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Iowa lawmaker seeks statue of first female lawyer

DES MOINES (AP) — When she passed the Iowa bar in 1869, Arabella Mansfield became the nation’s first female lawyer, and now an Iowa lawmaker wants to honor that achievement by placing a statue of the legal pioneer in the U.S. Capitol.

Democratic state Rep. Mary Mascher introduced a bill Wednesday that calls for placing a statue of Mansfield in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Mansfield was born in Burlington in 1846, and lived in Mount Pleasant when she studied at her brother’s law office and then passed the bar.

Mansfield also was chairwoman of the first Iowa Suffrage Association Convention in 1870, which sought equal voting rights and educational opportunities. Iowa woman didn’t win full voting rights until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

“We don’t have enough women in Iowa history we can identify as pioneers,” Mascher said. “Arabella laid the way for many of us.”

Each state is allowed two statues in the Statuary Hall.

The bill calls for a seven-person committee to raise money for the creation and placement of a Mansfield statue. It would replace a statue of Samuel Kirkwood, an Iowa governor during the Civil War.

In 2011, Iowa officials agreed to replace a statue of Sen. James Harlan at the U.S. Capitol with one of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Iowan Norman Borlaug.

Among those supporting the effort to honor Mansfield is Christie Vilsack, the wife of former Iowa governor and now U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Christie Vilsack grew up in Mount Pleasant but said she didn’t know anything about Mansfield until she was an adult.

In 2008, when Vilsack was first lady of Iowa, she donated money to create a 9-foot-tall statue of Mansfield, which was placed at Iowa Wesleyan College, where the lawyer taught. Vilsack said she is also starting a symposium for women lawyers at the college.

“I decided no other children would grow up in Mount Pleasant without knowing her name,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack noted Iowa has never elected a woman to Congress. Vilsack continued that streak when she won the Democratic nomination for the 4th Congressional District in 2012 but lost to Republican Rep. Steve King.

“We’ve had such a hard time getting an Iowan woman to Washington,” Vilsack said. “Maybe we’ll get one there in marble before getting a living, breathing one.”

Mascher said she’s looking for bipartisan support from other women legislators and organizations.

“This may be a multi-year process. Nothing happens overnight in the Legislature,” Mascher said. “But women in Iowa still have glass ceilings to break.”

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