The final years of the women’s suffrage movement were not easy ones. World War I was raging in Europe, a flu epidemic ravaged the nation, and the men serving in the armed forces, the industrial revolution had completely changed the way the country worked, and immigrants were flocking to the country to find employment. Still, women labored with conviction and commitment to reach their goal.
In 1919, at last, the federal government adopted the 19th amendment to give women the right to vote. Iowa ratified the amendment the same year, as did state after state, but it wasn’t until August of 1920 that Tennessee finally gave in as the last state to ratify. Women must have been exhausted by their efforts, by the war, by the flu, by the changes in their communities.
The legion of local women who had joined the uphill fight included the women already mentioned, but many others. Clara Remley, a local teacher, was praised in her obituary as an “ardent suffragette;” her sister Alice Glass provided leadership and support for the local and county clubs; Mary J. Farrell distinguished herself by her suffrage work and other civic contributions. Mrs. W.C. Shanke, who served for a time as president of the local suffrage club and attended the 1917 National Convention as an Iowa delegate. Undoubtedly, the names of others have been lost over the years.
Dr. Stella Mason, the city’s first successful woman doctor, was president of the local suffrage club when the 19th amendment was passed. She remained in possession of the gavel used locally by Carrie Chapman Catt. In 1939, she presented the gavel to the local club of professionals and businesswomen. At the presentation, she declared the work was far from done. “It is equality for women. We are not within 1,000 miles of having equality.” Receiving the gavel, Elizabeth Graves responded, “Dr. Mason, I look upon this gavel as a symbol of the energy, the enthusiasm, the example, the expedition, the expectation, the exaltation of the women of Mason City, of Iowa, of the nation.”
After women won the vote, the League of Women Voters was established. A plaque was hung at their national headquarters in Washington, D.C., honoring the leaders of the national effort. Additionally, each state’s suffrage leaders were honored with their names also on display. Among the twenty-four women recognized from Iowa were Mason City’s Mary Emsley Adams, Byrd Damon, and Eleanor Stockman. The three and so many others living in the city continue to deserve praise and recognition for what they achieved. But as Dr. Mason said when she presented the suffrage gavel after the battle was won, there is still a way to go to achieve full equality for women. Perhaps not as far as in 1939 when she said that, but still some work to be done as we salute those who paved the way.
ABOUT THIS SERIES: To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, Visit Mason City is sharing a 5-part series of articles about the Mason City women who made many contributions to the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Many thanks to Pat Schulz for sharing these stories.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pat Schultz, former executive director of Wright on the Park, found her interest in women in Mason City sparked when she was researching Mary Emsley Adams. Mrs. Adams was the president of the City National Bank when its board hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new building. She was also, as Pat discovered, an ardent suffragist, so active that she was recognized as one of the 24 Iowa women honored for their outstanding efforts when the 19th amendment was ratified. Pat’s continued research found that Mary was not the only local woman deeply involved in getting the vote for women. Her book “Amazing Women of Early Mason City” tells their stories as well as those of other women. Pat began her work with Wright on the Park after she retired from teaching in the language arts department at Clear Lake High School for 29 years. She has also taught communication skills for North Iowa Area Community College and currently teaches in NIACC’s Life Long Learning Program. A widow, she lives on an acreage northeast of Mason City with her feline friends, Katzanova and Charles Dickens. She also continues to be a member of WOTP’s Education Committee.