By Emily Kresse, undergraduate, University of Iowa
Gertrude H. Milner was born Gertrude Hurford Nov. 16, 1876 to parents John Roscoe Hurford and Louisa Ellen Wright. Gertrude grew up in the small, predominantly Irish community of Melrose, IA. In 1897 at the age of 20, she married Joseph Henry Milner in Lucas, IA. By 1910 they moved to Denver, CO and the U.S. Census found them thereafter living back and forth between Iowa and Colorado. Gertrude died January of 1943 and was interned at Graceland Cemetery in Knoxville, IA. Her husband, Joseph Henry, died October 1951 and was buried beside his wife.
Milner was active in the campaign for women’s suffrage in both Iowa and Colorado. In Iowa, she was primarily involved as the chair of the Political Equality Club (PEC), where she participated in campaigns to protest the high cost of living in 1916 and 1917. Within that cause, Milner spoke about the need for 8-hour and minimum wage laws and was on the committee that reached out to organized labor to unite with the PEC to combat the high cost of living. As a Colorado resident she had the right to vote and used her experiences there as an example of universal suffrage directly impacting women’s labor standards. She gave a talk Saturday afternoon, February 12th, 1916 at the Y.M.C.A. before the City Federation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Des Moines. The following Tuesday the Des Moines Register detailed her talk; she spoke not only of the benefits of woman’s suffrage in Colorado--gaining 8-hour and minimum wage laws-- but also of improved working conditions, like proper lighting and ventilation to be maintained by “four deputy factory inspectors, one to be a woman, and all paid the same salary.”
During the November election in 1916, after having lived and voted in Colorado, and serving on election boards there, Milner and other women tried to vote in Iowa but were denied. The Des Moines Register reported, “The women claimed the right to register by virtue of having been qualified electors in other states before coming to Iowa,” and went on to cite the women’s argument as rooted in the Full Faith and Credit clause outlined in the Constitution of the United States, which states, “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Precinct judge C. A. Dana, who felt legally rather than personally obligated to deny these women’s registration requests, said the best possible solution “would be universal suffrage for the entire nation…that the women should be denied the right that is extended to such men is absurd.”
Women’s suffrage was won with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in August 1920. From January 1917 until June 1919, members of the National Woman’s Party, under direction from co-founder Alice Paul, picketed the White House to press President Woodrow Wilson to urge the amendment's passage by Congress; many banners addressed him directly. Because the protestors remained silent, letting their banners, signs, and sheer presence speak for them, the pickets were called the Silent Sentinels. Although not present at the NWP pickets at the White House, Milner was supportive and, in a November 1917 letter to the editor, urged the Des Moines Register to remove “militant” from its vocabulary when reporting on the suffragists. The use of “militant,” Milner argued, creates an image of aggressive, combative women when in reality they were, “Among the most patriotic women in the United States.”
By 1919 Milner was again residing in Colorado and was named state organizer for the Committee of 48, which the Des Moines Register described as “a national organization formed for the purpose of adopting a platform independent of political issues.”
Most of the above information was obtained from online editions of the Des Moines Register accessed via newspapers.com. The biographical information was gathered from ancestry.com, but the website has Milner’s birth year as 1877, yet her headstone says 1876. According to Milner’s ancestry.com bio, she died in Los Angeles, CA on January 7th, 1943. The date is corroborated by her headstone, but it is unclear how long she had been living in California and why.
“Plea for 8-Hour Law,” Register (Des Moines, IA), Jan. 26, 1917.
“What Suffrage Has Done for Colorado,” Register (Des Moines, IA), Feb. 15, 1916
“Suffrage Right Not Recognized,” Register (Des Moines, IA), Nov. 5, 1916.
Gertrude H., Milner, “Not Militant,” Register (Des Moines, IA), Nov. 11, 1917.
“Former Iowa Woman Named State Organizer for Colorado,” Register (Des Moines, IA), Nov. 11, 1919.