Women’s Suffrage and the 1920 Iowa State Fair

Margaret Dougherty and Blanche Kreiter, 1921 Champion 4H clothing demonstration

August 26th of this year, when the 19th amendment became law, marks the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote.  What were Iowa women doing on August 26th, 1920?  Some were attending the Iowa State Fair!  August 26th was the second day of the 66th annual Iowa State Fair, which was held from August 25th through September 3rd in 1920.  Did fair goers in Iowa know about the passage of the 19th amendment when attending the fair?  I did not find any mention of women’s suffrage or the 19th amendment in the records I went through, but we can see a little bit of what young women were doing in 1920 at the State Fair, and in the years following the passage of the amendment, in the Iowa 4H Records (RS 16/3/4).  This collection includes the Iowa 4-H Girls’ Clubs Annual Reports.  (The finding aid/collection description for this collection is not yet online, but will be shortly.)  Perhaps more out of coincidence than anything else, the first annual report for Iowa girls’ clubs was produced the same year as the passage of the 19th amendment (1920).

1923 Clothing Garment Demonstration

4H, then as now, provides hands-on experiences to help young people reach their full potential and includes opportunities for youth to develop their leadership skills. In the early part of the 20th century 4H was a great way for young women to advance their leadership skills, and learn what they were capable of, in order to more fully take advantage of their newly won right to vote.  The 1920 Annual Report of 4-H Girls Club Work is also a wonderful window into the beginnings of 4H clubs.  According to the writer of the report, very few if any girls’ clubs existed in Iowa on April 1st, 1920, and those which did existed only on a temporary basis, mostly in the spring and summer.  The early 4H Girls’ Clubs in Iowa were divided into 5 different groups: canning, food study, meal preparation, garment making, and own your own room.

The 1920 Annual Report briefly mentions what the 4H girls did at the 1920 Iowa State Fair.  There were:

  • 9 canning demonstrations
  • 6 garment demonstrations
  • 4 meal preparation demonstrations
  • 5 food preparation demonstrations
  • 6 Own Your Own Room Demonstrations

In addition, the annual report states that “A Boys’ and Girls’ club Pageant was put on one day of the Fair. The girls’ club department had five floats.  A float all in while labeled ‘The Queen of the Home’ headed the girls.  One of the mothers all in white sat on her throne.  The three girls all in white, the sunshine of the home, holding the reins.”  Even though this first annual report of 1920 does not contain photographs, our university photograph collection does contain an image of the Queen of the Home float, pictured  below.

The Iowa 4H Records also contain the historian books for Iowa 4H Girls’ Clubs.  The historians books begin in 1921 and contain more detailed information on 4H activities, including the Iowa State Fair.

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