By the time Dianne Bystrom had voted for the first time at 18, tried her hand reporting for a couple of Nebraska newspapers, polished off a dissertation that looked at whether the media are fair to female candidates, and worked as a university administrator, she was ready for a challenge that would let her work directly with students. 

“I am always looking for a new way to reach college students and to encourage all people, especially women, to get involved in politics,” Bystrom said.

The job was staring at her from the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education — that of director of a then-nearly new center at Iowa State University focusing on women’s rights and politics. 

She had been working at the University of Oklahoma for 17 years, collecting degrees and working as an instructor and administrator while her husband toiled as a public defender. Moving to Ames would get her closer to her parents, who lived in Nebraska.

She landed the ISU position in July 1996, the fourth director in four years. She still runs the  Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics today.

She spends her days answering questions from reporters, running workshops and seminars that draw four times the number of attendees as they did a decade ago, and encouraging people to run for office.

“The results of the last election are energizing people,” Bystrom said in response to a question about how the most recent U.S. elections affected her job. “What I want to do is to turn energy into action.”

She created ISU’s leadership studies program, which enrolls more than 180 and has graduated 227. At both Oklahoma and ISU, she encouraged studies of various cultures, and she lobbied for a chief diversity officer position in the ISU president’s office.

“I have been engaged in the women’s rights movement since the 1970s,” Bystrom said. “I was the editor of my high school newspaper and my college newspaper, which enabled me to have a platform. At the time, women didn’t have a lot of rights. It was a time of advertising for jobs as ‘help wanted: males’ or ‘help wanted: females.’ ” Her father had to co-sign her first car loan — even though she had savings. 

In Nebraska, Bystrom faced discrimination herself. At the North Platte Telegraph, “I found out I had been hired and paid less salary than a man who had the same experience as me. I went to the publisher and talked to him about it. I got a raise.” 

Poetically, Bystrom’s office is in ISU’s restored Old Botany building, which was renamed in honor of Carrie Chapman Catt — an ISU graduate who was prominent in the fight to establish women’s right to vote.

Bystrom graduated from high school a year before Title IX passed, addressing gender discrimination in education. She spent her days in Oklahoma campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Now, she has written all or parts of 20 books and other publications, oversees the massive online Archives of Women’s Political Communication, and is looking for new ways to coax you to run for office.

Three Areas of Influence

  • Engaging in the women’s rights movement since the 1970s.
  • Working on Equal Rights Amendment movements.
  • Writing and speaking extensively on women’s issues, and serving as editor of both her high school and university newspapers.