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Two January 1914 Letters on Iowa Women’s Suffrage Measure Passing General Assembly
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[WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE IN IOWA]. FLORA E. DUNLAP. Typed Letter Signed, as president of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association, to Dr. Charles H. Preston, January 19, 1914, Des Moines, Iowa. 2 pp.

WILLIAM S. ALLEN. Typed Letter Signed, as Iowa’s Secretary of State, to Dr. Charles H. Preston, January 26, 1914, Des Moines, Iowa. 1 p.

Inventory #24174.08       Price: $1,600

Complete Transcripts

Flora E. Dunlap to Charles H. Preston, on Iowa Equal Suffrage Association Letterhead, January 19, 1914

My dear Dr. Preston,

            A bill granting suffrage passed the last Legislature and we hope of course that it will pass again next year. If it does then the matter will be voted upon at the next general election. There has been a state organization as I said since 1871, the present officers names are at the head of this sheet. Mrs Mary J Coggeshall was perhaps the most prominent and most active of any worker and was president of the state organization for many years.[1] Mrs Belden of Sioux City was identified with the work for some years, Mrs Calanan of Des Moines and Mrs Eliza J Hunter of Des Moines.

            The state organization has now about fifteen hundred members not a large number of course and thirty five affiliated organizations <2> thro the state.

            While Iowa was one of the earliest states to begin an agitation for the cause we have not had such large numbers of clubs or so many members as in some other states organized later. Iowa laws are on the whole quite fair to women which has been perhaps partly the reason. In the last two years there seems to have been a revival of interest and the last two meetings of the state Federation of Womens Clubs have passed resolutions favorable to womens suffrage.

The Mississippi Valley Conference, which includes a group of states north and south in the Central west is to meet in Des Moines late in March.[2]

            I am enclosing some printed matter which may be of help in the general subject. I am sorry there is nothing available of the state in particular. If there is time however I think you may get some help from Mrs Wilson.

                                                                        cordially yours / Flora Dunlap

William S. Allen to Charles H. Preston, January 26, 1914

            Replying to your letter, just received, will state that the resolution for equal suffrage was passed in the 35th General Assembly by the following vote, to-wit:

SENATE  / Ayes 31; Noes 15

HOUSE  / Ayes 81; Noes 26

TOTAL; BOTH HOUSES / Ayes 112; Noes 41

            Under the constitution the resolution must pass the next General Assembly by a majority vote before it can be submitted to the people for ratification. The procedure then would be to have the proposition submitted to the people for ratification following its passage by the second General Assembly.

                                                Very truly yours, / W. S. Allen / Secretary of State

Historical Background

In 1870, Iowa’s state legislature hired a female clerk, changed the code so that women could practice law, and approved a resolution (which had to be passed by two successive General Assemblies) to amend the state constitution to allow women to vote. That same year, Quaker peace activist Joseph Dugdale organized a women’s rights convention in Mount Pleasant, which led to the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, which became the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association. In 1872, the state General Assembly rejected the woman’s suffrage resolution.

In 1897, Susan B. Anthony said that Iowa was playing a “cat and mouse” game with the state’s suffragists. A woman’s suffrage amendment was considered in nearly every biennial session starting in 1870, but did not pass two consecutive sessions until 1915. As Secretary of State Allen reported in this letter, the Iowa House of Representatives passed a resolution for a referendum on woman suffrage on February 20, 1913, and the Senate followed on March 7. Governor George W. Clarke signed the joint resolution on March 15. On February 12, 1915, the next Iowa Senate approved the resolution by a vote of 38 to 11, and the next House of Representatives followed eleven days later by a vote of 84 to 19, paving the way for a public referendum on the issue in the summer of 1916.

Both sides campaigned vigorously before the state referendum. On June 5, 1916, Iowa’s men rejected the suffrage amendment by 10,000 votes out of more than 330,000 votes cast. However, the following January, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s investigation cited multiple examples of fraud, including more ballots cast on the suffrage measure than in the gubernatorial election at the same time, improperly placed ballot boxes, improperly recorded tallies, and in some districts more votes than registered voters.

The Iowa General Assembly passed another suffrage amendment again in 1917, but supposedly due to a clerical error, it was not brought up for discussion in 1918. Secretary of State William S. Allen claimed it was an honest mistake but then blamed suffragist Anna Bell Lawther for not filing the paperwork. In April 1919, the Iowa legislature passed a bill granting women the right to vote in presidential elections, but only two months later, the U.S. Congress passed a proposed Nineteenth Amendment and submitted it to the states for ratification. On July 2, 1919, Iowa became the tenth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on the basis of sex. The necessary three quarters of the states had ratified the amendment by just over a year later, in August 1920.

Flora E. Dunlap (1872-1952) was born in Ohio and graduated from Cincinnati Wesleyan College. She served an apprenticeship at the Kingsley Settlement House, then lived in the Goodrich House in Cleveland and Hull House in Chicago. She became a friend of Jane Addams, who referred her to the Roadside Settlement in Des Moines, where she was head resident from 1904 to 1916 and 1918 to 1924. From 1916 to 1918, she led the Neighborhood Guild House in Brooklyn, New York. In 1912, she won election as the first woman ever to serve on the Des Moines school board, where she was largely isolated by the male members for her three-year term. She served as President of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association from 1913 to 1916. In 1919, she became the first president of the Iowa League of Women Voters, serving until 1920. She lived in Ohio from 1924 to 1930, but returned to Des Moines until 1943, when she moved to Columbus, Ohio.

Charles H. Preston (1844-1914) was born in Ohio into a Quaker family. His father died when Preston was a small boy, and he taught school for several years after graduating from high school. In 1865, he settled in Iowa and graduated from the University of Iowa medical college in 1873. He then studied at Bellview college in New York for two years. In 1875, he established a medical practice in Davenport, Iowa, where he lived for the rest of his life. He served on the local school board for several years and as Davenport city physician for two years. In 1887, he married Ruth Irish, and they had three children. Both C. H. and Ruth Preston were active in a variety of causes, including suffrage, and she spoke to women on suffrage issues.

William S. Allen (1857-1926) was born in Iowa and graduated from the University of Iowa. He opened a law practice in Birmingham, Iowa, and served as the mayor and as a member of the school board. From 1894 to 1898, he was a Republican member of the state’s House of Representatives. He served in the Iowa Senate from 1909 to 1913, then as Iowa Secretary of State from 1913. His failure to bring up the amendment for women’s suffrage that had passed the 1917 General Assembly prevented the General Assembly from discussing it in 1918. After his resignation in 1919, he practiced law in Fairfield, Iowa.


[1] Mary Jane Whitely Coggeshall (1836-1911) was born in Indiana and became the first editor of Iowa’s suffrage newspaper in 1886. She served her first term as president of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association in 1890, 1891, and 1903-1905, and became known as the “mother of woman suffrage in Iowa.”

[2] Suffragist representatives from nineteen states (from North Dakota to Alabama and from Ohio to Texas) were invited to attend the conference in Des Moines from March 29 to 31, 1914.


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