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Serial submission: Rural Iowans and suffrage for women

Part one: 100 years of votes for women

Without access to the library’s microfilm collection over the next few days, I’ve prepared another sort of throwback edition. 2020 is an appropriate time to revisit the experiences of rural Iowans as they considered a novel addition to the American political landscape – votes for women. The Nineteenth Amendment, which was the culmination of a decades-long movement for women’s suffrage at both state and national levels, was officially adopted on August 26, 1920. That makes this August the Centennial of votes for women in the USA.

Part one – rural Iowans and votes for women

The idea of votes for women in the US dates back to colonial times. Before the American Revolution in 1776, women had the right to vote in several North American colonies. Unmarried or widowed women who owned property in Massachusetts and New Jersey, for instance, had the right to vote. By 1807, however, every state constitution in the US denied women the right to vote.

In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention – the first women’s rights convention – adopted the Declaration of Sentiments, which called for equality between the sexes and included a resolution urging women to secure the right to vote. After some legal setbacks, women’s rights advocates Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton called for a new constitutional amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote.

After the Civil War, several western territories guaranteed women the right to vote. Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and Utah led the way, holding out suffrage as an inducement for women to migrate. As western territories became states, they had varying degrees of success securing women’s suffrage in national elections, and national suffrage organizations began to focus on a constitutional amendment to guarantee women the right to vote the right to vote throughout the U.S.

In the meantime, local groups formed to lobby for suffrage amendments to their state constitutions, and the Creston area was not behind the times.

In November 1883, the Creston Daily Advertiser Gazette reported on “Woman Suffrage – A Movement Organized in Creston.” The editor noted that “Tuesday and Wednesday meetings were held in the Methodist church in this city, in the interest of woman suffrage.

“The meetings were addressed by Mrs. Marianna T. Folsom, Mrs. M.N. Campbell and others. An organization was affected on Wednesday, under the name of the Creston Woman Suffrage Society, with the following officers: Mrs. D.W. Higbee, president; Mr. W.A.P. Blanchard, vice-president; Mrs. A.F. Keith; second vice-president; Mrs. W.F. Denison, recording sec’y; Mrs. H.H. Garretson; corresponding sec’y; Mr. Geo. Hobbs, treasurer; committee – Mrs. J.S. Beck, Rev. W.H. Harnet, and Mrs. S.W. Battey. A constitution was adopted by the society, the second article of which explains its aims and objects, and is as follows: “To interest the citizens of the city in the principles of impartial suffrage, and to unite the friends of the measure in an effort to secure the submission and adoption of the amendment now pending, to strike out the word ‘male’ from the state constitution.”

Mrs. D.W. Higbee, President of the Creston Woman Suffrage Society, was a 28-year old Emma Higbee, wife of a Creston attorney. That the Methodist church hosted the meetings suggests that its congregation was, at least, not hostile toward the cause of “impartial suffrage.” Also notable was the presence of men in the organization: male members in trusted positions of vice-president and treasurer lent credibility to what was, to some citizens of that era, a controversial movement.

By 1900, suffrage leaders knew that to secure suffrage amendments to their state constitutions, they had had to convince rural voters – farmers and their wives – to support votes for women. Next week, we’ll see just how the State Suffrage Association of Iowa tried to do that, in Creston and Afton. They were mostly welcomed by area citizens, but a few sour grapes in the area made their reception a little nutty, to mix my metaphors.

Stay safe, be well, and remember, materials remain available for pickup at the Gibson Memorial Library. Also, check our Facebook page for notices about online resources that will entertain and educate you and your families in this challenging time.

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