Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Anna B. Lawther, 1872-1957

By Carrie Dunham-LaGree, professor, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa

President, Iowa Suffrage Association, 1916-1919, Iowa's first Democratic Committeewoman

Anna Bell Lawther was born September 8, 1872 in Dubuque, Iowa, to Annie Elizabeth Bell Lawther and Williams Lawther. She graduated from Miss Stevens Boarding School, Philadelphia, and Bryn Mawr College (1897). After graduating, she stayed at Bryn Mawr, where she worked in a variety of jobs, including as assistant bursar, warden of Merion Hall, as the college secretary, and as the director of alumnae.

In 1912, Lawther returned to her hometown of Dubuque, where she remained the rest of her life. She was active in political, charity, and community work. She belonged to the American Association of University Women, P.E.O. (a philanthropic educational organization for women), and the League of Women Voters. After World War I, she worked to promote the League of Nations. She referred to herself as the "Old Lady of Dubuque."

Lawther was chairman of the Equal Suffrage Association of Dubuque County, Iowa in 1916. She then became the president of the Iowa Suffrage Association from 1916-1919. After the 19th Amendment passed, she was an Iowa delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1920 and 1924. She was the first woman to be a Democratic national committeewoman.

In 1921, Anna B. Lawther was the first woman appointed to Iowa's Board of Education. She served on the Board until her retirement in 1941. In 1926, she spoke out against her alma mater Bryn Mawr accepting black students. In 1940, she became the first woman to deliver a convocation address at the State University of Iowa, which is now known as the University of Iowa.

Anna B. Lawther died on October 21, 1957. Her legacy lives on at the University of Northern Iowa, where Lawther Hall, a women's residence hall, was named after her in 1940. In 1927, Morningside College awarded her an honorary doctor of humane letters. In 1936, the University of Dubuque awarded her an honorary doctor of law. In 1985, she was inducted in the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.


"Anna B. Lawther." Iowa Women's Hall of Fame, Iowa Department of Human Rights.

"Anna Lawther, Pioneer Iowa Politician, Dies." The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), 22 October 1957.

Pusey, Grace. "Enid Cook, 1927-1931: Bryn Mawr's First Black Graduate." Black at Bryn Mawr: Past as Legacy and Project: Re-Remembering Black Experiences at Bryn Mawr College. Bryn Mawr College9 February 2015.

Witthoft, Susan, Gerald Peterson, and Julie Peterson. "Anna B. Lawther." University of Iowa Biographical Sketches, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa, January 1996.


Anna B. Lawther, in Smith, Grace Partridge, The Iowa Alumnus, XVIII (1920), (Public domain ed.), University of Iowa Association

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