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Whitley, Cora Call
(May 7, 1862–December 30, 1937)

–clubwoman and conservationist—was born in Rowelsburg, West Virginia, to the Reverend L. N. Call and Mary (Guyon) Call. Her family moved to Pennsylvania when she was three years old, and to Iowa in 1867, when her father was sent there as a missionary by the Baptist church. As an adult, she recalled the perilous walk across the frozen– but thawing–Mississippi River with her mother and young siblings that took them to Iowa and their waiting father.

    Cora Call spent her Iowa childhood "in pioneer conditions, but in a home where books and music were enjoyed and church and school prized."She reportedly began reading Longfellow at age five, and attended public school in Hampton and in Webster City, where her father became minister of the Baptist church in 1876. Cora Call graduated from Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, where she met her future husband. She taught school in Webster City until her marriage in 1883 to Francis E. Whitley, a physician and graduate of Rush Medical College. They lived in Traer, Iowa, for five years before moving permanently to Webster City, where they raised their three children.

    Cora Call Whitley was a member of church and women's organizations at the local, state, and national levels, becoming more active after her three children were grown. She rose to the presidency of the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs in 1915, serving until 1917. During World War I, she chaired the Iowa Division of the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense, which organized Iowa women to sell Liberty Loans, produce and conserve food, promote patriotism in their communities, and otherwise aid the war effort. Registration forms distributed locally asked women to sign up for war work, but leaders were at a loss as to what to do with the many women who patriotically filled out the forms and sent them in to their local organizations. Although Whitley's leadership helped make Iowa one of the best-organized states in the nation, it was at times a frustrating experience for her as she had no way to place the hundreds of women who volunteered to work.

    Whitley had a deep interest in conservation and nature. She viewed conservation as a means of promoting public health by offering recreation in a natural setting. During her presidency, she pushed the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs toward a more active role in conservation activities, establishing a subcommittee on the conservation of natural scenery and working closely with the Iowa Parks and Forestry Association. Her work and the efforts of the many Iowa clubwomen she enlisted to the cause helped shape the state park system. In 1925, as chair of the Forestry and Wildlife Refuges Committee of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, she coined the phrase "Outdoor Good Manners" and began a national educational campaign to teach children and their parents to treat parks and recreation areas as they would their homes: "To leave the woods and parks as beautiful as you find them; this is outdoor good manners. Protect the wild flowers and trees. Always leave a clean camp and a dead fire. Help to keep your country "˜America the Beautiful.'"

    Throughout her life Cora Call Whitley contributed articles and poetry to newspapers and magazines, ranging from the Iowa Homestead, the Chicago Herald, and the Standard, a Baptist magazine, to Nature Magazine and the Palimpsest. Although her public service work ranged widely, Whitley was most committed to conservation and child welfare work. She was also active in the campaign against tuberculosis, promoting Easter Seal sales as vice president of the state tuberculosis association. Charming, eloquent, articulate, and witty, she was much sought after as a public speaker. After her death of heart failure on December 30, 1937, Whitley Forest was planted and named in her honor at Lake Ahquabi State Park south of Indianola.
Sources The Cora Call Whitley Papers are in the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. Rebecca Conard writes about Whitley's important role in the Iowa conservation movement in Places of Quiet Beauty: Parks, Preserves, and Environmentalism (1997). See also Who Was Who in America (1897–1942).
Contributor: Kären M. Mason