Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Pauline Lewelling Devitt, 1877-1955
By Jack Barney, student, Iowa State University
Faculty Sponsor: Sarah Chase Crosby
Subject Librarian: Susan A. Vega Garcia
President of the Iowa State Suffrage Association, delegate of the Chicago National Republican Convention, member of the State Board of Education, chairman for the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs
According to a 2011 online biography by a S. Ferrall, Pauline Lewelling was born April 10, 1877 to Lorenzo D. and Angie Cook Lewelling. Other sources, such as the 1956 journal The Annals of Iowa, state that her mother was the first superintendent and matron of the girls' department of the Iowa Reform School in Henry County, Iowa. The Annals of Iowa also states that when her mother grew ill, Pauline's father moved the family to Kansas, where he was elected governor in 1892. While in Kansas, Pauline graduated in the class of 1897 from the University of Kansas, according to the 1920 journal, The Iowa Alumnus. This same journal states that she then spent the next four years teaching, until she married James A. Devitt in 1901, later giving birth to two sons and a daughter. The Iowa Alumnus was also able to provide a picture of Mrs. Devitt. After moving back to Iowa, Mrs. Pauline Lewelling Devitt became involved in the suffrage movement and other leadership roles.
According to The Annals of Iowa, published in 1956, Devitt was elected as the president of the Iowa State Suffrage Association in 1919, during which time she was active in campaigns for women's suffrage. It was during her presidency that a special session of the legislature ratified the federal women's suffrage amendment. The 2011 Iowa Digital Library collection mentions how her husband supported her by hiring a nurse to care for the children so she could devote herself to the cause. Devitt's own words are also available in this collection: “We are here, women of this convention, to cast off the grave clothes and try our unaccustomed wings over new fields of action.” This quote showcases her efforts to inspire fellow suffragists through her speech.
Mrs. Pauline Devitt's leadership work did not stop after women earned the right to vote. The Annals of Iowa, as published in 1956, also documents her work in education and politics. For example, this source shows that in 1920 she served as a delegate of the Chicago National Republican Convention, a member of the State Board of Education from 1921-1933, and a chairman of the public welfare division of the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs.
Pauline Devitt was an active member in the suffrage movement and a leader in other organizations. However, after about 1935 there is not much record of her activism. She died December 3, 1955 in Los Angeles, California at the home of her son, John, according to The Annals of Iowa.#x200e
Ferrall, S. “Devitt, Pauline Lewelling.” IowaGenWebProject. IAGenWeb. December 22, 2003. Accessed September 21, 2017.
“The Iowa Alumnus.” The Iowa Alumnus 18, no. 1 (1920): 278.
Iowa Digital Library. “Iowa's Suffrage Scrapbook.” Women's Suffrage in Iowa Digital Collection. The University of Iowa Libraries. 2011. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/suffrage/.
“Iowa's Notable Dead." The Annals of Iowa 33, no. 4 (1956): 305-06. https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7420&context=annals-of-iowa.