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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Image courtesy: Iowa Pathways

WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT IN DUBUQUE. Iowa's first constitutions restricted the right to vote to white males. Most male Iowans, like people elsewhere at the time, believed that women were to run the household and care for children; men held jobs and represented the family in public affairs. Although a woman's suffrage convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, called for expanding political rights for women, the issue did not gain much attention in Iowa until immediately after the CIVIL WAR. As debate focused on the status of freed black former slaves, some women and men began to argue that women should also be allowed to vote. (1)

The first woman suffrage association was formed in Dubuque in 1869. (2) In February, 1869 Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were star attractions at a woman-suffrage convention in Galena. As reported by the Dubuque Times nine Dubuque residents attended including "four estimable and wide awake ladies." (3)

Finding no one in Des Moines willing to sponsor a woman-suffrage convention, the Dubuque women announced a meeting in the home of Henrietta Wilson of Dubuque on April 17th. This "call" for a meeting was signed by Henrietta WILSON, Mary Newbury ADAMS, Laura G. ROBINSON, LUCY C. GRAVES, Rowena Guthrie LARGE, and Edna Snell. With the exception of the last person who was a high school teacher, each of the women were wives of important Dubuque businessmen. (4)

The fervor of those in attendance was noted in an editorial in the Dubuque Times

      We may ridicule the insignificant numbers who champion the
      new theory. Yet they are far more numerous than were the
      radical agitators twenty years ago, and equally energetic.
      Nor is it unreasonable to suppose that they have a great
      body of silent adherents whose sensitive natures restrain
      them from bearing the heat and burden of the conflict.  (5)

The April 17th meeting led to the organization of the Northern Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, the first such group organized in Dubuque and the first in Iowa. The name was chosen in hopes that the idea would soon spread through the state. An organization of this type without the leadership of men was considered radical. A visitor from Illinois reported to the Chicago Tribune that "the masculine element in Dubuque was in a flutter on account of these goings on." (6)

The Association carried on a hectic schedule of activity. Edna Snell delivered a speech in Delaware County on women's rights. A lecture by Phoebe Couzins, the first woman in the United States admitted to a law school, was sponsored by the Association on July 16, 1869. The call for committees of correspondence with women in other communities successfully resulted in letter writing by Mary Adams. (7)

Mrs. Adams attended the September 9-10, 1869 woman suffrage convention in Chicago and reported that there was little opposition in Iowa to their efforts, but that efforts to secure the vote should be done quietly. She reported finding Iowa women largely in-different to the issue of voting. (8) Adams believed women needed education before gaining the right to vote. An early member of the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs, Adams believed the right to vote would be useless to uneducated women unable to comprehend complex political and social events. (9)

Organizing efforts outside Dubuque were slow to progress. Women in Monticello organized an association in early October, 1869. The only other group to organize in Iowa in 1869 was one in Algona. (10)

In 1870, Mary Spencer became the first woman appointed unanimously to a position within the Iowa legislature. Suffragists everywhere saw the appointment as a major victory. The same year, the Iowa legislature approved a resolution to amend the constitution, allowing women to vote. Progressives in Iowa believed the vote for women would soon be realized. (11) Although the bill was defeated in 1872, a core group of suffragettes remained alive in Iowa until the passage of the 19th amendment. (12) During this time Annie Savery, a Des Moines resident and suffragist, spoke for women’s intellectual independence. Even fellow suffragists rejected extremist ideals. Moderates saw her as someone who would scare supporters away from the cause. (13)

Looking for allies, woman's suffrage joined with the temperance movement in 1874. Taking the form of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, suffragettes saw getting the vote as the only way to control alcoholism. (14) In public debate, the issue often became linked to the sale and manufacture of alcohol. Women were seen as allies of those wishing to prohibit or greatly limit such sales, and therefore, prohibitionists were usually advocates of granting the vote to women. When a prominent women’s suffrage leader in New York, Victoria Woodhull, however, spoke out for greater sexual freedom, the suffrage movement became accused of advocating for “free love.” (15)

Quiet support could be found from the General Federation of Women's Clubs which advocated a wide variety of causes including promoting education, social reform, and establishing libraries. Although the organization did not officially endorse woman suffrage until 1914, "suffrage sentiment" was found in local clubs in the late nineteenth century. Local clubs studied civil government, politics, and social questions through essays, lectures and discussions. (16)

The DUBUQUE LADIES' LITERARY ASSOCIATION which was renamed the DUBUQUE WOMEN'S CLUB was founded in 1876 by Clara Aldrich COOLEY. The group's involvement in the fight for women's rights was enhanced in 1910 when May ROGERS, one of the first members of the board of the General Federation of Women Clubs, addressed the Chicago Equal Suffrage League. (17)

The history of women's suffrage in Iowa from 1894 to 1919 was one of gradual but steady progress. In 1894 women in Iowa were granted partial suffrage. They were given the right to vote on bond issues and tax increases for schools and municipalities. While another positive step, it was far from the suffragettes' goal. In 1908 the city of Des Moines threatened even this advance when it denied women the vote in these cases. Mary Jane Whitely's successful suit of the city established an important precedent. (18)

In 1916, the state legislature submitted to Iowa voters (still all men) a constitutional amendment to remove the word “male” as a requirement to vote. Areas where pro-alcohol sentiments were strong opposed it as did liquor manufacturers. The Catholic Church, which pointed to biblical passages citing the man as head of the family, also opposed it. Some churches like the Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists were often very strong in their support of granting women the vote. (19)

On May 25, 1916, only ten days prior to the primary election, a nameless group of anti-suffragists, rumored to be German-American liquor interests from eastern Iowa, paid for a full-page advertisement to appear in many farm journals in the state. With the intent of splitting rural and urban voters, the advertisement proclaimed “To the Iowa Farmer!—Remember! Woman Suffrage Means High Taxes.”

           The History of Equal Suffrage States is the Story of Taxpayers’ Money 
           Wasted—Money Thrown Away in Hysterical Legislation, Useless Commission, 
           Uncalled for Bond Issues, Increased Election Costs—Taxes are Squandered 
           Because of a Catering of Legislative Interests to the Irresponsible 
           Elements Among Voters. (20)

Dubuque had its own branch of the Iowa Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage---the Dubuque Woman's Association Opposed to Suffrage. (21) Comparing tax rates in non-suffrage to suffrage states indicated suffrage states had a tax rate almost three times higher than non-suffrage states.

           It is not your wife and daughter who will vote,but the women of towns 
           and cities who have easy access to the polls and axes to grind. You, 
           Mr. Farmer, must pay the bill. (22)

Dubuque also had the Men's Equal Suffrage League of Dubuque which strongly supported women's suffrage. On June 2, 1916, this organization placed the following commercial in the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald:

Image courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Image courtesy:Telegraph Herald

The Dubuque Equal Suffrage Association opposed the 'campaign methods' practiced by the anti-suffragists in Dubuque particularly the "shameful misstatements" regarding taxes, the "misquoting and garbling" of speeches and writings of prominent suffragists, and the "villifying of ideals of marriages and the home. If the suffrage controversy by broken up clubs, families, and friendships "it is plainly the anti-suffragists who are withdrawing." (23)

Counties along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, however, where pro-alcohol and Catholic support were strong, racked up huge majorities to narrowly defeat the measure. (24)

On April 19th, 1919, the women of Iowa were finally granted the right to vote in presidential elections. Three months later on July 2nd, 1919 Iowa ratified the 19th amendment in full, making it the tenth state to do so. Over a year later Tennessee ratified the 19th amendment on August 18th, 1920. With their acceptance of the new amendment, every eligible woman in the United states was granted the vote. (25)

In 1920 the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association reorganized as the League of Women Voters of Iowa. The goal of the Association was education of women on how to use their new political responsibility. The organization became non-partisan and is still in operation. (26)



1. "Women's Suffrage," Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, Online: https://iowaculture.gov/history/education/educator-resources/primary-source-sets/womens-suffrage

2. "The Fight for Women's Suffrage," Iowa Pathways, Online: http://www.iptv.org/iowapathways/mypath/fight-womens-suffrage

3. Noun, Louise, Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in IowaAmes: Iowa State University Press, 1969, p. 112

4. Ibid., p. 113

5. Ibid. p. 118

6. Ibid. p. 116

7. Ibid. p. 118

8. Ibid. p. 119

9. "Mary Newbury Adams," Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, http://www.women.iowa.gov/about_women/HOF/iafame-adams.html

10. Noun. 120

11. "Women's Suffrage in Iowa," https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=3c04988656ba4a71a186a32503233f42

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. "Women's Suffrage,"

16. Egge, Sara, "The Grassroots Diffusion of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Iowa: the IESA, Rural Women and the Right to Vote," Unpublished Master's Degree Thesis, Iowa State University, 2009, p. 17

17. London, Michelle, "Rabble-Rousers and Renegades," Telegraph Herald, April 28, 2020, p. 1C

18. "Women's Suffrage in Iowa".....

19. "Women's Suffrage" Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs...

20. Egge, Sara, "The Grassroots Diffusion of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Iowa: the IESA, Rural Women and the Right to Vote," Unpublished Master's Degree Thesis, Iowa State University, 2009, p. 93

21. Advertisement. Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, May 11, 1916, p. 3

22. Egge

23. "The Dubuque Equal Suffrage Association Explains," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 4, 1916, p. 5

24. "Women's Suffrage,"

25. "Women's Suffrage in Iowa"...

26. Mastalio, Christine, "Women's Suffrage in Iowa," Iowa Women's Archives-University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa, 2010, p. 19 Online: http://sdrc.lib.uiowa.edu/exhibits/suffrage/IAWomenSuffrage.pdf