gayle Williams [AC334]

Dancing years [AC335, AC336]

Return to Des Moines [AC337]

Government Office of Social Services


End of interview and interview with Richard Williams [AC339]

Scrapbook (disbound), 1942-1991 (scattered)

[includes photographs]



Class Notes, 1960, 1982

Papers, 1963-1965

"Attitudes toward Adoptions in the Negro Community of Des Moines," Catherine Williams, Master of Arts, School of Social Work, State University of Iowa, June 1965 [shelved in printed works collection]


Racial concerns

Bibliographies and miscellaneous articles, undated

Des Moines In-service Workshop, August 18-23, 1968

"Racial Ethnic Census Report," Iowa Public Schools, 1969-1970

Research seminar, "American Black People Living in the United States," School of Social Work, University of Iowa, Fall 1970


Retirement, 1981

Scrapbook (disbound)

Scrapbook, "In Appreciation" [oversize: in box 4]


Box 2




Lectures, 1971-1982 (scattered) and undated

Reports, 1968, 1970, 1987


Photographs, [1910s], 1940s-1980s and undated


 Delta Sigma Theta

General, 1954-1965

Artifacts, 1953-1954 and undated [in box 3]

Phi chapter, 1951-1987

The Delta


1947, 1957, 1964

1966, 1967, 1988-1989

Newsletters, 1957-1967, 1988-1989

Memorabilia, 1951-1965

Scrapbook, 1951-1957 (disbound)


Box 3


Delta Sigma Theta

Artifacts, 1953-1954 and undated


Box 4


Retirement, 1981

Scrapbook, "In Appreciation"