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Women’s Suffrage at the Turn of the Century

August 19, 2013

As we push forward in a year dormant in regard to political elections, I felt the need to look further into how women gained the right to vote. Considered a civic duty in the modern sense, voting was not always an option available to all. For over half of our grand country’s existence, women were not able to cast their ballots to elect the leaders of the United States of America. Despite being relatively new to the world of political action myself, I cannot imagine being deprived the chance to voice my opinion through casting a ballot. Armed with my strong sense of civic duty, I delved deeper into the history of the brave women who made it possible for young ladies like me to cast votes in elections across this great land.

Hailing from the great state of Iowa, I decided to narrow my focus toward the courageous Iowa women who fought for their political freedom in the early days of the women’s suffrage movement, and were even leaders in the nationwide movement. One of the leading pioneers in the women’s suffrage movement was Amelia Jenks Bloomer. Amelia resided in Council Bluffs and helped organize some of the first suffrage organizations in the state, including the Council Bluffs Woman Suffrage Society in 1870. Along with her role in creating the CBWSS, Amelia was also one of the first presidents of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. Without the creation of such organizations, many Iowa women would have remained in the dark on issues surrounding their political suppression.

By the early 1900s the women’s suffrage movement began to gain momentum. More emphasis was given to campaigns and civil action, and women began to meet in public venues to discuss plans of action. The suffrage movement was, admittedly, an elite group of mostly middle class urban women. Women who worked in professional positions, as well as those who worked in domestic service or factory jobs, often did so out of financial necessity. Women campaigning for suffrage needed time, money, and experience in order to take on Washington politics. These women were fighting for the voting rights of not only themselves, but their fellow sisters as well.

On an October day in 1908, dozens of women, and even forward-thinking men, banded together to draw public attention to the cause and increase publicity toward women’s suffrage. During the 37th Annual Iowa Equal Suffrage Association Convention in Boone, Iowa, the suffragists boldly marched during the noon rush hour to show their commitment to the cause. In one of the first suffrage parades in the nation, these brave women of Boone boldly fought for what others thought was impossible.

Armed with statistics, speeches, and political strategies, the suffragettes of Iowa paved the way for millions of women to cast ballots in every election big and small. Since 1920 women have proudly voted for mayors, councilors, governors, representatives, senators, and presidents. It is the revolutionary women of the suffrage movement whom we can all thank for the enlightened political state of our country.

Material sourced from:
Shannon, Lindsay E. Women’s Suffrage in Iowa: 90 Years After the “Winning Plan” Fort Dodge: n.p., 2009. Print.

Guest post by Historical Interpreter Intern Emily Brush

Editor’s note: Though they lobbied for the vote very early on, Iowa women would not gain suffrage rights until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919.

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19th Century Politics   Women’s History

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