Iowa Women in the Great War



Chapter XX




     Those charged with the task of organizing the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense of Iowa realized at an early date that the very work of organization itself might be made an end as well as a means, and in a large proportion of the counties the meetings called for forming local chapters were made patriotic occasions which called together the women of every class, race and creed. They were, in themselves, demonstrations of democratic feeling and patriotism which meant much to their communities. In many counties, patriotic meetings with speakers from near by cities were held in every school district of the county. The movement for holding the patriotic meetings has been in the opinion of many, the most distinctive phase of Iowa's work. The chairman of the Committee on Patriotic Meetings is Miss Alice French of Davenport, better known as Octave Thanet, the novelist, who has devoted herself with all her resources of influence and wealth to this work. Miss French is the Regent of the Colonial Dames of Iowa and this patriotic society together with the D.A.R., has been especially in charge of this work, the value of which can scarcely be estimated. Miss French has been particularly successful in holding meetings in sections of the state where there is a large German population, having enlisted as one of her best speakers the editor of one of the largest German newspapers, who is aiding in setting forth the duties of the German-American citizen at this time.

    Mrs. Gebhard, who is the Regent of the State D.A.R., has been carrying on the work of holding meetings in connection with the county fairs. Arrangements were made for patriotic rallies to be held in every county of the state.

     The chairman of the Committee on Education, Miss Leona Call, sent out an appeal to all domestic science teachers in the colleges and schools, to make a specialty of teaching the preparation of the foods recommended by the Federal Food Administration and especially that they avail themselves of the opportunity this will give for patriotic instruction, explaining to their pupils why these things are necessary, why our country is at war, the suffering in Europe, etc. It is believed that by this means, instruction not only in habits of thrift but in patriotism and loyalty to our government will he taken into many homes not otherwise accessible.

    This committee has also appealed to teachers everywhere to give patriotic instruction and patriotic programs in the school, using the new and modern literature of patriotism, such as Secretary Lane's "Address on the Flag"; part of President Wilson's war message, etc. It is believed that they will thus bring home to the pupils and, through them to their parents, the fact that each one has a personal interest in this war.

    The chairman of the Iowa Division, Mrs. Francis E. Whitley*, sent to every college in the state a request to the girls to secure from their own acquaintance, as many signatures as possible to the food pledge cards, each one writing to her own home town and giving thus, not only help to the campaign, but an evidence of her own loyal interest. She also sent a letter to each of the rural clubs, of which Iowa has a very large number, asking them not only to circulate the food pledge cards in their own neighborhoods, but to hold patriotic meetings, using the songs of our country- the songs which our soldiers are singing in the camps -and giving a distinctively patriotic tone to the gatherings in their community centers.

    The Iowa Division made an especial effort to carry on the work of safeguarding the conditions around the great cantonment at Des Moines. Mrs. Harold R. Howells, the chairman of the Health and Recreation Committee, with the aid of the women of the Des Moines unit especially cooperated with the agents sent out by the Committee from the War Department in meeting this great and imperative need.

    A letter was sent to the newspapers of every county in the state and to every county chairman, asking that the women in each locality take steps to see that no girl who leaves home seeking employment in Des Moines shall go without notifying either the local Woman's Committee or the Y.W.C.A., so that she may be met and sheltered until some suitable place to live can be secured.

    The Iowa Division sent an appeal to the colleges asking that all social functions be simplified; that every form of extravagance and display be eliminated as unsuited to a time like this; they are asked to do this as a patriotic offering to their country and to demonstrate that they share in the heroic ideals of their college brothers who have gone, or are going, to the field of battle. The students are voting to comply with this request, giving up "Junior Proms"; and using money for Red Cross and other patriotic work.

    Several of the local branches interested themselves in local community cellars, for the benefit of those having none. The women at one county seat gave a conservation festival, the proceeds of which went to buy sugars, jars, etc., for those who could not afford to buy them.

    In carrying on the food pledge campaign in Iowa it was necessary to deny frequently many stories that had been industriously circulated. The most common of these was that those signing these cards will have their canned fruit and vegetables confiscated by the government agents. One of the cheering illustrations of genuine patriotism, however, was brought out by this rumor. In Webster County when the workers from the woman's committee was securing pledges, they asked one housewife for her signature and were surprised and touched when, after signing promptly, she asked very honestly if she would know when the man from the government was coming as she was canning and preserving all she could so that she would have her share ready. Truly this patriotic Scandinavian woman set an example to some native Americans.

    Iowa women have helped most efficiently in promoting the Liberty Loan, especially in influencing women, women's organizations, Sunday Schools, young people's religious societies, etc., to invest. In Dubuque a leaflet with questions and answers was compiled by the Woman's Committee canvassers.

    The officers of the Iowa Woman's Committee are: chairman, Mrs. Francis E. Whitley, Webster City; vice-chairman, Mrs. F. J. Mansfield, Burlington; vice-chairman, Mrs. H. W. Spaulding, Grinnell; secretary, Miss Catherine J. Mackay, Ames; treasurer, Mrs. C. H. Norris, Des Moines; auditor, Mrs. J. W. Watek, Davenport; Registration, Mrs. C. H. Morris, Des Moines; Conservation, Miss Catherine J. Mackay, Ames; Child Welfare, Dr. Lenna Meanes, Des Moines; Education, Miss Leona Call, Webster City; Liberty Loan, Mrs. W. W. Marsh, Waterloo; Patriotic, Miss Alice French, Davenport.

*[transcribers clarification: Mrs. Francis E. Whitney is Cora Call Whitney, Francis was her husband]


-source: American Woman and the World War, by Ida Clyde Clarke; D. Appleton & Co.: New York/London; 1918, Chapter XX.
-transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall for Iowa in the Great War