In 2020, the Dubuque County Historical Society is excited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution by creating a “mini exhibit” at its National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.
The 19th Amendment states simply, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The wording may seem simple, but the fight for its passage was anything but. When it was finally ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment represented a victorious culmination of efforts by women and men of all backgrounds over more than seven decades. It was a long fight but was seen by many as the foundation for more progress toward equal rights for women in other arenas, including education, employment, property rights, and more.
Nationally, female leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, and countless others worked tirelessly to advance the cause. Susan B. Anthony even went so far as to vote (“illegally”) in 1872, exclaiming in a letter to her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Well, I have been and gone and done it!! Positively voted the Republican ticket.” Anthony was later arrested at her Rochester, NY home for the “crime” of illegal voting and then tried in court.
Anthony never lived to see the 19th Amendment ratified, but women of a younger generation, such as Alice Paul, eventually did. Paul’s tactics to bring attention to suffrage and women’s rights were famously more controversial. She and others staged pickets, parades, and hunger strikes. Paul was arrested for picketing in 1917 and during her jail sentence was so adamant in her refusal to eat she was subjected to force feeding. Her tactics garnered the desired effect, resulting in widespread media coverage and by 1918, President Wilson announced his support for woman suffrage.
Alice Paul also authored the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, which states “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United Sates or by any state on account of sex.” The Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified.
Dubuque County has its own rich history related to woman suffrage and women’s rights. The first woman suffrage association in the state of Iowa was formed in Dubuque in 1869. Dubuquer, Anna Bell Lawther, was one of the more remarkable local figures in the movement. She graduated from Dubuque public schools, then went east to Bryn Mawr. After several years, she returned to Dubuque to make her mark as a suffragist and activist. She was elected the first county chair of the Dubuque Equal Suffrage Association in 1916 and soon after was unanimously elected President of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association. After the 19th Amendment was passed, Lawther turned her attention to organizing female voters, becoming heavily involved in the Democratic party. She even ran for the office of State Auditor in 1928, though she was not elected.
Closely tied to the suffrage movement were women’s social clubs, and Dubuque women were committed to a variety of causes through such organizations. Clara Aldrich Cooley founded the Dubuque Ladies’ Literary Association (later the Dubuque Women’s Club). May Rogers was a Dubuquer who frequently traveled across the region to speak on themes of women’s rights, including a 1910 address to the Chicago Equal Suffrage League.
While not the sole solution to inequality in the U.S., the 19th Amendment was a milestone and foundation for change, helping millions of women move closer to equality in all aspects of American life.|
Do you have memorabilia or artifacts related to the history of the suffrage movement or women’s rights in Dubuque? Or maybe you know of other local women who were remarkable pioneers of their time. If so, we would love to hear from you. We are seeking items for loan or donation for our mini exhibit and need your help! Here are just a few ideas of what we are looking for:
If you think you can help, please contact us at 563-557-9545 ext. 310 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.