Stories from the Plaza of Heroines

CATEGORIES: May 2024, Voices

This issue of Voices features three women honored in the Plaza of Heroines who earned college degrees in mathematics, using those degrees in different ways throughout their lives.

If you are interested in purchasing a brick or a paver to honor a heroine in your life, you can fill out the online order form on the plaza website or visit the Catt Center to complete an order form. To add or edit a narrative or include a photograph in the profile of a woman you have previously honored on the plaza, email the Catt Center at or mail your submission to Plaza of Heroines, 309 Carrie Chapman Catt Hall, 2224 Osborn Drive, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-4009.

JaNelle R. Anderson was born in Sioux City, Iowa. In high school, she was active in the National Honor Society, girl’s basketball, band, and choir groups. In addition, she was a long-time member of the local 4-H Club and received honors in sewing, cooking, and home furnishing. She received her B.S. degree in mathematics from Iowa State University, then worked for a year for the administrative data processing department at the university. After several years as a stay-at-home parent, Anderson began working as a programmer/analyst at Mary Greeley Medical Center, later becoming director of information systems. Anderson was honored on the plaza by Ronald and Sonja Burkett.

Maxine M. Dickens was from a farming family near Bloomfield, Iowa, but spent most of her life in Farson, Iowa. She attended Ottumwa High School and went on to study at Ottumwa Heights College with a double major in mathematics and home economics. Though on full scholarship, she worked three jobs to support herself—in the college library to pay for her books, as a housekeeper at the house where she lived in town, and at the five-and-dime store on Saturdays for spending money. After completing her associate degree, she attended St. Benedictine College in Kansas on a partial scholarship, but could only complete one year due to financial difficulties in the family. She returned home to teach school in a one-room schoolhouse near home. Dickens was honored on the plaza by her children, Mary Dickens Johnson, John Dickens, and Bruce Dickens.

Joan E. Welch graduated from Iowa State University in the class of 1955 with a major in mathematics and minors in statistics and languages. She became a member of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honorary society. She married in 1953 and continued taking classes as a married – and then pregnant – woman, unusual for the time. In spite of the disapproval of several Iowa State administrators, Welch’s mathematics advisor and the dean of the college supported her enrollment and she returned to classes after the birth of her first child in 1954. After her graduation, Welch was a stay-at-home parent until 1976, when she entered the work force as the administrative assistant at Memorial Lutheran Church and Student Center. Welch was honored on the plaza by her husband, Ronald C. Welch.