Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Pauline Lewelling Devitt, 1877-1955

By Susan R. Cloud, Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, Iowa State University, and Danielle Giles, undergraduate student, Iowa State University

Pauline Lewelling Devitt (April 10, 1877-December 3, 1955), of Oskaloosa, Iowa, served as president of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association from 1919-1920. Along with Anna B. Lawther, Devitt was the one of the first two women appointed by an Iowa governor to the state Board of Education (now the Board of Regents), in 1921.

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, had recently organized near Mt. Pleasant. After the death of Mrs. Lewelling, the family moved to Kansas, where Mr. Lewelling was elected governor in 1892. Devitt graduated from the State University of Kansas (now Kansas State University) in 1897 and taught school for 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 and also served as sixth district chairman of the Liberty Loan Committee. In 1919, Devitt was serving as vice president of Iowa Equal Suffrage Association and took over as president after Anna B. Lawther resigned that position. When the federal amendment passed Congress on June 4, 1919, Devitt and Mrs. Fred (Lillian) Crowley, corresponding secretary, asked Governor William Harding to call a special session of the legislature to ratify it, and on July 2, 1919, Iowa became the tenth state to ratify the federal amendment.

In 1920, Devitt was delegate-at-large to the National Republican Convention in Chicago, one of the first women to serve the state in that capacity. In 1921, while serving on the Oskaloosa school board, she was appointed to the state Board of Education (now the Board of Regents). In 1927, she was reappointed for a second term on the state board, serving until 1933. In January 1923, in her role as chairman of the department of industrial and social relations of the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs, Devitt spoke at the Women's Industrial Conference in Washington, D.C., on the need for women to enforce women's labor laws. In 1926-27, she served as vice president of the state conference of social work.

Devitt died on December 3, 1955, at the home of her son John in Los Angeles, Californi a, where she had lived since the death of her husband in 1939.


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

Iowa State University. Devitt House webpage.

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

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

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