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PORTRAITS OF SERVICE: DUBUQUE’S FOUNDING FEMALES

Portraits of Service, E.E. Kono, 2023, Egg Tempera on Icon Panels, 20 in. x 9 in. 

All art begins with curiosity.

 

Creating a portrait is one way to truly focus on and learn about a subject. In 2023, artist E. E. Kono began a project, PORTRAITS OF SERVICE: DUBUQUE’S FOUNDING FEMALES funded in part by the city of Dubuque and the National Endowment of the Arts.  She was curious about the history of her hometown, Dubuque, and wanted to explore how women contributed to its development.

 

Fine art is often as much about the process as it is about the final object created.  Kono’s process involved researching many different women who were important to the city’s history. She set out to create a set of formal portraits of individual women who contributed to the city's history, who created concrete changes, and whose interests intersected in some way. She required a variety of reference photos of each woman, and she needed to design paintings that both related to her subjects as well as to the art historical context of the region.

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The city of Dubuque, chartered in 1837, was Iowa's first city and is among the oldest settlements in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River. Initially known for mining and fur trading, the city later expanded into industries such as boat building, logging, mill working, and meat packing. While the young city benefited from economic prosperity, Dubuque's success was owed much to its commitment to providing an environment where citizens could thrive. Community leaders actively promoted social services, health, and education, working towards fostering a place for diverse individuals to live and grow.

 

Throughout Western history, a formal portrait painting generally memorializes individuals that uphold a culture’s highest values—most often they depict people of power. By focusing on high-achieving women dedicated to community service, there is a natural elevation of the person, her values, and her achievements.

 

 

 

Kono drew visual inspiration for her portraits from Grant Wood's 1929 painting of John B Turner, Pioneer (30.24 in. x 25.5 inches, Ceder Rapids Art Museum). Grant Wood, one of Iowa’s most esteemed artists, created this portrait to honor and recognize John Turner as a pioneering businessman. Like portraits throughout history, Grant Wood's work incorporated objects and backdrops that help to narrate the story of his subject. In Wood's painting, Mr. Turner is placed in front of a map of the area in Iowa that he helped to develop,j alongside a group of photos depicting Iowa during pioneer times.

Kono's PORTRAITS IN SERVICE are painted in egg tempera on traditional icon panels. The compositions deliberately reference Grant Wood's portrait, encouraging viewers to draw comparisons between the individuals portrayed. The backdrop for the triptych is the City of Dubuque. Carolyn Ferrall BVM is placed on the south end, near Mt. Carmel—the BVM residence. Anna B. Lawther is in the center near the courthouse, and Ruby Sutton is near the neighborhood where she was most active. All three women are seated at a literal and figurative table draped in lace that features a pattern including goldfinches: Iowa's state bird. The use of lace alludes to its history as one of the first cottage industries after the Industrial Revolution that provided disenfranchised women with opportunities for economic security and independence.

Portrait of John B. Turner, Pioneer, Grant Wood, 1929 Ceder Rapids Museum of Art

PORTRAIT IN SERVICE SUBJECTS:

Anna B Lawther 1872-1957

Suffragette and political activist whose work lead to the passing of the 19th Amendment.

Anna Bell Lawther, born on September 8, 1872, in Dubuque, Iowa, was a suffragette, strategist, and leader dedicated to securing the right to vote for women. Her efforts aimed at providing women with an equal say in shaping the country's direction and paving the way for future generations of women to achieve their goals.

Lawther's journey began in Dubuque, where she attended public school and later graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1897. Upon returning to Dubuque in 1916, she assumed the role of chairman for the Equal Suffrage Association of Dubuque County and later became the president of the Iowa Suffrage Association. One of her most significant contributions to the suffrage campaign was her mobilization of suffragists for the war effort during World War I.

The path to women's suffrage was arduous, requiring decades of agitation, protest, and activism. Lawther and her colleagues played a pivotal role in this struggle, ultimately leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in June 1919, legally ensuring American women the right to vote.

While suffrage marked a monumental achievement for women's equality and laid a foundation for future generations, it was not without controversy and mistakes. Some leaders, including Ms. Lawther, harbored biases against immigrants and African Americans. Their strategies and decisions resulted in the disenfranchisement of many women, particularly minority citizens, for decades to come.

Following the passage of the 19th Amendment, Anna B. Lawther made history as an Iowa delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1920 and 1924, becoming the first woman to serve as a Democratic national committeewoman. Her contributions were further recognized with induction into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.

Carolyn Ferrall BVM  (1924-2022)

Dubuque’s first female mayor -spent a lifetime in education.

 

Born Nov. 2, 1924, in Des Moines, Iowa. Entering the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1953, when she was 18 , Farrell was a member for 66 years. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Clarke College and a Master of Science in education administration from Western Illinois University. She did postgraduate work at the University of Iowa in higher education administration and in public policy at the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

She spent her career in education, starting as an elementary teacher and eventually holding titles such as interim president of Mundelein College, associate vice president at Loyola University Chicago, founding director of the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, member of the board of trustees at Clarke University, and director of the Roberta Kuhn Center, an adult education center at her community's motherhouse.

In 1977 Farrell ran for and was elected to the Dubuque City Council. Her election marked a historic moment as she became the first woman elected to a four-year term. Taking her commitment to public service further, Carolyn was elected as the mayor on January 7, 1980. In doing so, she achieved the distinction of being the first religious woman to serve as the mayor of a city in the United States. To date (2024), she remains the only female mayor Dubuque has had.

Renowned for her honesty and energy, Carolyn Farrell dedicated herself to improving the lives of women and children. With a remarkable talent for leadership, she possessed the vision and ability to achieve her goals, leaving a lasting impact on the community that she served.

Ruby Sutton  (1932-2015)

A social activist who worked to develop equity across Dubuque’s diverse community.

 

Ruby Sutton, born in Louisiana and raised in Mississippi, moved to Dubuque in 1959. During that period, the city stood out as one of the whitest in the U.S. As an African American she and her family faced racism and exclusion. It was in the 1970s that Sutton embarked on her journey as a community organizer.

Renowned for her kind-hearted nature and effective problem-solving skills, she devoted herself tirelessly to supporting her community. Through her involvement in multiple non-profit organizations, city commissions, and advisory committees, Ruby actively advocated for racial equity in Dubuque, earning widespread respect and admiration as an effective leader.

Among her many accomplishments, Sutton served at Operation: New View Community Action Agency, contributed to the Education Committee for Affirmative Action, played a key role in organizing Dubuque's NAACP Chapter (serving as President), and served on Dubuque's Human Rights Commission for 21 years. Additionally, she served as a mediator for the city, contributing to the design of the first Diversity Training for the City.

Ruby's outstanding contributions were recognized with various accolades, including the First Citizen award, the YWCA Women of Achievement Award in the field of "Human and Civil Rights," honors from the N.A.A.C.P, the Peacemaker Award, a Doctor of Letters from Loras College, and an induction into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. Notably, the Ruby Sutton Building, formerly known as the Multicultural Family Center, stands as a testament to her legacy and is named in her honor.

Throughout her life, Ruby displayed unwavering courage, determination, and a passion for social justice. Despite her numerous achievements, she remained a humble individual, always emphasizing the simple principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated.

CHILDREN'S ART PROJECT: PORTRAITS OF SERVICE

OBJECTIVE:

Create a lesson for elementary-aged children that encourages curiosity in how the women in their lives contribute to Dubuque's community, then create a collage portrait honoring that individual. 

With special appreciation for the assistance of
Dubuque School District Elementary Art Teacher: Ms. Brie Nadermann

Sources:

Anderson-Bricker, Kristin. professor of history at Loras College “Increasing the Intelligent Vote:” Losing the 1916 Fight for Woman Suffrage in Iowa and the Resulting Appeal to Enfranchise White, Native Born Women.” Carnegie Stout Public Library, October 2, 2020

 

Anderson-Bricker, Kristin. professor of history at Loras College “Anna B. Lawther and Dubuque’s Connection to the Fight for Women’s Suffrage.” Carnegie Stout Public Library, November 29, 2020

 

 

"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.

Dunham-LaGree, Carrie;, 1890-1920 Biography of Anna B. Lawther, 1872-1957. Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa

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.

The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mount Carmel Archives

Loyola University Chicago, Gannon Center for Women and Leadership

Loras College, Center for Dubuque History and Loras College Archives

Encyclopedia Dubuque

The Multicultural Family Center

Personal accounts from Lynn Sutton, Allen Sutton, and the Sutton Family.

“Ruby Sutton Remembered as Inspiration Who Brought Groups Together” The Telegraph Herald, Thomas Barton Sept. 18, 2015

Trenkle; Ruby Sutton Building a symbol of hope, inclusion” The Telegraph Herald, Tim Trenkle, Feb 24, 2022

“Dubuque divided over nun’s mayoral bid”DesMoines, IA Jan 6, 1980 pg. 16

This project is supported in part by the National Endowment of the Arts and the City of Dubuque. To find out more about the National Endowment for the Arts American Rescue Plan Act Grants to Local Arts Agencies for Subgranting impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov

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