Hard One, Not Done

 

A commemoration of the 100-Year Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment from an Iowa Perspective

Pauline Devitt

Pauline Lewelling Devitt was a prominent Iowa educator and suffragist. Alongside Anna B. Lawther, Devitt was the one of the first two women appointed to the Iowa state Board of Education (now the Board of Regents).

Devitt was born on April 19, 1877, in the girls' department of the Iowa state reform school which her father and mother, Lorenzo D. and Angie Cook Lewelling, founded. After her mother’s death, the family moved to Kansas, where her father was elected governor in 1892. Devitt graduated from the State University of Kansas (now Kansas State University) in 1897 and worked as a schoolteacher for the next four years. In 1901, she married James Arthur Devitt of Oskaloosa, Iowa.

During World War I, Devitt was appointed by Governor Harding to the Iowa State Council for Defense, which helped coordinate conscription and other wartime programs in Iowa. The Council also approved the official state flag of Iowa which was then used by Iowa regiments in World War I. She also served as sixth district chairman of the Liberty Loan Committee, which led campaigns to sell U.S. Treasury bonds in order to fund American involvement in World War I.

In addition to being a civil servant, Devitt was a major supporter of woman suffrage. In 1919, she served as vice president of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) until President Anna B. Lawther resigned, and Devitt succeeded her. When the Nineteenth Amendment passed Congress on June 4, 1919, Devitt and Lillian Crowley, corresponding secretary of the IESA, asked Governor William Harding to call a special session of the legislature to ratify the amendment. Thus, on July 2, 1919, Iowa became the tenth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.

After the suffrage battle was won, Devitt continued to be deeply involved in Iowa politics and government. In 1920, she served as delegate-at-large to the National Republican Convention in Chicago, one of the first women to fill that role for Iowa. In 1921, while serving on the Oskaloosa school board, Devitt was appointed to the state Board of Education (now the Board of Regents) as one of the first women to serve on that board. Six years later, she was reappointed for a second term on the state board, where she served until 1933.

Devitt never abandoned her commitment to women, remaining active in the Iowa Federation of Women’s Clubs (IFWC). In 1923, through her role as chairman of the department of industrial and social relations of the IFWC, Devitt spoke at the Women's Industrial Conference in Washington, D.C., about the need for women to enforce labor laws. After her husband’s death in 1939, Devitt retired to her son’s home in Los Angeles, California.

Devitt died on December 3, 1955, at the age of 78.

Sources:

The Iowa Alumnus, 18:9 (1921). University of Iowa Association.

Iowa State University. Devitt House webpage. http://www.housing.iastate.edu/places/house?id=67.

"Iowa's Notable Dead . . . " The Annals of Iowa 33 (1956), 304-312.

State of Iowa. Official Register, volume 29 (1922). "Biographies of State Officers."