Iowa City officials comment on gender inequality 100 years after city’s first female mayor

100 years after the election of Iowa City’s first female mayor, city politicians look at the impacts of past and present gender inequality.


Gabby Drees

Emma J. Harvatt Hall is seen at the Iowa City City Hall on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Mason Tan, News Reporter

Emma Harvat became mayor pro tem in 1922, making her the first female mayor in Iowa City. This month marks the 100th anniversary of her election.

“It is an occasion to commemorate Iowa city,” Mayor of Iowa City Bruce Teague said.

The 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was passed in 1920, two years before Harvat took office.

In 1922, in the aftermath of the state and federal government’s radical law enforcement on prohibition, former Mayor Ingalls Swisher fired the chief of police out of inexperience, severely damaging his popularity, according to the Iowa Commission Status of Women.

Harvat’s numerous accomplishments, like being a successful business owner, a council member, and Mayor of a city, could be considered difficult a hundred years ago.

Related: Teague touts Iowa City accomplishments, future goals in State of the City address

Janice Weiner, an Iowa City councilor and a former U.S. diplomat, said although society has put more focus on gender equality today, there are still burdens and roles that women have to take on, one of which is childcare.

Iowa Senate candidate Janice Weiner speaks with granddaughter Alaska Latham during the 2022 First District Democratic Convention at Liberty High School in North Liberty, Iowa, on Saturday, April 23, 2022. (Grace Smith)

“That’s one of the structural barriers because not everyone has the means either,” said Weiner. “Not everyone either has a partner who’s willing to care for kids or the means to be able to hire or find childcare.”

Weiner looked back at when she was raising her kids, and the challenges that came with it.

“I was raising two girls as a single mom,” Weiner said. “There was a lot of juggling to do, a lot of planning and a lot of organizing to be able to take care of my kids well and do my job.”

Although obstacles still exist for female politicians today, Teague said, one of the city’s agendas is to help career growth of women in Johnson County so more women can participate in local affairs.

Compared to 100 years ago, Iowa City now has a female majority in city council. Local politics in Iowa City now are more openly progressive, Alter said.

“It says something about Iowa City’s progressiveness that we had a female mayor 100 years ago,” Iowa City councilor Megan Alter Said. “Today, more and more women are committed to the community and want to take part in local politics.”

City councillor Megan Alter looks at a monitor during an Iowa City City Council meeting at the Iowa City City Hall on Monday, June 6, 2022. (Ayrton Breckenridge)

Alter said there are less substantial obstacles for women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated areas today and women continue to eliminate the stereotypes in these areas.

“I think what we need more than anything is for women to have the confidence to say ‘I can do that,’” Alter said.

Facebook Comments