Dorothy K. Willner papers

Identity elements

Reference code

US US kmk P1993.11

Level of description



Dorothy K. Willner papers


  • 1974-1986 (Creation)


5.50 Linear Feet, 10.00 Boxes

Name of creator


Biographical history

Dorothy Willner was a Sociology and Anthropology professor who was a leading international consumer advocate with the United Nations. Willner received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1947 and then a Master of Arts in 1953, after which she spent time working as an anthropologist overseas, first in Israel from 1955 to 1958, then in Mexico until 1959. She first began working for the United Nations in 1960 when she published “Community Leadership” on their behalf. After having spent several years teaching sociology and anthropology at the University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and at the University of New York, Willner arrived at the University of Kansas in 1966 as a professor of anthropology and continued to teach there until 1990. From 1974 to 1983, Willner served as the International Organization of Consumer Unions’ (which was first formed in 1960) official representative to the United Nations, and throughout this time, she was heavily involved in many of the IOCU’s activities. This included her managing the IOCU “A World in Crisis” conference in 1978 and the IOCU Tenth World Congress on “The Food Crisis” in 1981. Her work with the IOCU culminated in the adoption by the UN of IOCU protocols as the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection in 1985. Willner died in 1993.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

The Dorothy Willner Papers (1974-1986) consists primarily of correspondence, reports, and conference material pertaining to Willner's fostering of a relationship between the International Organization of Consumer Unions (IOCU) and the United Nations. The papers have been arranged to reflect Willner's interaction between these two organizations and the issues their members faced during this transitional period in consumer advocacy.
The collection is organized into five series: 1) IOCU Files; 2) Publications; 3) United Nations Files; 4) Subject Files; 5) Oversized Material.
The IOCU Files Series consists of three boxes of correspondence, reports, and event material relating to the issues Dorothy Willner regularly managed as a representative of the IOCU. While the collector's name appears on few of these documents, the accumulated contents of letters addressed to her and Florence Mason as well as Willner's hand-written notes are the centerpiece of the collection, illustrating the service Willner and IOCU provided period grass roots organizations throughout the world with access to research, media attention, regional coordination with other consumer group, and representation on the international level.
Some files include correspondence between leading consumer advocates Colston Warne and Esther Peterson. Other files include reports on the March 1979 World Health Organization (WHO) conference on the haphazard technical cooperation among developing countries in the field of health and the related 1981 WHO resolution on the quality and content of mass produced infant formula. Other files contain Willner's notes on correspondence with members, meetings with international representatives, and conference talks. The series also contains newspaper clippings and research, which likely served as briefing material for Willner.
The Publications Series spans two boxes and collects pamphlets, newsletters, digests, reports, and booklets. These imprints were produced by a wide of assortment of international groups in several languages and by the United Nations on business practices and consumer issues. Some of the periodicals collected by Willner include Que Choisir?, Utusan Konsumer, Warta Konsumen and Orientatcion de Consumidores y Usuarios. The series also contains a small assortment of publications produced by the United States Consumer Affairs Office, the Danish Government Home Economics Council, and the Australian Federation of Consumer Organization, Inc. Other files in this series also contain material related to the growth of international businesses and produced by different United Nations commissions, councils, and agencies, including the Center on Transnational Corporations, the Conference on Trade and Development, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The United Nations Series consists of five boxes of memoranda, correspondence, press releases, critiques, conference material, and drafts of committee reports created by the international organization. While some files relate to the "Decade for Women" events, the majority of this series is centered on the United Nation's response to IOCUs consumer protection lobbying efforts. One section of the series collects the administrative work of several notable 1970s conferences, which covered issues relating to the creation of model laws as guards against restrictive business practice and the application of technology on international businesses and their consumers. Other files demonstrate the increased visibility of consumer issues in the General Assembly and the ECOSOC. Still others feature different drafts of United Nations reports, discussing the formation of both legal protection for consumers and an international business code of conduct for transnational corporations. Finally, this series also features guidelines for non-government organizations (NGOs) within the United Nations, including the IOCU.
The Subject Files Series spans two boxes and consists of newspaper clippings, memos, reports from other consumer organizations and Willner's own background research on a wide assortment of topics relevant to both IOCU members and United Nations administration. Several of the files are relevant to the growth of consumer unions in Asia. Others relate to fair trade issues, the creation of standards for foods and drugs, and the formation of a "Consumer Interpol" to act as a watchdog against abusive international business practices, including the use of Third World nations as "dumping grounds" for allegedly defective or untested medical devices, drugs, pesticides unpassable by western standards." Another contains material from the IOCU's October 19, 1979 dinner for American Consumer leader and IOCU motivator Colston Warne. Finally, a few files also contain research relating to the changing shape of United States unions and consumer laws in the 1980s, including the Consumer Protection Act and the United Auto Workers.
The Oversized Material Series collects in one box large documents and bound matter. The majority of the series includes material relating to the creation and development of consumer education in the Philippines. Researchers may find of particular interest Dorothy Willner's Asean Consumer Protection seminar discussing the measures under development at the United Nations to curb abusive business practices of transnational corporations.

System of arrangement

The arrangements of these records reflect Willner's multi-tiered professional work on behalf of international consumers. They are organized in the following manner: 1) IOCU Files, 2) Publications, 3) United Nations (UN) Files, 4) Subject Files, 5) Oversized Material.

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

No access restriction: All materials are open for research.

Physical access

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

The researcher assumes full responsiblity for observing all copyright, porpoerty, and libel laws and they apply.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

  • Latin

Language and script notes

Finding aids

Acquisition and appraisal elements

Custodial history

The Dorothy Willner Papers have been assigned Accession Number: P1993.11. Processing of the collection was completed by Paul A. Thomsen in January, 2010

Immediate source of acquisition

Acqusition Source: Sidney Willner (Husband)
Acqusition Method: Donation
Acqusition Date: 19930101

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information

The Willner Papers provide an in-depth perspective on the relationship between local and national consumer causes and the process of crafting international law. While some documents cover the daily administrative paperwork and correspondence during Willner's tenure at IOCU, other sections examine the non-governmental organization's period initiatives and long-term goals on behalf of consumer rights organizations against international/transnational corporations. The collection includes a wide assortment of pamphlets and booklets in several languages, which describe consumer activities in Germany, Greece, Norway, the United States, and other countries. Similarly, the records emphasize the increased influence of Asian-based consumer union activities in the 1980s on the international community. Documents created by several organs of the United Nations are, likewise, prominently featured in the collection, including the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Science and Technology Commission, and the Industrial Development Organization. Finally, researchers will find of particular interest Willner's Subject Files, which illustrate the interconnectedness of different consumer issues between different local consumer issues with national unions and their international representation.


Related materials elements

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related archival materials

Related descriptions

General note

See accession record for disaster recovery 2023 notes.

Specialized notes

  • Citation: Preferred Citation: [Item title], [item date], Dorothy K. Willner papers, Box [number], Folder [number or title], Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries.

Alternative identifier(s)

Archon Collection ID


Description control element

Rules or conventions

Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Sources used

Archivist's note

Finding Aid Author: Paul A. Thomsen
Processing Info: Processing of the collection was completed by Paul A. Thomsen in January, 2010. Archon processing by Edward Nagurny, graduate research assistant, May 2015.
Publication Date: 2015-05-28

Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Accession area