Envisioning Carrie Lane’s roots

By Kate Hayden, khayden@charlescitypress.com

We don’t have an Instagram account of childhood smiles by her parents. There are no filmed home videos stacked neatly in a closet recounting her little-girl mannerisms.

But before she spurred change in the lives of women at home and abroad, a young Carrie Lane liked to read outside on a sunny day — one of many snapshots in time captured by artists, inspired by the Carrie Lane Chapman Catt Girlhood Home, just a few miles outside Charles City.

Prints featuring Chapman Catt and her restored childhood home will be on display at the Charles City Arts Center through September, with a reception on Friday, Sept. 8 at 5 p.m.

The exhibit brings the history of Chapman Catt out from the Floyd County countryside, where the home and museum reside, and into Charles City in hopes of raising interest in the site. Artwork on display are owned both by the center and by members of the National 19th Amendment Society, which cares for the museum.

“(Cheryl Erb and I) decided, why don’t we bring some of the paintings that members have out at the house into Charles City?” Arts Center director Jacqueline Davidson said. “It’s a wonderful piece of history that Charles City should be very proud of.”

Visitors to the exhibit will be greeted at the front door with a print by local watercolor artist Janiece Bergland, which was commissioned for permanent display at the Floyd County Courthouse to honor Chapman Catt. Other pieces include local artists’ watercolors, historic drawings recording the restoration process, a prototype of museum displays done by University of Northern Iowa students, and an aerial photograph of the Lane home and lands.

“This shows the impact of Carrie Lane’s home out in our community,” NNAS member Cheryl Erb said. “People that have gotten a print, and they display it proudly in their home — it recognizes Carrie, and here, it just shows you the many different views that people see Carrie’s home.”

A few limited edition prints by Virginia artist P. Buckley Moss show young Carrie Lane under the tree — right around the age that her family moved to Charles City (1866 at seven years old) and just before she would learn women weren’t allowed to vote in elections (about 13 years old).

The whimsical piece didn’t come about until NNAS members were looking to raise $5,000 for restoration of Chapman Catt letters donated by a Mason City journalist. The 100 prints were sold for $50 each, along with engraved bricks that now make up “Carrie’s Lane” along the museum grounds.

“The story about the little girl sitting and reading by the tree … that is what Carrie used to do. She’d actually climb up in the tree and sit and read, in the tree,” member Marilu Wohlers said. “(The prints) just flew out the door, because she was very popular right at that particular time. The prints helped us get the $5,000 so we could get the letters Carrie had written.”

Line drawings by Bill Wagner depict Chapman Catt’s girlhood home before and after the NNAS restoration project. Wagner himself was noted across Iowa as a ‘preservation pioneer’, who also sketched and advocated for projects like Des Moines’ Terrace Hill mansion, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and the Dallas County Courthouse.

“It’s pretty amazing to see the detail that Bill had done,” Erb said. “Local, state and national artists recognize the significance of Carrie’s house, and the role that it played in our nation.”

“That’s part of our focus and our goal — that people would get to know Carrie,” Wohlers said. “I’m hoping that it will bring an understanding of her work that she did for all women throughout the United States. Then she went on to work internationally for women’s rights and for world peace.”

“To think, she was just a Charles City farm girl. That’s where her roots where.”