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SHSI Iowa City.

The outbreak of World War I brought new challenges to the suffrage movement. When the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, a nationwide propaganda campaign claimed suffragists were unpatriotic because they were concentrating on something other than the war effort. Many women laid down their suffrage banners for the duration.

But others, such as Iowan Anna Bell Lawther, fought hard to make equal suffrage a war measure. They argued that if the U.S. wanted to make the world safe for democracy, the country needed to grant its own citizens democratic rights. As president of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association (IESA), Lawther formed a Thrift and Agriculture Committee, through which women could work to increase Iowa’s food supply in support of the war effort.

Iowans received public praise for supporting soldiers, and the IESA reported that war-related activities “melted many hearts formerly cold to suffrage.” The increasingly vital presence of women in the workforce also helped to diminish the “separate spheres” argument. In fact, Lawther credited suffragists’ war work with creating enough support for another suffrage amendment to pass the Iowa General Assembly in 1917.

That amendment was never discussed during the 1918 General Assembly, however, because of a clerical error by Secretary of State William S. Allen. Allen claimed the error was not malicious and also accused Lawther of not filing the necessary paperwork. The federal amendment passed before Iowa lawmakers could discuss the matter again.

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IWA. Dorothy Ashby Pownall papers.