Iowa’s Progressive History

Iowa has always been at the forefront of civil rights issues. And although Iowa is located in the heart of middle America, it has always been more progressive than most of the states in the Union. Here are some examples:

  • 1838: The Supreme Court of the Iowa Territory (in its first ruling, “In re Ralph”) ruled that a slave from a slave state could not be forced to return to the slave state after the slave reached Iowa soil.
  • 1838: Iowa, while still a territory, allowed unmarried women to own property. At that time, women did not have rights and in most of the U.S. they were considered property themselves.
  • 1846: The same year Iowa became a state, it became the second state in the nation to allow married women to own property (as long as it did not initially come from her husband).
  • 1846: Iowa demonstrated its acceptance of religious minorities by allowing safe passage of the Mormons through western Iowa who were fleeing religious persecution in Illinois.
  • 1851: Iowa became the second state to legalize interracial marriage… a century before the rest of America.
  • 1851: Iowa legislated that the property of married women did not vest in her husband, nor did the husband control his wife’s property.
  • 1857: The University of Iowa became the first state university in the nation to open its degree programs to women.
  • 1860: The Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that a married woman may acquire real and personal property and hold it in her own right.
  • 1867: African American men were granted the right to vote. The 15th amendment to the U.S. constitution, which did the same thing nationally, wasn’t ratified until 1870.
  • 1868: The Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that women could have custody rights.
  • 1868: Iowa became the second state to outlaw segregated schools… ninety years before the rest of America. The Iowa State Supreme Court ruled, in the case brought before it by Alexander Clark of Muscatine, that all children in Iowa must attend the same schools.
  • 1869: Iowan Julia C. Addington became the first woman in the United States to be elected to a public office. She was elected to be Mitchell County Superintendent. Mitchell county is in northeastern Iowa. Oddly enough, women were not allowed to vote in Iowa at the time. She ran against a man and defeated him. Julia then got nervous about her election and asked the Iowa Attorney General to issue an opinion on her election. He wrote that her election was legal under the constitution of Iowa. That was the first such ruling from any Attorney General in the country. Even more astounding is that within a decade, 75% of the county superintendents in Iowa were women, another first in the nation.
  • 1869: Iowa became the first state to allow women to join the bar, thus setting the stage for having the first female attorney in the U.S., Arabella Mansfield.
  • 1871: Ada E. North became the first woman in the United States to be appointed to a statewide office. She was appointed the Iowa State Librarian.
  • 1873: The Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that African Americans are entitled to equal treatment in public accommodation.
  • 1875: Emma Haddock of Iowa City became the first female in the United States to practice law before a federal court.
  • 1880: The Iowa constitution was amended to allow African American men to serve in the Iowa General Assembly.
  • 1884: The Iowa Civil Rights Act was passed. It prohibited discrimination in public accommodation. It was one of the first civil rights acts in the nation.
  • 1885: Iowa once again demonstrated its acceptance of religious minorities as Iowa’s first Muslim immigrants settled in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • 1890: President Harrison appointed Alexander Clark, an African American from Muscatine, Iowa, to be U.S. minister to Liberia. Mr. Clark became one of the first African American diplomats for the United States.
  • 1894: Iowa became the third state in the nation to give women the right to vote (after Wyoming in 1869 and Colorado in 1893). Women could vote if candidates were not involved (such as bond issues). Note: Utah gave women the right to vote in 1870, but then rescinded it soon thereafter. It did not give that right back to women until 1895.
  • 1917: The US Army held its first officer candidate class for African American men at Ft. Des Moines.
  • 1919: Iowa became the 10th state to ratify the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which granted women the right to vote). Although Iowa was 10th, it was only short three weeks between the first state ratifying the amendment and Iowa doing the same. Illinois was the first state to ratify the 19th amendment on June 10, 1919. Iowa ratified it on July 2nd, 1919. Note: the final state to ratify the 19th amendment was Mississippi… in 1984.
  • 1934: The first mosque built in the United States is built in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is now known as the Mother Mosque of America. Cedar Rapids is also the home of the Muslim National Cemetery, the only exclusively Muslim cemetery in the United States.
  • 1949: The Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that Katz Drug Store in Des Moines discriminated against Edna Griffin (an African American, also known as the Rosa Parks of Iowa). It was the first successful enforcement of the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1884. The ruling was preceded by a boycott of Katz Drug Store in Des Moines by both white and black residents. This boycott occurred seven years before the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • 1953: Iowa was the only state to defeat a McCarthyistic legislative measure to impose a teacher’s loyalty oath.
  • 1953: Iowan Abdallah Ingram, a World War II veteran from Cedar Rapids, convinced President Eisenhower that Islam should be recognized by the U.S. military, along with Christianity and Judaism. Additionally, he successfully urged President Eisenhower to have the symbol “I” for “Islamic” stamped on the dog tags of american muslim soldiers .
  • 1962: Iowa becomes the fourth state in the nation to use a merrit selection process for its judicial system. This system prevents politics from influencing judges.
  • 1970: Iowa became the second state to adopt no-fault divorce.
  • 1970: The University of Iowa became one of the first universities in the U.S. to allow a student GLBT group. It was also one of the first universities in the U.S. to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.
  • 1984: Rich Eychaner, a Republican, became the first openly gay man in the U.S. to run for a voting seat in Congress, running for Iowa’s 4th congressional district.
  • 2003: On November 14th Iowa State District Court Judge Jeff Neary in Sioux City granted a divorce to a lesbian couple who had a civil union in Vermont. (This was a year before Massachusetts allowed marriage equality.) The case was appealed by conservatives to the Iowa State Supreme Court.
  • 2005: On June 17th, the Iowa State Supreme Court, in Alons v Iowa District Court, ruled that a same-sex couple who had been legally joined in another state could be divorced under Iowa law.
  • 2007: Iowa became the second state to allow full marriage equality for gays and lesbians. One gay couple was married before the judge put a stay on his ruling in Varnum v Brien until the Iowa State Supreme Court could rule on the case.
  • 2007: Iowa became the fifth state to protect children from bullying due to sexual orientation AND gender identity.
  • 2007: Iowa became the seventh state to ban discrimination due to sexual orientation AND gender identity… thus making sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes in Iowa.
  • 2008: During the January 3rd caucuses, Iowa Democrats became the first in the nation to select Barack Obama as their choice for president. Iowa is 93% white.
  • 2008: On January 18th the Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that second parent adoptions by same-sex couples are legal.
  • 2008: On April 3rd Iowa became the 8th state to allow Election Day Registration (EDR) or same day voter registration.
  • 2008: The Council Bluffs City Council banned discrimination in Council Bluffs due to sexual orientation AND gender identity.
  • 2009: On April 3rd the Iowa State Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Varnum v Brien in favor of full marriage equality for gays and lesbians. Due to the stay on the 2007 district court ruling, this made Iowa officially the third state to allow marriage equality. And it was the first state not on one of the coasts to allow marriage equality and the first state to gain marriage equality with a unanimous decision.
  • 2010: On February 17th the Iowa Board of Pharmacy became the first state pharmacy board in the nation to recommend the legalization of medical marijuana AND to change the classification of marijuana to a schedule II drug (one with potential for abuse but accepted medical uses) before either legislators or voters took steps to legalize it.  It was a unanimous vote of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy. Only 14 other states have medical marijuana laws.
  • 2010: On February 18th Grinnell College, located in Grinnell, Iowa, announced that it has selected Dr. Raynard Kington as its next president. Dr. Kington is the first openly gay, African American college president in the nation. Dr. Kington has a husband and two sons.  Grinnell College was founded in 1846 by strict abolitionists and has always been committed to social justice issues. Grinnell is about 50 miles east of Des Moines, just off I-80.
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