“I’ve set a lot of things in Iowa, and this is home. I know it, and I think you should always try to write about what you know . . . And also, there are a certain set of values in Iowa that I think are useful to a writer like discipline, working hard, and being fairly open and unafraid of other people and other ideas.”
—Julie Jensen McDonald, Outstanding Iowa Women
Julie Jensen McDonald, author and journalist, was born on June 22, 1929, in Audubon County, Iowa, to Alfred and Myrtle Jensen. She graduated from Harlan High School in 1947 and earned her journalism degree from the University of Iowa, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Her first writing job was the society editorship for the Rockford Morning Star and the Rockford Register – Republic.
But it certainly wouldn’t be her last.
She married Elliot R. ‘Jack” McDonald, Jr., a Davenport native, on May 6, 1952. They moved to Washington, DC, and began a family. And Julie Jensen McDonald began to write fiction, selling her first story for the princely sum of $6.50. Her first novel, Amalie’s Story, was published in 1970.
The family moved to Davenport, and Mrs. McDonald soon became a correspondent for The Davenport Times-Democrat, just before the paper changed its name to The Quad-City Times. She continued to write articles for local newspapers for almost fifty years, retiring from The Rock Island Argus in 2012.
During those years, she also wrote over thirty books—including historical fiction, biographies, cookbooks, local histories, and collections of personal essays—and several plays, some of which were produced by the Davenport Junior Theater and other local theater troupes.
Her work earned her several awards and an honorary degree from St. Ambrose University, where she offered lectures in fiction writing and journalism. An avid supporter of her fellow writers, she taught at the University of Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop, and provided seminars to elementary and high school students as part of a Writer-in-the-Schools residency program. She volunteered at the Midwest Writing Center, and served as director for a time.
Mrs. McDonald’s community involvement didn’t stop at the literary: she served as Chairperson of the Iowa Arts Council from 1969 to 1973, was a Trustee of the Davenport Art Museum and on the committee for the Figge Art Museum. She also held memberships in the local chapter the PEO Sisterhood International, the Danish Sisterhood, the Scottish American Society of the Quad Cities, and Clan Donald USA.
Julie Jensen McDonald passed away on November 25, 2013, leaving behind a literary legacy that will be difficult to match.
Many of Mrs. McDonald’s books have been archived in our Special Collections Center, and the articles she wrote for the Davenport newspapers, as well as articles about her are included in our microfilm collections:
Pathways to the Present in 50 Iowa and Illinois Communities (SC 977.7 McD — there is also a circulating copy available)
High-Rise (SC 812.54 McD)
Nils Discovers America: Adventures with Erik (SC FIC McD)
Reaching: a novel (SC FIC McD)
Scandinavian Proverbs (SC 398.939 McD — there is also a circulating copy available)
The Watkins Man (SC FIC McD — there is also a circulating copy available)
Baby Black (SC FIC McD)
Chautauqua Summer (SC FIC McD)
Definitely Danish: Denmark and Danish Americans History, Culture, Recipes (SC 948.9 McD)
Ruth Buxton Sayre, first lady of the farm (SC 301.412 McD)
The Sailing Out (SC FIC MCD)
Young Rakes: a Novel (SC FIC McD)
Amalie’s Story (SC FIC McD)
The Ballad of Bishop Hill (SC FIC MCD — there is also a circulating copy available)
The Heather and The Rose (SC FIC McD — there is also a circulating copy available)
North of the Heart (SC FIC McD)
The Odyssey of a Museum: a short history of the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science 1867-1992 (SC 708.73 MCD — there is also a circulating copy available)
Petra: “on this rock I will build…” (SC FIC McD)
A Diary of Personal prayer (SC 242.8 McD)
Good Graces: table prayers (SC 242.8 McD)
Danish Proverbs (SC 398.93981 Dan)
Hanft, Ethel W. Outstanding Iowa Women. [Muscatine, Iowa : River Bend Pub.], 1980. (SC 301.412 Han)
“Julie McDonald.” Quad-City Times, 25Nov2013.