In 1911, May 8 was designated as International Women’s Day and in 1978, Congress declared the month of March as Women’s History Month. Growing up, every month was women’s history month because the majority of us in the house, the dog included, were women.
However, this women’s history month I am taking a look at the women of southeast Iowa who came before me. Every day I do my best to leave my mark here, but I could not do it without those on whose shoulders I stand.
Ola Babcock Miller
Iowa’s first female Secretary of State was born in Washington County in 1872. After graduating from Iowa Wesleyan College, she went on to become the founder of the Iowa State Patrol.
She married the newspaper editor of the Washington Democrat, Alex Miller, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1926. After his death in 1927, she decided to continue to be an active member in the Democratic Party and was elected as the Secretary of State in 1932.
After hearing about the death of a friend’s son, she advocated for a uniformed police force and in 1935 became the head of the Iowa State Patrol. Miller died of pneumonia on Jan. 25, 1937, and more than 1,500 people attended her funeral at the Washington Methodist Church.
Susan Frances Nelson Ferree
Born on Jan. 14, 1844, in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Ferree was a poet and journalist best known for her support of the advancement of women. As a Washington, D.C., newspaper correspondent, she supported the Woman’s Suffrage Movement and was affiliated with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
When she was 1 year old, Ferree and her parents moved to Keokuk where she spent most of her life. In 1860 she married Jerome Dial Ferree and the pair moved to Ottumwa.
She was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Woman’s Relief Corps, the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Association, Daughters of the American Revolution and the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
Mila Tupper Maynard
The first female minister of Nevada was born in Brighton in 1864. Maynard decided she wanted to pursue church work after her sister, Eliza Tupper Wilkes, who was 20 years her senior, influenced her by being active in organizing several new churches. In 1889 she was ordained as a minister from Cornell University, then moved to Indiana, Michigan and eventually to Nevada.Shortly afterward, she began to get recognized for her social efforts and in 1894 was appointed by the governor of Nevada to the Congress of the National Prison Association and was incited to present a paper on social reform at the Women’s Congress at the Midwinter Fair that same year.
In 1912, Pendray became the superintendent of schools for Henry County and stayed in that position while also teaching summer classes at Iowa Wesleyan University. In 1928, she was elected to the House of Representatives, representing Jackson County. In 1932, she won a senate seat and became the first woman elected to the Iowa General Assembly.
When she was elected, the men were not sure how to act and asked her if it would be OK to smoke in her presence. According to an entry in the Biographical Dictionary of Iowa by Suzanne O’Dea, Pendray was focused on her political career and quoted as saying, “I want to be one of the 108 and I’m making no bids for favors on the grounds of femininity.”
As a member of the Legislature, Pendray co-sponsored a bill that would allow women to hold property of their own exempt from seizure for debt. Before the bill only the husband was regarded as the head of household and could be the only one to do so.
Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret
An Iowa City native, Liffring-Zug Bourret was a writer and photographer for the Cedar Rapids Gazette from 1948-1951. Her photography work has been recognized in famous collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
She is best known for her photographs that depict a variety of ethnic groups such as Norwegians, Meskwaki Native Americans and the Amana people. She has contributed over 500,000 negatives to the State Historical Society of Iowa and prints to the Women’s Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and Kirkwood Community College.
Among her most famous photographs are a 1962 image of Martin Luther King Jr. Today, at 90 years old, Liffring-Zug Bourret resides in Iowa City.