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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Follon, Sue Ellen
(June 22, 1942–November 4, 1998)

–women's rights advocate, first executive director of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, and university administrator—was born in Volga, Iowa, the second of five children of Oliver and Mary (Moore) Follon. She attended Iowa Wesleyan College, graduating with a B.S. in biology in 1963. She then taught high school biology and chemistry at Delwood, Iowa, until 1967. Follon obtained a master's degree in student personnel services from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in 1970 and an Ed.D. in higher education administration from Drake University in 1983. While at UNI, she served as a residence hall director for more than 700 women. In 1970 Follon was appointed associate dean of students and coordinator of student activities at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake. While there, she was a founder of the Buena Vista County Chapter of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus and served as president of the Iowa Association of Women Deans, Counselors, and Administrators.

    In January 1976 Governor Robert Ray appointed Follon as executive director of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women. She held that position until January 1985. Under her leadership, the commission participated in administrative and legislative action to address social inequities against women, ranging from domestic and sexual abuse issues to education and employment. Among legislative enactments were revisions in rape laws: rape was redefined as sexual abuse, evidence of resistance by the woman was no longer mandatory, and the statute of limitations was extended from 18 months to three years. Other legislative achievements were state appropriations for shelters and assistance for battered women in domestic abuse situations; appropriations to help displaced homemakers reenter the workforce; statutory requirements that the economic contribution of the homemaker be considered in divorce settlements on property division and child support; and an amendment to the Iowa Civil Rights Act to specifically prohibit sex discrimination in state educational institutions. Follon also worked with Governor Ray to establish the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.

    Follon and the commission also established many study groups, task forces, conferences, workshops, and projects to help advance the status of women in Iowa. Issues ranged from helping female ex-offenders to advancing women in higher education administration, multicultural nonsexist education, and education of the public on gender issues. They advocated passage of an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution, which was defeated in 1980 but then passed by Iowa voters in 1998, the day before Follon's death. Follon also led Iowa's participation in the 50 States Report, which reviewed the state code and recommended more than 100 changes to remove discriminatory language. For these and many other activities, Follon received the following awards: Iowa's Outstanding Young Woman of the Year in 1976, the Iowa Wesleyan College Alumni Association Merit Award in 1979, the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice in 1985, and the Salute Award: Commendation for Outstanding Contributions to the Progress of Women in 1992.

    In January 1985 Follon was appointed vice president for educational and student Services at UNI, becoming the first woman to hold a vice president's position at the university. She supervised nine departments and oversaw the construction of a new residence hall and a Wellness/Recreation Center, improvements to the student union, and the development of a Leadership Studies Program. She also served on more than 15 community boards, including church and civic groups. She made more than 150 presentations on the subjects of women's equality, leadership, higher education, and student services. She was also a member of a number of professional organizations, including Phi Delta Kappa, the Iowa Women's Political Caucus, the National Association of Women in Education, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and the American Association of University Women.

    Shortly after her appointment as a UNI vice president, the Des Moines Register published an editorial that said in part, "Sue Follon: You may never have heard her name, but there's a good chance she has touched your life."In the fall of 1997 Follon underwent surgery for lung cancer. It recurred the following spring, and she died on November 4, 1998. Shortly thereafter, the Division of Educational and Student Services at UNI instituted the Sue Follon Exemplary Service Award to honor employees who exemplify the values reflected in the division's mission. The UNI Foundation also founded the Sue Follon Scholarship for Women in Leadership. In 2002 she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame, with enthusiastic endorsements from Governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad and from Roxanne Conlin.
Sources The major sources on Sue Ellen Follon are files kept at the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women in Des Moines and in the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Records at the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. The editorial mentioned in the article is from the Des Moines Register, 1/22/1985. Other articles are from the Cedar Falls Citizen, 3/16/1985, and the Waterloo Courier, 9/22/1985. An extended obituary appeared in the Des Moines Register, 11/6/1998.
Contributor: David Holmgren

Cite as: Holmgren, David. "Follon, Sue Ellen" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 11 December 2017