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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Callanan, Martha Coonley
(May 18, 1826–August 16, 1901)

–woman suffrage advocate, newspaper publisher, and philanthropist—was born in Albany County, New York. She spent her youth on a farm near the Hudson River. She was raised as a Quaker and attended school in Albany. She married James C. Callanan in 1846. The couple had no children. In 1863 the Callanans moved to Des Moines. Their home soon became the unofficial headquarters of the woman suffrage movement in Iowa.

    With substantial property and money in her own name, Martha Callanan was able to support and finance many of her interests. She believed that with wealth came certain responsibilities, and she contributed time, money, and energy to many causes, especially woman suffrage.

    In 1870 Callanan became a charter member and president of the Polk County Woman Suffrage Association. That same year she helped organize the State Equal Suffrage Association (later the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association). Callanan's name appeared on the subscription lists for Amelia Bloomer 's Lily and Lizzie Bunnell Read's Mayflower, two nationally known women's rights publications. When Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton came to Iowa in 1871, the Callanans entertained the suffragists in their home, and it is likely that Martha Callanan financed Jane Swisshelm's visit to Des Moines in 1872.

    In 1875 James Callanan was elected president of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. Martha Callanan succeeded her husband in 1876 and held the office for four consecutive terms. In 1886 she launched the Woman's Standard, a monthly newspaper and spokes piece for the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. Callanan served as the paper's publisher for 13 years, and was editor and contributor as well. She contributed financial support to the newspaper for her entire life and included a bequest of $1,000 in her will for the ongoing expenses of publishing the paper.

    In addition to her woman suffrage work, Callanan was a prominent member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). From 1887 to 1890 Callanan chaired the franchise department of the Iowa WCTU. She was also one of the founders of the Benedict Home, a WCTU institution for "fallen women" in Des Moines for which she served on the board of managers for several years.

    Martha Callanan was one of the founders and a lifetime supporter of the Home for the Aged in Des Moines. She was a charter member of the Des Moines Woman's Club and an active supporter of the Business Women's Home. Callanan was also interested in missionary work and was associated with the Congregational church in Des Moines.

    On August 16, 1901, Martha Callanandied from injuries she sustained when her carriage overturned. At the time of her death, her estate was worth $40,500. In her will, she made bequests of $10,000 to the Home for the Aged, $20,000 to the Tuskegee Institute, $500 to the WCTU of Iowa, and $1,000 to a Mrs. Whitney of Waterloo for the Woman's Standard. James Callanan contested his wife's will. Iowa law stipulated that no more than one-fourth of an estate could go to nonprofit corporations. James won the lawsuit, and Martha's bequests were cut proportionately. Perhaps as a tribute to his wife and as a symbol of his own commitment to woman suffrage, James left $3,000 to the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association when he died in 1904.
Sources on Martha Callanan include Benjamin F. Gue, History of Iowa (1903); Louise R. Noun, Strong-Minded Women: The Emer gence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (1969); Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Records, Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City; Louise Rosenfield Noun Papers, Grinnell College Archives, Grinnell, Iowa; and Woman's Suffrage Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines. The Woman's Standard is available on microfilm at numerous sites, including the State Historical Society of Iowa in both Iowa City and Des Moines and the University of Iowa Libraries.
Contributor: Lisa Mott

Cite as: Mott, Lisa. "Callanan, Martha Coonley" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 12 December 2017