Iowa History
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Iowa History

The Women at Woodland Cemetery

Behind the gates to Des Moines’ Woodland Cemetery, the city’s oldest, you’ll find the graves of some of the most notable women from Iowa’s past: Annie Savery, Dr. Ella Still and Cora Bussey Hillis, to name just a few.

As part of our year-long celebration of the 19th Amendment centennial, we invite you to tune in at noon April 13 for a free lunch-and-learn webinar with local historian Kate Levasseur, who will share a few stories about the famous — and not-so-famous — women of Woodland Cemetery.

“Since so many prominent people are buried there, our goal with the webinar is to shine a light on a handful of women who were making history not only locally but in other places around the United States,” Levasseur said. “There were Victorian women who seized unique opportunities to make an impact in their own right.”

The Woodland women include:

Annie Savery (1831–1891), suffragist and social activist
Savery and her husband, James, were early settlers in Des Moines and built a fortune through real estate. She studied law at the University of Iowa, pushed for reform at the Polk County jail, and was one of Iowa’s leading suffragists, who lectured statewide and established the first woman’s suffrage society in Des Moines. Ironically, she was eventually ousted from the organization she helped create because she refused to distance herself from people who held more controversial ideas, including those who supported free love.

Annie Savery, c. 1870. (State Historical Society of Iowa)

Dr. Ella Still (1856–1938), osteopath
Still graduated from the American School of Osteopathy in 1897 and was one of the original trustees of the American Association of Osteopathy. She married Dr. S.S. Still in 1898, and they founded the S.S. Still College of Osteopathy (now Des Moines University). In 1913, she became head of obstetrics and gynecology at the American School of Osteopathy.

Woman’s Relief Corps
The Woman’s Relief Corps was founded after the Civil War as an auxiliary group to support the Grand Army of the Republic, a group for Union veterans and their descendants. The corps organized Memorial Day ceremonies and other projects that honored fallen soldiers.

Ellen Flynn (1842–1922), anti-suffragist
Flynn and her family immigrated from Ireland when she was a child. After meeting and marrying Martin Flynn, they moved to the area known today as Urbandale, built the familiar brick mansion at Living History Farms and raised 10 children. Ellen Flynn was an anti-suffragist most of her life because she thought women could accomplish more by working directly with those in need rather than worrying about politics. But she changed her mind and became suffragist in 1916 at the age of 74.

Rose Connor (1892–1970), architect
Connor was born in Des Moines to William Connor and Eva Gatch, started her career as a drafter and eventually designed more than 20 homes in California. She was one of the earliest and most successful women architects of the 20th century.

Cora Bussey Hillis (1858–1934), child welfare advocate
Hillis was one of the founders of the Des Moines Women’s Club and was active in the Iowa chapter of the Congress of Mothers. She campaigned for the creation of Iowa’s juvenile court system, which existed in very few states at the time. She helped establish a system for tracking infant births and deaths as a way to reduce child mortality, and she championed Des Moines’ “Baby Saving Campaign,” which encouraged birth registrations, home visits from nurses, home delivery of ice and milk, and the benefits of fresh air. She also founded the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station at the University of Iowa.

Lunch & Learn Webinar: Women of Woodland Cemetery
Noon-1 p.m., April 23
The session is free, but advanced registration is required.

This program is part of our 19th Amendment Centennial Celebration. American women started voting nationwide after the 19th Amendment went into effect on Aug. 26, 1920. A hundred years later, the State Historical Society of Iowa commemorates that milestone — and the Iowans who marched toward it — with a series of monthly programs and events through August.

— Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs



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Iowa Culture

Iowa Culture


The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs empowers Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to resources.