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Cora Chaplin Weed

Cora Chaplin was born on July 31, 1844, in Quincy, Illinois. When she was five years old, her family moved to Muscatine. Her father, Charles Chaplin, was a riverboat engineer. She was a member of the Congregational Church from childhood and focused upon her education and the learning of languages including German and French. As an adult, she was a member of the First Congregational Church Choir and participated in neighborhood Bible classes. Cora progressed to being a teacher and principal in the Muscatine School System.

In 1864 Cora was one of a group of Muscatine women who signed a petition indicating that they would replace the clerks of the local businesses if the clerks would enlist in the military in support of the civil war effort. They said that they would give the jobs back to the men when they returned home, asked for compensation in the amount the soldiers received from the US Government, and indicated that their “clerk” salaries would be paid to the soldiers during their service.

She eventually met Chester Weed, a Muscatine entrepreneur, and married him on July 31, 1873. Chester was 54 at the time of the marriage and Cora was 29. Cora’s life presented her with many challenges. Chester and Cora had a daughter, Bertha, who died in infancy. This was followed by the death of Chester on December 7th, 1874, at the age of 55. A short time before his death at 6:00 PM in his home, he stated that he had committed suicide by taking poison. It is reported that he had seemed troubled and worried for weeks, laboring at times under mental excitement and being depressed in spirits. He was nervous his last evening and excited all night, got up at frequent intervals, and complained of suffering considerably. Cora called a neighbor and the doctor. Meanwhile Chester had several spasms and died.

Cora responded to her loss through involvement in the community. Eventually, she purchased a home on the crest of a bank of the Mississippi River which was especially well-suited for gatherings. She called her home “Eyrie,” (eagle’s nest).

Many meetings of the Fortnightly Club (Cora was founder and president) were held at Eyrie. She was also involved in the Daughters of The American Revolution and in the organization of the Muscatine Symphony, was vice president of the Old Settlers Society of Muscatine County, and gave lessons in French and German.

In 1896 Cora became a member of the Iowa Monument Commission that built the Iowa Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Des Moines. In 1898 she compiled and published the handbook for the Iowa Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument which contained photos and descriptions of the soldiers, sailors, and the monument. The monument was created with a great deal of conflict over the nudity of the Iowa figure. Some senators bitterly opposed the so-called “exposure” but were outvoted. They said that the people of Iowa would be shocked by such a display and feared the condemnation which they felt they would receive. It is stated that, “Mrs. Weed thought the statue was perfectly proper.”

In 1903, Cora was the president of the Muscatine Federation of Women’s Clubs which participated in a child labor law movement. The purpose of the movement was to influence the state legislature to make a compulsory education law and to prohibit child labor.

As president of the Muscatine Federation of Women’s Clubs, Cora worked on the establishment of restrooms in the YMCA and on the edge of the business district. It was thought that the restrooms would provide a place for ladies who accompanied their husbands to the city to occupy.

Cora eventually sold her home “Eyrie” to those who turned it into Bellevue Hospital. Because she moved to a smaller home, she loaned or left indefinitely many of her works of art to the Musser Library. The money that she left after she died also supported the arts, including today’s musical program at Trinity Episcopal Church.

On July 27, 1910, Cora was sitting on her porch directly opposite Washington School. A painter was painting the school tower and fell from the top of the tower to the cement pavement sixty feet below. It is said that she saw him fall and heard his scream. She fainted when she saw him strike the pavement and lapsed into “nervous prostration” caused by the shock. She died shortly thereafter, on August 2nd, 1910.

This article was written by Sharon Savage. A group of local women came together in 2020, as part of the Iowa League of Women Voters' "Hard Won. Not Done.” commemoration, to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment. This amendment gave women the right to vote. The project was entitled Muscatine Women of Influence and Inspiration. The committee selected women from the past century to research; they then wrote short biographies on the work of these women and their lives in our community. Although we don’t know if they were suffragists, their actions helped advance women’s rights. The women featured chose independent paths and made a difference in times when society did not encourage or expect it of them.

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