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Wikimedia Commons

In the spring and summer of 1871, a national controversy stirred that would have a lasting impact on Iowa suffragists.

Spiritualist, free-love advocate, and suffragist Victoria Woodhull of New York was derided by the national press for her controversial opinions and actions. Since she was also an outspoken advocate and financial backer of the National Woman Suffrage Association, the entire movement was tainted.

At the same time, the president of the American Woman Suffrage Association, Henry Ward Beecher, was having an affair with suffrage advocate Theodore Tilton’s wife. The Beecher-Tilton scandal was more suppressed in the national media, but word spread to Iowa through other suffragists.

Also in 1871, Elizabeth Cady Stanton made headlines for speaking about such controversial topics as birth control and divorce. Her lecture tour included several stops in Iowa.

Prominent suffrage leader Annie Savery (1831 - 1891) of Des Moines defended the right of suffragists such as Woodhull to hold minority opinions. She wanted the private thoughts of women to be protected - just as they were for men. Not everyone agreed, though.

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IWA. Printed Works Collection.

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IWA. Louise R. Noun papers.

At the 1871 Iowa State Suffrage Society convention, Nettie Sanford (1830-1901) of Marshalltown proposed a resolution stating that marriage was sacred and binding.

Several Iowa suffrage societies, including Polk County’s, issued statements of moral purity in an attempt to distance themselves from the national scandals.

Polk County suffrage leader Martha Callanan (1826-1901) led a campaign to ostracize Savery for her defense of intellectual freedom.