by Martha E. Shivvers
THIS article is a review of the book, Strong Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Iowa, by Louise R. Noun, Iowa State Univeristy Press, 1969, reprint in paperback, 1986.
EVERY movement has to have a beginning. Thus the women’s rights movement had a beginning in the early 1800s and continued throughout the later part of that century and into the 1900s resulting in the passing of the 19th Amendment to the constitution in the early twentieth century. In this book we have the basic foundation of the efforts of several leaders as viewed by Des Moines, Iowa author, Louise Rosenfield Noun, whose own areas of interest are feminism, art, and civil liberties.
Four national leaders to whom Iowa women advocates looked for guidance and help were Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Amelia Bloomer. These ladies visited Iowa at one time or another, and Mrs. Bloomer lived in Iowa for forty years.
Probably the most widely known advocate of women’s rights in the pre-Civil War years was Lucy Stone, born in 1818 in Massachusetts. Home to her was a small farm several miles from Worcester, and home for her meant many household duties to help her overburdened mother; Lucy was the eighth of the nine children her mother bore.
It was not unusual for fathers of this period to frown upon education for women. But Lucy was adamant, pursued the teaching occupation, one of the few opportunities open for women, and at the age of 25 entered Oberlin College in Ohio, the only institution at that time which admitted women. Graduating in 1847, this determined young lady accepted the position of lecturing for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society; her parents were appalled.
Beginning her lecture campaign prior to and independently of the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, Miss Stone was named the “morning star” of this rights movement.
Petite, feminine, and almost shy, her affections were captured by Henry Blackwell, a devout women’s rights advocate. They were married in 1855. Lucy was 37, and she chose to retain her maiden name. An official part of their marriage contract objected to the common-law system which denied a married woman control of her person, her children, and her property, including monies she earned, and suspended her legal existence during marriage. Newspapers carried comments about this unique marriage from coast to coast.
After living a short time in the Midwest, the family settled in New Jersey where they registered their gothic cottage in Lucy’s name. When the property tax bill came, Lucy, who as a woman had no control of her property, returned the bill to the tax collector with a protest against taxation without representation. She refused to pay the taxes but paid a higher price when the furniture was taken from the house and sold at public auction to satisfy the tax claim. This bizarre event was widely publicized.
In 1815 in the little village of Johnstown in upstate New York, Elizabeth Cady was born to wealthy parents. Her father, Daniel, was also a socially prominent lawyer. His extensive land holdings included land in western Iowa as well as in upstate New York.
For a girl of her time Elizabeth had a superior education, having studied Latin, Greek, and mathematics along with the boys at Johnstown Academy. Her further education took her to Troy Female Seminary, the first endowed school for women in the United States; it was run by Emma Willard. For two unhappy years Elizabeth rebelled at her fate as a girl.
In recording the events regarding the women who laid the foundation for women’s rights, author Noun writes: “When she was twenty, Elizabeth married Henry B. Stanton, a pioneer abolitionist; and their wedding journey was a trip to London to attend a world anti-slavery convention. Here Mrs. Stanton met Lucretia Mott, a well-known Philadelphia Quaker who was denied her seat as a delegate because of her sex…. The two women spent many hours discussing the injustices which women suffered.”
During the five years the Stantons lived in Boston, Henry practiced law and his wife’s life was stimulated by such intellectuals as philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, educator Bronson Alcott (father of the future author, Louisa May Alcott), abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, author Margaret Fuller and the rebel Unitarian minister, Theodore Parker.
Noun writes: “Because of her fast-increasing family, four sons and two daughters born between 1842 and 1859, Mrs. Stanton’s public appearances in the years prior to the Civil War were limited…. She lectured in Seneca Falls and delivered two addresses before New York legislators… at Albany… she sent carefully reasoned women’s rights arguments to any paper which would print them… she was able to attend only one of the annual national women’s rights conventions in New York – in 1860, the tenth and last before the Civil War. Here she created a furor by presenting a series of radical resolutions on the subject of divorce.”
Short of stature and plump by nature, Mrs. Stanton became increasingly heavy with age. She was a brilliant conversationalist, accomplished writer, and became the leading publicist for the women’s rights movement. She led in the innovation of women having their hair cut during the Bloomer rage of 1851.
“Susan B. Anthony was born near South Adams in western Massachusetts in 1820,” writes Noun in her book. “Her father, a well-to-do manufacturer of cotton goods lost his fortune in the 1830s; in 1845 the family moved to a farm near Rochester, New York. Here Miss Anthony began teaching at the age of fifteen, an occupation she pursued until she was thirty.”
Caught up in the active participation in the reform agitation which was sweeping upper New York, she became involved as a temperance worker, and in the more radical anti-slavery and women’s rights movements. While attending an anti-slavery rally in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1851, she became acquainted with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, beginning a lifelong friendship.
Neither a fluent writer nor an accomplished speaker, Miss Anthony depended upon Mrs. Stanton’s written missives to expound at reform meetings the messages they wished to present. In turn, Mrs. Stanton, tied down with family responsibilities, viewed her as a connecting link with the world.
Dressing in the plain manner that was consistent with her Quaker upbringing, single and a willing cohort, Anthony soon became the workhorse of the movement. She was often irritatingly blunt and tactless with biting and sardonic humor.
In the third series, Volume 47, Number 7 of The Annals of Iowa, Louise Noun writes of Amelia Bloomer: “Amelia Jenks was born in Homer, Cortland County, in western New York state, on May 27, 1818…. She received her education… in a country school… and worked at two of the occupations most accessible to unmarried women: teaching and governess. After a two-year courtship Dexter Bloomer and Amelia Jenks were married in Waterloo (New York) on April 15, 1840.”
Mrs. Bloomer’s distinct dislike of the evils of liquor prompted her to join with the ladies of Seneca Falls in a temperance movement in the 1840s. One extreme happiness for her that followed was that her husband signed the pledge of total abstinence which he honored the rest of his life.
“In July 1848, Amelia Bloomer attended a most unusual meeting in Seneca Falls’ Wesleyan Chapel. Elizabeth Cady Stanton of Seneca Falls, Lucretia Mott, a well-known Philadelphia Quaker, and other liberal Quakers from nearby Waterloo, New York, had called a convention to discuss women’s rights… a public meeting called to promote the cause of women… a meeting with a revolutionary event.” Noun continues: “In September, 1848, Bloomer helped to organize the Ladies Total Abstinence Benevolent Society of Seneca Falls… (she) was no longer satisfied with writing anonymous articles for men’s publications and thought the Ladies Total Abstinence Benevolent Society should publish its own temperance paper… (she) presented the idea to the society who greeted it with favor…. They christened the paper The Lily because that flower was an emblem of sweetness and purity and the mission of the paper was ‘to sweeten and purify the home and to rescue it from the curse of intemperance as well as from the moral degradation of impure and unwholesome literature.’”
In spite of her sole editorship Bloomer found enough subscribers, at fifty cents a year, to keep the paper in production for six years. This meant, however, that she had to wrap and mail the newspaper herself and pay for the paper and printing. On these pages were printed articles expounding the theories of the women’s rights campaigns.
“During the early months of 1851, the ‘reform dress’ became the topic of interest in Seneca Falls. This costume, then considered daring, seems modest by today’s standards… consisted of a knee-length tunic worn loose or belted at the waist over Turkish pantaloons of the same material that might be fastened at the ankle or hang straight,” Noun writes. (See pages 578 and 600 of The Annals of Iowa for pictures of the “reform dress”.)
“‘Bloomer is evidently proud that this attire has been given her name,’” Noun quotes Elizabeth Cady Stanton as writing a friend in September 1851. And Noun continues: “Critics charged that the Bloomer dress was the result of women’s rights agitation. Women were wearing pants, the symbol of male authority, and the costume soon became known as the badge of female radicalism… at the same time critics lampooned… and made fun of the Bloomer dress, it met a warm reception from hundreds of women throughout the United States who, seeking relief from the bondage of current fashion, wrote to The Lily for instructions to make the new dress…. Detailed descriptions (were) printed and announced in The Lily that copies were available at twenty-five cents.”
In the third series, Volume 47, Number 8, of The Annals of Iowa, Noun continued, “When she moved west with her husband in 1855, Bloomer brought the ideals of the women’s rights movement to Iowa and struggled to implant them in the rough frontier community of Council Bluffs. Without a newspaper of her own (now) she expressed her news in letters to the Council Bluffs press and other publications.”
Concluding the biography of Mrs. Bloomer in The Annals of Iowa: “Her greatest contribution to the women’s cause was as a publicist…. Many of her contemporaries in the women’s movement ostracized her and age and poor health slowed her. She was almost a forgotten figure to the generation of Iowa feminists who emerged in the late 1880s under Carrie Chapman Catt’s leadership. A century later still another generation of feminists have come to the fore. With them has come an increasing interest in Amelia Bloomer and an appreciation for the battles she waged in our behalf.” The family lived in Iowa forty years, childless of their own offspring, but adopting two children whose mother died on the Mormon march to Utah, and whose father could not care for his offspring. Mrs. Bloomer has been notably accepted as being the first woman in Iowa to publicly espouse women’s rights in the years before the Civil War.
“The outbreak of Civil War in April 1861 brought the women’s rights movement to an abrupt halt. Their annual convention scheduled for May was canceled, and there was not another such meeting until 1866,” writes Noun. As the battle cries increased and men marched to defend their “countries” other opportunities opened for women in employment and public service. For example, Annie Wittenmyer of Keokuk became involved with the Sanitary Commission, a forerunner of the Red Cross, (See Iowa Woman, September 1986, pages 26-33.) The first woman county-courthouse worker, nineteen-year-old Emily Calkin Stebbins who became deputy recorder and treasurer of Chickasaw County to replace H. C. Baldwin who joined the 38th Iowa Infantry was one example. When in 1866 Governor Stone appointed Stebbins notary public, she had the distinction of being the first woman to hold that position in the United States.
“For many months women in the vanguard of the women’s rights movement had been watching the course of events with both hopes and dismay,” writes Noun. “Hope that women could be enfranchised at the same time as the Negro and dismay that almost no Republican would help them advance their cause. The women were warned not to impede the drive for the Negro suffrage with demands of their own enfranchisement. ‘This is the Negro’s hour,’ they were told. ‘The Negro once safe, women come next,’ was the catch phrase for the moment.”
At different Iowa legislature meetings, men with a vision proposed rights for Negroes and women. At first those bills did not get out of committees.
Noun continues: “Although the women-suffrage issue was suppressed in the legislature during the 1866 session, it was the subject of lively discussion at a series of meetings of the Farmer’s Legislative Club, a group of law makers which met informally one evening a week. Grape culture, grasses most profitable to raise in Iowa, cattle and hog raising, and dog-control laws comprised some of the programs for the winter…. George Maxwell of Story County who had asked the House to look into the expediency of woman suffrage suggested that the club devote a meeting to this subject. Some members suggested… it did not pertain to agriculture. Maxwell retorted that a good housewife was of more importance than a dog law. It was argued in legislative session that if women did get the right to vote, they should also be called to serve in the military.”
It is interesting to note that one man who defended the woman suffrage position in the House, Benjamin Palmer, was educated in the Society of Friends where women were equal in all matters of religion and had an equal voice in matters of government. To that group (of Friends) it was difficult to know that within their religious beliefs they had rights that were denied by the government. It is, also, interesting to note that many of the early women’s rights movement advocates were of the Friends or Quaker belief.
“Anna Dickinson, born in Philadelphia in 1842, lost her father when she was an infant and was reared by her Quaker mother… when she was fifteen she began teaching school at $16.00 a month…. Her debut as a lyceum lecturer was made… at the age of seventeen…. In January 1864 (she) was invited to Washington, D.C. where she spoke in the House of Representatives…. Even Abraham Lincoln, president, came to hear her. She donated the proceeds of this lecture, over $1,000.00, to the Freedman’s Relief Society,” writes Noun. Anna Dickinson continued to captivate her audiences with lectures stressing women’s rights and better wages and working conditions. While she was greatly admired by many men and women, she was vilipended by others.
It was during July of 1870 in Burlington, that school teacher, Mary E. Shelton Huston helped organize the Suffrage Association for that town.
While James C. Savery was riding a wave of prosperity in Des Moines, Iowa, for his speculations and investments around 1860, his English-born wife, Annie, was improving her keen and inquiring mind through tutors. It was said that the library in their elegant home on Greenwood (now Grand) Avenue in Des Moines was the finest in Iowa. Childless, Annie supported personal charities, woman’s suffrage, advancement for women’s education, and initiated a campaign to improve prison conditions. She was instrumental in calling the first meeting of women suffrage advocates in Des Moines. Her writings in defense of women suffrage in the columns of the Des Moines Register soon made her its leading advocator in Iowa.
Another Iowa woman to mount the platform for this movement was Mattie Griffith, a twenty-six-year-old Mt. Pleasant schoolteacher. Also on this bandwagon for women’s rights was a “tart-tongued thirty-eight-year-old Marshalltown resident,” Nattie Sanford. Among the Iowa towns to witness and promote this movement were Ottuma, Oskaloosa, Des Moines, Muscatine, Council Bluffs, Mt. Pleasant, and Burlington.
“When Susan B. Anthony retired at the age of 80 as president of the National Woman Suffrage Association in February, 1900, she took deep satisfaction in knowing that her successor, forty-one-year-old Carrie Chapman Catt, was ideally suited to take the helm of her beloved craft. Mrs. Catt, reared and educated in Iowa, began her suffrage work with the pioneer Iowa suffragists, Mary Jane Coggeshall and Martha Callanan, as her mentors. She was destined to lead the woman-suffrage forces of the United States to final victory in 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution,” writes Mrs. Noun, who continues, “On August 26, 1920, following ratification by Tennessee, the thirty-sixth state to fall in line, the Secretary of State of the United States proclaimed the Nineteenth Amendment the law of the land. On August 27th, Mrs. Jens Thuesen of Grundy County, Iowa, became the first woman in this state to vote under this amendment… when she cast her ballot in an election to establish a consolidated school district carved out of Black Hawk and Grundy counties.”
Mrs. Catt, in the Woman Citizen, reminded the women of America: “The vote of yours has cost millions of dollars and the lives of thousands of women. The vote has been costly…. Prize it… understand what it means and what it can do for your country…. The vote is won… seventy-two years the battle for this privilege has waged…. Progress is calling on you to make no pause. ACT!”
Text set with Ventura Publisher in Palacio (a computer version of Pantino) on a 486 computer. Master copy printed on an HP LaserJet III. Printed commercially by the Homewood Press. Edited and published by Jake Warner who handset and printed the cover on a 10×15 C&P.
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