Congress passed it on June 4, 1919, and Iowa ratified it on July 2, 1919. Tennessee finally tipped the scales on the 18th of August 1920 as the 36th state to pass this landmark legislation – the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
It was a long time coming! Women in Davenport and Scott County, Iowa had been working for and against the issue for fifty years. Both sides were well organized and affiliated with state and national organizations. Both shared persuasive arguments and tried to garner support and enthusiasm for their causes in myriad ways. Both had spent the past four years campaigning tirelessly for their beliefs.
World War I was in full swing in May 1916 when the Suffrage Headquarters and Anti-Suffrage Headquarters both located on East Third Street next door to each other in the 100 block.
Who were these women? Based on names found in local newspapers, research was conducted using Davenport city directories and the 1915 Iowa state and 1920 federal census. The mean average age of women involved in both groups was 40 years. The oldest of the identified members of the “Scott County Equal Suffrage Association” was 67 years and the youngest 25. Of this group, roughly 50% had attended at least one year of college and most had completed high school. Their religious affiliations varied tremendously with the highest percentage stating they attended the Unitarian Church.
The “Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage” by and large identified as Episcopalian. 44% reported attending at least one year of college. The youngest was 22 and the oldest was Alice French at 66 years of age. Yes, that Alice French – the local author whose nom de plume was Octave Thanet. The rest of the Anti-Suffs could have easily played “Six Degrees of Alice” as upon inspection they were direct relatives, in-laws, neighbors and part of Davenport’s Who’s Who including the names French, Decker, Lischer, Hecht, Lane, Mueller, Richardson, Roberts, Waterman, and Vollmer.
When Scott County voted down the amendment in the June 1916 primary election, Miss Alice French was quoted in the newspaper speaking for the County chairman of IAOWS Mrs. Jane Crawford and herself, “We are the happiest women on earth. It was a clean-cut victory for our cause. We feel most kindly toward all and wish to thank all the men who stood by us so nobly.” *
Miss Clementine Lewis, niece of Emma H. Mueller (Mrs. Frank) expressed, “I am so pleased to know that so many men in dear old Iowa love their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and sweethearts so much that they voted “No.’” *
Mrs. Nathaniel French stated, “I should like to extend a word of thanks to our husbands, sons, and brothers who have so decidedly said No when it was proposed to burden the women with the responsibility of suffrage. Let us specialize on the duties which we can do best-care of the old, children, and the sick as well as our homes, and our men will always be ready to make the laws to help us out.” *
In response, the Scott County Equal Suffrage League is quoted in the Daily Times Wed. June 7, 1916 p.4, “We wish to express our appreciation of the thousands of men of Scott county who voiced their opinion that women are justly entitled to the ballot. Four years from now, if our friends, the men of Iowa, will again help us we will sweep the state…Equal suffrage is coming; nothing can stop it.”
In August 1916 the executive board of the Scott County Equal Suffrage League sent a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson urging him to submit the suffrage amendment before Congress adjourned that session. It was signed by Mrs. L.G. De Armand, Mrs. Herbert Lafferty, Miss Grace Rose, and Mrs. Fred Lambach.
In late February 1917, the pro-suffragettes enlisted the press to demonstrate favorable sentiments toward equal suffrage by publishing statements of men in favor of the issue including Arthur Davison Ficke, Charles Grilk, and E.K. Putnam.
By April 1917 the United States had joined their allies in the Great War. Women all over the country embraced jobs that traditionally had been done by males. Their contributions, which enabled the country to pursue the war effort, seemed unfair to many, given their inability to contribute to society as full citizens. The heavy sacrifice and a changing understanding of the meaning of democracy brought on by the war gave the suffrage movement renewed energy and enthusiasm.
Tables turned in July 1919 with Iowa’s ratification of the amendment. Chairman of the Scott County Equal Suffrage league Miss Grace Seaman stated, “I think one of the main reasons the men have voted as they have is in recognition of women’s work and what women have done in helping win the war. It is due to American women and to Iowa women to have the right to vote.” **
Davenport Public Library director Miss Grace Rose, who had started a Suffrage Study Club in 1916 to provide education on the subject, called it a splendid victory. Mrs. Henry W. von Maur said she was happy to know “that we are to have a way of expressing ourselves that we have never had before.” **
As for Alice French, she reportedly laughed and stated “the American people are on a moral jag and are going the limit and are preparing themselves for a very bad headache the day after. And the worst part of it is we will all have to take the consequences.” **
Prior to the 1920 November election, the civics department of the Davenport Woman’s Club along with the assistance of many other women’s organizations provided a series of six programs of instruction for women on how to use voting machines. It seems as though Miss French along with many of her former Anti-Suffs were now willing to work with department chair Dr. Genevieve Tucker as a reception committee to ensure the women of Davenport were prepared for this historic occasion.
On Tuesday, November 2, 1920, hundreds of Davenport women cast their first ballot.
No voter registration records exist at the state or county level so there is no official record of which ladies chose to cast a vote. However, the newspaper did highlight a 90-year-old woman, Margaret Chatters Ferrall, who registered to vote in Davenport and as of November 1st planned to go to the polls accompanied by her daughter Mrs. Horace Birdsall and granddaughter Mrs. Dick Lane. Ironically, both of the younger ladies had assisted Miss French in the Anti-Suffrage cause.
We are quite pleased to take the consequences, Miss French.
* Davenport Democrat Thursday, June 8, 1916 page 14
**Davenport Democrat Wednesday, July 2, 1919 page 15
https://www.nps.gov/articles/womens-suffrage-wwi.htm accessed August 18, 2020
Davenport, Iowa newspapers
Davenport, Iowa city directories
(posted by Karen)