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SHSI Iowa City. The Woman's Journal

1916 - 1919

From 1916 to 1919, Iowa was a suffrage battleground. On June 5, 1916, Iowa’s men voted on a referendum to amend the constitution and grant women the ballot. Although the referendum failed in a corrupt election, the camapign piqued national interest. With the U.S.’s entry into World War I, Iowa women were sometimes torn between suffrage and war work, and suffrage campaigns faded a bit from the public eye.

Just two years later, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, and the women of the Hawkeye state launched a ratification campaign. In a special session of the General Assembly held on July 2, 1919, Iowa became the tenth state to ratify. On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the last state to ratify, finally ending the work Iowa women had been involved with for seven decades.

In the year leading up to the 1916 referendum, women created suffrage stamps and wrote suffrage songs, doing everything they could think of to win the vote. National leader Carrie Chapman Catt returned to Iowa to campaign. Pauline Devitt’s husband James even hired a nurse for this three-year time period so his wife could focus on the cause. Pauline Devitt became president of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) in 1919.

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SHSI Des Moines. Iowa Women's Suffrage Collection.

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SHSI Iowa City.

Across the country, the tide was turning in favor of suffrage. In 1916, Alice Paul founded the militant National Woman’s Party, and Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the first woman elected to the U.S. House. In April 1919, just four months before the state ratified the 19th Amendment, the Iowa General Assembly passed a bill granting women the right to vote in presidential elections.