Women's History

Iowa Wesleyan has a long history of working with, serving, and celebrating women.  As the oldest co-educational institution in Iowa, we take pride in our progressive history.


Mrs. Anna J. Huestiss, M.S. was appointed to the faculty at the Mt. Pleasant Collegiate Institute. Her husband, Aristides, was the Director and Financial Agent for the Institute.


First girl’s literary society, called “Cornelian,” organized by President Harlan and Mrs. M.J. Kelly A.M. Ph.D.  IW records suggest that M.J. Kelly may have been the first woman in the United States to receive her Ph.D.


Mrs. M.J. Kelly became the first female recipient of an honorary degree from Iowa Wesleyan.


Only three years after the first Bachelor of Arts degree was awarded, Lucy Kilpatrick (Byrkit) became the first woman to graduate from Iowa Wesleyan University, also with a Bachelor of Arts.


Five women graduated from Iowa Wesleyan; there have been women in every graduating class since.


Ann Eliza Peck Harlan, wife of James Harlan, helped care for the wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, one of the first women to serve on the battlefield. She also arranged transportation by steamboat for many wounded to their homes or hospitals in the North.


IW alumna, Belle Babb Mansfield, was the first female to pass the bar exam administered at the Henry County Courthouse. She became the first woman attorney in the United States.

The P.E.O. Sisterhood was founded in a second-floor room in Old Main on the Iowa Wesleyan University campus. The seven founders were Hattie Briggs, Franc Roads, Alice Coffin, Alice Bird, Mary Allen, Suella Pearson, and Ella Stewart, all IW students.


The first state Women’s Rights Convention was held in Mt. Pleasant in June at Saunders Hall. Belle Mansfield was chair of the convention and was elected secretary of the new state Women’s Rights group.


Phebe Elliott was appointed the first woman to serve on the Iowa Wesleyan University Board of Trustees.


Kate Montgomery Keeler became the first woman to graduate from the Scientific Department.


Susan Mosely was the first African-American woman to graduate from Iowa Wesleyan University.


Elisabeth Patterson Sawyers Von Kleinsmid is believed to have graduated from Iowa Wesleyan at the age of 12.


Keyrokee Miazaki of Japan was the first recorded international student to attend Iowa Wesleyan.


Elizabeth Hershey of Muscatine donated a significant gift for the creation of a women’s residence hall; Elizabeth Hershey Hall was built and became the first campus building to receive a dedicated name.


First IW woman’s basketball team was organized.


National T.T.T. Society founded with the help of three IW students; Gladys Stewart Walters (1911), Mary Firebaugh Swaney Stuntz (1912), and Ethel Stewart Foster (1914).


The Supreme Convention of the P.E.O. Sisterhood voted to construct a building on the Iowa Wesleyan campus as a memorial to the seven founders.  The building was originally intended to be shared by the P.E.O. Sisterhood for memorial rooms and Iowa Wesleyan as a college library.


Ola Babcock Miller, Iowa Wesleyan graduate, was elected Iowa Secretary of State. Two years later she organized the Iowa Highway Patrol as a part of her department.


Ruth Skeens was employed as an aviation mechanic to service the planes of the Army Air Corps Training Detachment at the Mt. Pleasant airport. The Training Detachment was based at Iowa Wesleyan.

Olan Ruble started a women’s basketball team at Iowa Wesleyan, the first intercollegiate team in Iowa. His teams went on to achieve national and international fame.


Nancy Nichols, Iowa Wesleyan graduate, was admitted to full ministerial membership in the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, the first woman to achieve that level of service.


The first White Coat Ceremony, then a capping ceremony, was held by the newly founded Nursing program. 18 female nursing students gathered in the University chapel to celebrate.


Student Deb Horton set world record for woman walking while carrying a brick.


Carol Nemitz was named Vice President of Student Affairs at Iowa Wesleyan, the first woman to serve as a Vice President at the institution.


Carol Nemitz was named Interim President at Iowa Wesleyan following the resignation of James Halseth. When she took office in February she became the first woman to serve as an IW president. Nemitz served until mid-June of 2002.

Peggy Whitson, Iowa Wesleyan graduate, participated in the NASA’s Space Program serving on the Shuttle Endeavour and living on the space station for approximately three months. She served as Science Officer on that mission, the first woman to hold that position.


The statue of Belle Babb Mansfield was dedicated on the Iowa Wesleyan University campus to honor the legacy of Belle.


Joy Conwell, then IW historical collector, corrected a case of mistaken identity in childhood photo William Aaron Harlan which had previously been believed to have been a photo of Thomas “Tad” Lincoln.

First Belle Babb Mansfield Award given to Dr. Waunita Hobbie, the first female licensed insurance agent in Henry County, and Dr. Christie Vilsack, Senior Advisor for International Education, USAID and former first lady of Iowa.


Peggy Whitson became the first woman astronaut to command the International Space Station twice.  She remains NASA’s most experienced astronaut to date, totaling more time in space than any other American or woman worldwide.


Christine Plunkett was appointed President of the University, becoming the first woman to serve as an IW President in a non-interim role.


Historic Marker commemorating the people, places, and events important to the passage of the 19th Amendment dedicated on the Iowa Wesleyan campus in affiliation with Belle Babb Mansfield.


Adaugo Nwachukwu became the first IW wrestler to win a National Championship and represent team USA at the U20 World Championships.