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The Blue Book of Iowa Women A History of Contemporary Women

Compiled by Winona Evans Reeves, 1914.


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Mrs. Elizabeth Sampson Norris

Mrs. Elizabeth Sampson Norris, of Grinnell, widow of D. W. Norris, a once prominent attorney of that city, who died in 1907, is now serving her fourteenth year as member of the Iowa State Library Commission and should be addressed as the mother of the Library Commission in Iowa, if that title could rightfully belong to any one person more than to another.  It was Mrs. Norris, as chairman of the library committee of the State Federation of Women's Clubs, who inspired the federation at its biennial in Burlington in 1899 to demand a state commission and it was through the influence of the club women of the state that the commission was finally created by the legislature.  Governor Shaw then appointed Mrs. Norris as one of the members of the first commission.

Before becoming identified with the state library work Mrs. Norris had interested a wealthy neighbor and his wife in public library work in Grinnell to such a degree that they gave to their city the Stewart library, of Grinnell.  Besides her library work Mrs. Norris has been active in club and hospital work.  She was a charter member of the "Historical Club" of Grinnell, organized in 1882, of which she was later president.  She has been president of the "Priscillas" and chairman of the executive board of the city hospital association as well as treasurer of the cemetery association.  Mrs. Norris is a type of Iowa's self-made women.  Born of educated and intellectual parents at Elgin, Ill., Aug. 20, 1852, adversity threw her upon her own resources at the age of sixteen, when at seventeen years of age she was teaching primary grades in the schools of Tama, Iowa.  Her father, Edmund Gifford, a Harvard law graduate, lawyer, local judge and president of the school board at Elgin and later pay master in the union army, was an advocate of the synthetic or word method of instruction before the war, which method was used by Mrs. Norris in her school work at Tama long before it gained its popularity of today.

Mrs. Norris married David W. Norris, then superintendent of the Tama schools and graduate of Grinnell College, at Tama, Dec. 23, 1874, and shortly afterward located permanently in Grinnell where six children were born to them, three of whom are now living.  D. W. Norris, Jr., the eldest, is the editor of the Times-Republican at Marshalltown;  P. G. Norris, the second won, is judge of the superior court at Grinnell, and Lucy Elizabeth Norris-Cartwright is the wife of T. C. Cartwright, a lumber merchant of Marshalltown, where Mrs. Norris now makes her temporary home.

Teacher at seventeen, later mother of six children, the daughter of a Harvard law graduate and mother of another, wife of a Grinnell College graduate and mother of two graduates from the same college, it is not strange that this self-made woman in her public activities should have found her interests in the public library movement of her day and it is an evidence of her strength of character that she has been able to see works of lasting public benefit come from the purposes which she has pursued.



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