“Booze was not the issue at all, it was woman suffrage,” J.R. Kane, newly elected mayor of Charlotte, Iowa, claimed in explaining his win in a city election in 1922.
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Women had won the vote through the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and that milestone had propelled a rash of female candidates in local elections across the state. As for the booze, well, alcohol seemed to be a perpetual issue in Iowa politics.
In Calamus voters successfully elected a female mayor; and in Sabula women “staged a close race” against their male mayor. In New Market women pounced on the alcohol issue by attempting to defeat the male candidate for mayor, owner of the local pool hall. He said he was “in favor of pool.” In Des Moines the first woman candidate for a city office won by more than 2,000 votes.
But it was the Charlotte contest for mayor and city council that made national news. Newspapers across the country, including the New York Times, reported on the all-female slate that was attempting to oust the male mayor.
Mrs. James McDermott was running against J.R. Kane for mayor; and three women were vying for city council seats. It was reported that women in the tiny eastern Iowa community had issued an ultimatum to young men who were courting their daughters. The Davenport Daily Times’ headline captured the sentiment: “Support Our Ticket If You Would Court Our Daughters.”
When the votes were counted, McDermott lost—104 to 151. Before the election, two of the three female city council candidates had dropped out of the race. The remaining female candidate lost by only five votes in her attempt to gain a city council seat. The Courier reported that although a “hot fight” was fought, the “death to the bootleggers” issue had lost.
The Davenport Daily Times predicted the loss was expected to “cause considerable trouble in love affairs” in Charlotte. The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported that Charlotte was “fighting its election battle all over again” the day after the election. “We had the election won, hands down. Someone has double crossed us,” some voters said. “Marriageable” men who feared their “matrimonial prospects” might be impacted by the vote claimed, “We supported the women.”
“We lost the election,” the women said. “Stay away from our front porches.”
“But we hauled your women voters to the polls,” the young men responded.
Some disgruntled voters suggested suspicious activities. “They (women) cast twice as many votes as the men and we lost by forty-seven votes.” They were quick to point out that men had counted the ballots.
There were conflicting reports as to how the defeated mayoral candidate handled the outcome. “It was fair enough,” she said, according to the Iowa City paper. “We lost but we will win out next time.”
The New York Times had a different version. “Booze and money won the election,” McDermott said. She implied some voter fraud may have been involved. “All of the voters in the town were at the poll, but imported ones as well.”
- “Charlotte Women Lose,” Daily Times (Davenport), March 28, 1922.
- “Lays Defeat to Liquor,” New York Times, March 29, 1922.
- “Spooner Untimatum Loses,” Courier, (Waterloo, Iowa), March 28, 1922
- “Support Our Ticket If you Would Court Our Daughters, Charlotte Women’s Ultimatum,” Daily Times, March 25, 1922.
- “Ultimatum Loses Force,” Courier, March 25, 1922.
- “Women Elected As Mayor in 2 Towns in Iowa,” Daily Times, March 28, 1911.
- “Women of Charlotte Tired of Rule by Men,” Republican and Times (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), March 28, 1922.
- “Women Win Mayorships in Iowa,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 28, 1922.
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