Miss Grissell Held Office Before it was Legal for Her to Vote–1920
“Miss Grissell speaks at Christian church tomorrow at 2-30 — and tells the women how to vote. think I will learn how its done.”
Those words were written October 19, 1920, in pencil on a postcard by Laura Goff of Guthrie Center to her daughter, Mrs. Clabe Wilson.
My great grandmother, Laura Goff, was probably the first woman in my motherline to vote in a presidential election.
Just who was Miss Grisell? An aggressive suffragette? She had been a Guthrie Center primary school teacher and, in 1909 was secretary of the State Teachers Association.
But by 1920, Blanche A. Grisell had become the Guthrie County Recorder. Even though she’d run for office and been elected, this would be her first time to vote in an election, and a presidential one at that.
This was the first election after the Great War, and the first after ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. At 2:30 on that October 20 afternoon she gave a talk about voting to a meeting of the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) at the Christian Church in Guthrie.
Republican Warren G. Harding won the presidency in a landslide victory.
I don’t know whether Laura Goff voted Democrat or Republican. Her oldest daughter Leora Wilson was a staunch Democrat, but a granddaughter was a poll watcher for decades as a Republican. I wonder what they’d think of this fence-sitter, unenthusiastic about either political party.
When I voted for the first time, I’d done my homework and was sure I’d chosen the best man. That led to disappointment and disillusionment by politics. Maybe I’d already become apolitical from tuning out Grandma Leora’s brothers, who’d argue politics every time they visited her at her home in Guthrie Center.
The granddaughters and great granddaughters of Laura Goff honored her in 1995 with a commemorative brick in the Plaza of Heroines, a fund-raiser for the renovation of ISU’s Botany Hall. It was renamed Carrie Chapman Catt Hall.
Carrie Chapman Catt, a suffragette, was valedictorian and the only female graduate of Iowa State’s Class of 1880, she became President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, founded the League of Women Voters, and worked for both the League of Nations and the United Nations.
According to a 1995 editorial in The Des Moines Register, the Plaza of Heroines at ISU is made up of “2,500 bricks engraved with the names of women whose lives touched the world–and whose votes counted.”
Since becoming old enough to vote, I’ve cast a ballot in every presidential election. My ability to do that began with Great Grandmother Laura Goff’s generation given the legal right to vote in 1920.
That was the first election in which the votes of American women counted.
Published by The Des Moines Register October 16, 2020.