The idea of an Iowa Jewish Historical Society was first discussed in 1989 at the 75th Anniversary dinner of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. The Caspe Jewish Heritage Gallery was opened at Drake University in October 1996. Drake donated exhibition space on the 3rd floor of the Harmon Fine Arts Building and Lewis and Neecy Caspe of Des Moines made a very generous donation to turn the space into an exhibit gallery.
In May 1998, the IJHS teamed with the State Historical Society of Iowa to develop and present a traveling exhibit created by the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest and the Minnesota Historical Society “Unpacking on the Prairie: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest Since 1855”. Accompanying this exhibit was a companion exhibit developed by IJHS entitled “Unpacking: The Iowa Story” which was guest curated by founding IJHS member Dr. David Gradwohl, Professor Emeritus Iowa State University. Originally slated to run from May through July, “Iowa Story” continued on exhibit through December 31 1998. The exhibit was viewed by more than 30,000 visitors to the State Historical Museum.
In 1998 the IJHS recieved a $42,555 Historic Site Preservation Grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa. This grant enabled the IJHS to build new exhibit cases, and improve the lighting, security and fire alarm system at The Caspe Heritage Gallery. This grant was matched by the Iowa Foundation for Education, Environment, and the Arts and the Belin Family in memory of David and Connie Belin.