In The Know: Meet “Militant” Mary Osmond, First Woman to Vote in Clarke County



*Resources: The Sentinel Osceola, Iowa, Thursday, August 2, 1951; and Osceola Residents Barry Mateer and Marie White

The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, is something to celebrate, which is why in its 100-anniversary year, Chamber-Main Street chose “Women’s Suffrage Salute,” as the Fourth of July theme. For Clarke County, it is fitting to pay tribute to the woman who, among other notable accomplishments, cast the first vote: Mary Osmond.

Miss Osmond contributed much to local causes. Although born in Philadelphia, when she was quite young her family moved West to Farmington, Iowa, then resettled in Clarke County on a farm near Hopeville. In the 1951 news article, the headline was “Militant Editor was Colorful Figure in Osceola Affairs in [18] ‘90’s.” Mary Osmond led a non-conformist lifestyle for that time.

Although Mary lived the hard-working life of the frontier, she had access to books, magazines, and newspapers. As an avid reader, she was largely self-educated until she moved from home to attend Southwestern Normal School in Lebanon, Ohio. Her first teaching job was in the Clarke Country Schools, then in Osceola and Murray. Recognized as a successful teacher, she was elected on the Republican ticket to be Clarke County Superintendent, where she ended her career in education after serving four years.

During her teaching years, Mary wrote occasional pieces for the local paper and other periodicals. After retiring from education, she put that background to good work as an editor and publisher. Associate Editor at the Osceola Sentinel was her first job, then she became sole owner and editor of the Osceola Gazette- which she started and ran for 15 months.  After the Gazette merged with the Sentinel, she returned to become editor and half owner.

Osborn’s other associations included being a long-time member of Chapter K of the Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.) P.E.O. supports…the bonds of sisterhood and women through educational scholarships, grants, awards, and loans. She was elected editor of the P.E.O Magazine without her knowledge at the 1890 state convention. After three years, she brought the magazine to Osceola and eventually became the editor, printer, and publisher. It is noted that ‘Mary had all the practical skills of a man with far more knowledge.’

Other associations included the Iowa Press and Authors Club of Des Moines, Research Club, Chautauqua Circle, an adult education and social movement highly popular in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and Women’s Relief Core, an organization designed to assist the Grand Army of the Republic in promoting Memorial Day, petitioning the federal government for nurses pensions, and promoting patriotic education.

During all these years, Mary, unknowingly, grew an expansive circle of friends across the nation, and was honored as a Life Member of the P.E.O State and National Convention.

Mary strongly believed in equal suffrage and ardently advocated for the rights of women. She was known to wear the bloomer costume of the Suffragettes as she went about her daily business, which is apparently why the news article title included the word ‘militant.’

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