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Louise Noun
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Louise Noun
Louise NounLouise Rosenfield Noun (1908-2002) was a life-long activist, philanthropist and patron of the arts whose life and work has impacted the lives of generations of Iowans. Among her many contributions to civil rights was financing the legal fees that made it possible to take the Tinker case to the Supreme Court. She considered it her greatest accomplishment. More information on Louise can be found on the Thursday’s Children website.

The following tribute to Louise and her legacy was written by her good friend, Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu:

Born into privilege, raised in an age when women took their cues first from parents, then husbands, Louise Noun could have settled quietly into the life of what she called “the perfect subservient wife” --- playing bridge, learning flower arranging, and submerging her intellectual needs in line with the culture’s demands. Instead, she chose to forge her own path.

She could have deferred to her shy nature and lack of confidence and kept silent, allowing the debates to be shaped by those who already had power. “Open rebellion,” as she would write in her autobiography, “was unthinkable for a person of my disposition.”

Instead, she chose to dig deeper within and look harder around. Emerging from her chrysalis, she found a society flawed by unequal opportunities, and a power structure that often perpetuated itself by silencing other voices. So she got busy.

At first forcing herself to the podium, she let her unflagging social conscience guide her-one day to leaflet against the exploitation of low-income people by a charity; another day to an abandoned inner-city gas station to help launch Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign in Iowa; a third day to the U.S. Supreme Court, to lead the charge on a case that would pave the way for students everywhere to be able to protest war without threat of sanctions.

Insisting that power was for sharing, and demanding that women get an equal piece of it, she led. She led the Iowa Civil Liberties Union and the Des Moines league of Women Voters. She founded the Des Moines Chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Young Women’s Resource Center, the Iowa Women’s Political Caucus and ran so many efforts and campaigns that it is hard to believe one person could do so much in one lifetime.

Louise led with an uncompromising activism. And she led by example. Once she had chosen her own path, she dedicated herself to opening up choices for others.

Sometimes that was by shining a light on the road taken by others before. To honor and preserve the history of crusading Iowa women, she wrote books, and co-founded the Iowa Women’s Archives.

Often it was by giving. She gave generously to women’s caucuses and candidates, including the Chrysalis Foundation, which she created and endowed. She gave to museums and colleges from her innovative collection of art by women-donating the proceeds of one $1.6 million painting to endow the Iowa Women’s Archives. She gave to the Des Moines Art Center, on whose acquisitions board she served.

From her unassuming presence, you might never know that people flew in on private planes for just an afternoon with her, or that renowned feminist leaders called her their role model. So many times, as the awards and honorary degrees rolled in, she could have called it quits and rested on her laurels.

But Louise was never content to be just an icon. She always had unfinished business. 

So, in the end, when she could have quietly made her exit after finding the route, she launched her final project-to demand choices not just in living, but also in dying.

All the hackneyed phrases that spring to mind to describe her-ahead of her time, non-conformist, a woman with the courage of her convictions-seem paltry in the face of Louise’s incredible legacy. But then, she wasn’t impressed by accolades anyway. Nor, though she was a devoted friend to her friends, was she given to sentimentalism.

She didn’t want to be memorialized with music or candles. She’d rather that those of us she made an impact on get on with the business she didn’t get to finish.

-        REKHA BASU



Celebrating Ten Decades - Louise Noun's Life & Legacy

FIRST DECADE (1908-1918)

·        Born to Meyer and Rose Frankel Rosenfield on March 7, 1908 (younger sister of Joseph Rosenfield and Ruth Rosenfield McGregor)


SECOND DECADE (1918-1928)

·        Attended and graduated from newly-build Roosevelt High School

·        Attended Grinnell College and Wellesley College


THIRD DECADE (1928-1938)

·        First public protest seeking right for women to smoke at Grinnell College

·        B.A. degree from Grinnell College

·        Graduate studies in art history and museum management at Radcliffe/Harvard; received M.A. degree

·        Married Dr. Maurice Noun

FOURTH DECADE (1938-1948)

·       Adopted daughter Susan

·       Board member of Des Moines Association of Fine Arts and Des Moines Art Center Association

·       Founding member and officer, Des Moines League of Women Voters


FIFTH DECADE (1948-1958)

·       Led Campaign for Council/Manager Government in Des Moines

·       Board member of National Municipal League; received Distinguished Citizen Award

·       Board member of Des Moines Art Center Association

·       Des Moines Plan and Zoning Commission and Commission for Study of Social and Economic Trends in Iowa


SIXTH DECADE (1958-1968)

·       Drake University Law School (one semester; only woman in class)

·       Governor’s Commission of State and Local Government

·       President, Iowa Civil Liberties Union

·       Began collecting art by women with purchase of works by Isabel Bishop


SEVENTH DECADE (1968-1978)

·       Sponsored ICLU/Iowa high school students’ case in U.S. Supreme Court; First Amendment Rights affirmed (Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District, 1969)

·       Divorced from Maurice Noun

·       Published Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Iowa

·       Founding member, Des Moines Chapter, National Organization for Women

·       Led campaign to reform United Way’s disparate funding of agencies serving boys and girls

·       Helped establish and served as president of Young Women’s Resource Center

·       Founding member, Iowa Women’s Political Caucus

·       Doctor of Humane Letters from Grinnell College


EIGHTH DECADE (1978-1988)

·       Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame

·       Outstanding service by Iowa Arts Council, Iowa Humanities Board, and Iowa Commission for the Aging

·       Doctor of Humane Letters, Cornell College

·       Raised funds to establish Bernie Lorenz Recovery House for Women


NINTH DECADE (1988-1998)

·       Established Chrysalis Foundation

·       Published Journey to Autonomy, A Memoir, and More Strong-Minded Women: Iowa Feminists Tell Their Stories

·       Established Iowa Women’s Archives at University of Iowa with Mary Louise Smith

·       Philanthropic Vision Award, Ms. Foundation for Women

·       Doctor of Humane Letters, Drake University


TENTH DECADE (1998-2008) 

·       Published Iowa Women in the WPA

·       Hall of Achievement, Des Moines Jewish Academy

·       Women of Influence, Des Moines Business Record

·       Outstanding Leadership Award, National Council for Community and Justice

·       Lifetime Achievement Award, Iowa Arts Council

·       Publishes From Leader to Pariah: Annie Savery and the Campaign for Women’s Rights in Iowa (Iowa Women’s Archives)

·       Died August 23, 2002

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