The Iowa Labor History Oral Project:
Preserving and Sharing Iowa's Labor History

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The Iowa Labor History Oral Project (ILHOP) is an innovative statewide initiative to document Iowa’s rich labor and working class history through the collection and preservation of oral histories. A joint project of the Iowa Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), the University of Iowa Labor Center, and the State Historical Society of Iowa, ILHOP is widely recognized as a model for long-standing university-community engagement, and as one of the most comprehensive state-level labor oral history collections in the world.

Oral Historian John McKerley joined the Labor Center in 2013 to conduct new ILHOP interviews focused especially on preserving stories reflecting major events and struggles since the 1970s, including the origins and growth of Iowa’s public sector unions; workplace impacts of industrial, economic, and political transformations in recent decades; and experiences of women, minorities, and new immigrants in Iowa workplaces.

ILHOP audio recordings, interview transcripts, and thousands of related documents, photos, and artifacts are available to the public via the Iowa Labor Collection in the State Historical Society Library in Iowa City.

The collection provides rich resources for educators, researchers, and students, and has served as the basis for scores of books, essays, and dissertations, including Shelton Stromquist’s 1993 Solidarity and Survival: An Oral History of Iowa Labor in the Twentieth Century.

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ILHOP’s Origins And Scope

ILHOP was launched in the early 1970s by leaders of the Iowa Federation of Labor (IFL) whose delegates voted to fund the project. The IFL collaborated with the University of Iowa Labor Center to convene a statewide committee of historians and labor leaders who for two decades coordinated professional recording and transcription of over 1,100 oral histories, ongoing collection of related archival documents, and work with the State Historical Society of Iowa to ensure preservation of materials recovered by the project.

Original ILHOP interviews captured diverse experiences of miners who had worked in 19th-century Iowa coal mines, women who entered previously all-male industries during World War II, and labor leaders who helped establish many of Iowa’s first craft and industrial unions during the first half of the twentieth century in communities including Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Dubuque, Ottumwa, the Quad Cities, Sioux City, and Waterloo.

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Interviewees represent 75 different occupational groups, ranging from barbers, machinists, rubber workers, letter carriers, and teachers, to Iowans employed by railroads, in the building and construction trades, and in key Iowa industries such as farm implement manufacturing, meatpacking, and grain processing; for example, more than 200 interviews deal directly with the packinghouse industry in various locations around the state.

For more information:

Click here to download the PDF iconILHOP_Brochure_2014.pdf

Contact the Labor Center and ILHOP Oral Historian John McKerley for general ILHOP information or to suggest possible interview subjects: 319-335-4144.

Contact State Historical Society Special Collections Coordinator Mary Bennett for information on accessing ILHOP interviews and other materials in the Iowa Labor Collection: 319-335-3938.

Visit the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Iowa Labor Collection page for a partial index of past ILHOP interviews and descriptions of archival collections.

Click here to order Solidarity and Survival from the University of Iowa Press or contact the Labor Center for information on ordering discounted copies of the book for your union’s members: 319-335-4144.