In the 1960s, a recommendation was made by the U.S. Commission on the Status of Women, established by President Kennedy, that Governors set up Commissions on the Status of Women in their states. Governor Hughes and Governor Ray both had Governor's Commissions. In 1972 the Iowa General Assembly voted to create the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW), making it statutory and therefore more permanent.
State government reorganization in 1986 placed the ICSW as a division within the newly-created umbrella agency, the Iowa Department of Human Rights (DHR). ICSW advocacy at that time reinforced the importance of the ICSW maintaining its visibility and autonomy. The legislation made the position of division administrator appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the governor, with Senate confirmation; the chairperson is to be elected by the Commission rather than appointed by the governor.
Until 1987, there were 24 members of the ICSW; in 1987, legislation passed to require nine public members (appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate), four non-voting ex officio legislative members, and the director of the DHR, ex officio. In 2009, legislation passed to restructure the ICSW to require seven public members and the director of the DHR, ex officio, which is the structure that exists today.
Gender balance is mandated for the ICSW, as for all other state boards and commissions; it is also required that no more than a simple majority of members may be of one political party. Geographic representation is encouraged.