Suffragists rally in Russell Park ahead of a statewide referendum in 1916 on giving women the right to vote. Greene County men approved the measure — 1,692 to 1,018 — but the issue failed statewide by 10,000 votes. The question of women voting wouldn’t be settled until Aug. 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was adopted as part of the U.S. Constitution.What looks like a casting call for “The Handmaid’s Tale” is actually a suffrage rally in Russell Park in 1916. The suffrage issue became a flashpoint between the newspapers in Jefferson and Scranton — one for it, the other vehemently against it. The Jefferson editor ultimately emerged on the right side of history.Surprisingly, the 1870 Iowa legislature voted for women’s suffrage. Most women were certain that the 1872 general assembly would quickly approve it. But support began unraveling in 1871, when a few members of the women’s movement began advocating for sexual freedom and birth control. People began to fear that suffrage would destroy families.These 1916 photos, held by the State Historical Society of Iowa, were taken by an itinerant photographer traveling through Jefferson on the day of a suffrage rally.


Women won the right to vote 100 years ago — over the objections of a local editor who assailed the idea as ‘evil’
‘This paper regards unlimited participation by women in public affairs as the greatest evil impending in this country.’ Lowrie Smith, Scranton Journal


Special to The Jefferson Herald

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women’s constitutional right to vote.

Nationally, the amendment came after approximately 60 years of effort. Yes, 60 years. And Greene County had its share of heated controversy and debate — both pro and con.

As with today’s politics, it’s complicated.

So I’ll start with a little background on suffrage before getting to Greene County.

Firstly, the word “suffrage” originated from Latin, “to support.” Its first use regarding voting was in the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

Also, the words “suffragist” and “suffragette” meant different things.

Suffragist is far older, but in 1906, a London journalist coined “suffragette” as a mocking, demeaning term for women who were militant supporters. These women were disillusioned with peaceful methods. They spat at officers, sent letter bombs and chained themselves to railings. But over time, the words came to mean the same thing.

Tradition held that Victorian values, democratic ideals and the Bible agreed that women should be protected from sordid politics. They should stay home and tend to their proper duties. 

Both men and women firmly believed that each sex had a different role in life. The fear of changing roles, and that women might vote for Prohibition both played a part in the long delay for women’s right to vote.

Many women wanted the vote because they depended almost entirely on their husbands for income, and were afraid of becoming destitute.

Drunkard husbands put the lives of the family at risk. Understandably, many Iowa women joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the 1840s and 1850s.

Women had little chance at training, education or jobs. Even women who were schoolteachers had to quit once they married.

Iowa was considered an ideal state for debating “the women’s question,” because many felt the state was already progressive.

For example, by 1851, Iowa women could legally control their own property under “dower rights.” So by the 1850s, famous suffragists began speaking throughout Iowa.

But both the Civil War and World War I put the measure on the back burner.

In 1870, Black men nationwide were granted the right to vote as part of the 15th Amendment, and women were outraged that they won nothing. That same year, the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association was founded.

Surprisingly, the 1870 Iowa legislature voted for women’s suffrage as well. Most women were certain that the 1872 general assembly would quickly approve it.

But there were increasing conflicts in the women’s movement.

In 1871, a “free love” scandal splintered the proponents. A few members believed in sex outside marriage, and people soon became afraid that suffrage would destroy families. 

The most famous was Victoria Woodhull, of Chicago, who believed in both sexual freedom and birth control. She was also the first woman to run for U.S. president in 1872, founding the Equal Rights party, with Frederick Douglass as her running mate.

The following quotes from Woodhull express just how unconventional she really was: 

“The American nation, in its march onward and upward, can not publicly choke the intellectual and political activity of half its citizens by narrow statutes.”

“All that is good and commendable now existing would continue to exist if all marriage laws were repealed tomorrow.”

Iowa suffragists worked hard to separate themselves from these extremists in the movement.

Annie Savery, perhaps the most famous Iowa feminist, was heavily pressured to denounce Woodhull. Savery refused, reminding people that Woodhull had donated over $10,000 to the suffrage cause: “The Iowa Women’s Suffrage Association has no responsibility for anyone’s opinion, except the question of granting women the vote.”

Because of her stance, Savery was denounced as being too liberal, and was drummed out of IWSA membership.

The issue had lost momentum, although suffragists continued to fight for rights.

In 1894, Iowa women were allowed to vote at municipal and school elections, because those were felt to be of natural interest to women and mothers. Legislators required separate ballot boxes and tallies for men and women, which seems odd now, but it’s helpful now to see if men and women voted differently.

Even partial suffrage met with objections.

A full-page ad in the Iowa Homestead magazine inflamed farmers, warning that their taxes would be much higher. City women had easier access to the polls and would vote for “hysterical legislation.”

Jefferson Bee editor Victor Lovejoy later addressed these fears of higher taxes and of men’s motives in voting.

He wrote: “Man thinks too dern much of dollars and too little of humanity. He does not see idealism as does woman. When a new schoolhouse is needed, woman looks at the child and the child’s future, while man looks at his purse.”

About the woman voter, he wrote: “She is going to arrive at her voting decisions on public affairs with a mental attitude at variance with man. She is not going to say, ‘How much will it cost,’ but rather, ‘How much will this measure add to human service, human well being, human convenience and human betterment.’”

But full suffrage would be another 26 years in coming.

It wouldn’t become national law until 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Meanwhile, advertising and articles on both sides were printed and distributed in Iowa and all over the country.

Wealthy women from cities fanned out to speak with farm women and men across Iowa. 

In Greene County, famous suffragist Dr. Anna Shaw, of Philadelphia, spoke April 2 and 3, 1897, in the Jefferson courthouse and at the Presbyterian Church. Nearly all county churches adjourned their Sunday evening services so members could listen to Shaw’s presentation.

Speaking to a packed house were Shaw, several lecturers from around the U.S., and Mrs. Jesse Johnson of Farlin, Mrs. L. B. Sheldon of Scranton, Mrs. O. W. Lowery of Grand Junction, Mrs. S.L. Child of Jefferson, and the Rev. A.C. Kaye of Jefferson.

According to the Bee, a Mrs. Campbell gave an early history of the cause, “when it was thought a disgrace to speak in public, and she was not even allowed to even sit with a body of men as a delegate, but could sit in the gallery or behind a curtain.”

Topics covered by the speakers listed different types of women and whether or not they needed the vote: wives, mothers, unmarried women, business women, tax-paying women.

Rev. Kaye spoke on “Would Woman Suffrage Benefit the State?”

He pledged to advance the cause, saying, “This is not a government of the people when a part were not represented.”

Anna Shaw was a logical and convincing speaker. Her credentials could only help her credibility. She was a medical doctor and also an ordained Methodist minister.

Quotes by Shaw became famous:

“If we ever get to the polls once, you will never get us home.”

“When I hear that there are 5,000,000 working women in this country, I always take occasion to say that there are 18,000,000 but only 5,000,000 receive their wages.”

According to the April 10, 1897, Jefferson Souvenir, Shaw believed that “women should vote, or their property should not be subject to taxation.” Shaw “presented the most convincing argument in favor of Woman Suffrage ever heard in Jefferson.”

“The court room was decorated with numerous banners ... all of them bearing some emblem touching upon the question of woman’s rights. At the back of the judge’s bench was a large silk flag having the usual thirteen stripes, but in the corner only four stars appeared. These represented the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and Utah, in which women are privileged to vote at the present time.”

At one of the sessions, a Greene County suffrage group was organized, and the following officers were chosen: Mrs. Emily (Harvey) Church, president; Rev. A.B. Buckner, vice president; Mrs. Frank Wayt, secretary; and Mrs. J.J. Madden, treasurer.

Meanwhile, Greene County Judge E.G. Albert firmly believed that women weren’t meant to engage in politics, and he didn’t change his mind even after women won the vote nationwide.

With the 19th Amendment, women could not only legally vote, but could serve on juries — but NOT in Albert’s courtroom.

He routinely excused women from jury duty for trivial reasons, but only rarely would he excuse men. Eventually, women weren’t even summoned as potential jurors.

In 1898, a hearing was held in the statehouse, letting both pro and antisuffrage speakers talk. 

Rep. Stillmunkes of the Iowa General Assembly argued, “I have always been taught and Scripture says, God first made man and afterwards took a rib out of man’s side, out of which he made a woman. Now it seems to me a disgrace and an injustice to let that rib dictate to men in any way, shape or form whatsoever in regard to the law making power in this state. Therefore, I vote no.”

The No’s carried the day.

Soon after, a Greene County Woman Suffrage Conference was held in April of 1898, organized by Grand Junction suffragist Mrs. Jessie Johnson.

In a March 31, 1898, article in the Bee, Johnson wrote, “The legislature, although petitioned by over 50,000 citizens of the state, has refused the submission of the question to a popular vote.”

She urged locals to protest vigorously and demonstrate their convictions and strength of purpose.

But the issue wasn’t so much between men and women, but between conservatives and progressives of both sexes.


The great Greene County feud

According to historian Tom Morain, author of a 1988 book about Jefferson in the early 20th century, “Prairie Grass Roots,” Lowrie Smith, the Scranton Journal editor, was outspokenly anti-women’s suffrage, while Lovejoy, Jefferson Bee editor, was vehemently pro-suffrage.

And they hurled insults to each other on the issue, probably selling more newspapers because of it.

In the Bee, Lovejoy voiced, “On suffrage, Lowrie needs fixing. We have tried it, but have given it up as a bad job! ...the only way to fix him is with a club!”

Concerning fears about women voting against liquor, Lovejoy argued, “The liquor business is afraid of women. It is no wonder, for woman-kind has suffered more from booze than any other part of the human race.”

He accused the Lowrie camp of “unutterable, indefatigable, uncompromising, inexpressible, ineffable, unspeakable, unremitting, untiring, unwearying, everlasting and eternal opposition to woman suffrage.”

Lowrie retorted that the Bee was “bumptious,” and warned, “this paper ... regards unlimited participation by women in public affairs as the greatest evil impending in this country.”

Women were too lofty and saintly, and according to Lowrie, “... directing the affairs of government is not within woman’s sphere and political gossip would cause her to neglect the home, forget to mend our clothes and burn the biscuits.”

He said that women might “approach the polling places with cleaner hands and hearts ... but still the old couplet is true: ‘We can live without poetry, music or books but civilized men cannot live without cooks.’”

Interest in suffrage was reaching a fever pitch all over Iowa. 

Carloads of activists traveled the state. Stopping at every farmstead and town they crossed, the women got out of their cars and began to speak to anyone — male or female — who would listen.

One of these was Carrie Dean Pruyn, who hit the roads of Iowa in early 1916.

She later wrote: “We talked with women washing, women canning, women surrounded by little children. Some farm women listened intently and asked questions about the suffrage campaign. Others did not have a ghost of an idea what the word suffrage meant or why in the world we should want to go to the polls and vote like the men did.

“Some men were polite and took suffrage literature home with them while others told us to ‘go home and wash their dishes and take care of their children.’”

These activists wanted to be sure that rural people were educated about the matter before the issue came up for a referendum vote.

Parades were held everywhere. Of course, hecklers turned out at most marches also.

Pro-suffrage groups lobbied Iowa legislators for years to approve a referendum, and let Iowa men decide. But suffrage didn’t even reach the Iowa statehouse until 1916, when Iowa men finally could vote on the issue. 

Greene County men approved the proposal — 1,692 to 1,018 — but the issue lost statewide by about 10,000 votes. In a 1979 Bee article, Tom Morain wrote that the “wet river counties poured in massive margins against it.”

While the statewide suffrage vote was set for June 5, 1916, a Greene County parade took place in May, with participants from all over the county. This was a mile-long Community Clubs parade that wound from the fairgrounds through Russell Park to the Chautauqua grounds, where a picnic was attended by over 3,000 people from all over the county.

Suffrage played a large part in both the parade and picnic. Thousands of suffrage flyers and buttons were distributed at the Greene County Suffrage tent at the picnic. These were especially timely because the statewide vote was just around the corner.

The news editors’ feud must have had some effect on that 1916 vote. 

Scranton Twp. had the largest “no” vote — 98 to 106 against — and Willow Twp. came in 31 to 47 against. Cedar Twp. split 40-40.

Approving suffrage were Grand Junction — 160 to 155 — and Jefferson by a large margin.

Greene County men were overall in favor, but the issue was defeated statewide. So women STILL couldn’t vote, even after years of working toward it.

After the loss, suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt made a color-coded map of Iowa. It detailed the counties where suffrage passed and defeated, but also where there were irregularities in voting. Greene County sports a gold circle indicating passage, and NO irregularities.

But the long, slow fight for suffrage achieved its main goal in 1920, after Congress had submitted a national amendment to the states. Iowa and other states ratified it, and Greene County women voted in their first national election in 1920.

The Prohibition issue is interesting. Although so many men opposed votes for women because they were afraid that women would take away legal liquor, that happened anyway. Women had no say in that decision, no matter what their opinions.

Prohibition was passed by Congress in 1919, a full year before women could vote on it one way or another. Public feelings were changing, thanks to increasing awareness of alcohol’s effects on society. Should a paycheck support liquor interests or the family?

As Morain explained, “the story wasn’t quite over.”

Women still were prevented from becoming state legislators. That restriction wasn’t lifted until 1926, with yet another referendum. Greene County voters approved the proposal 721-222, and it also carried in the state.

This was the last step to full political rights for Iowa women.

I want to remind women that their right to vote came from many years of fighting for it. Many Greene County women and men contributed to that effort.

Women’s suffrage took 60 years of effort, and should never be taken for granted.

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