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Nelson, Gladys, 1895-1995



  • Existence: 1895 - 1995


Gladys Shand Nelson, Iowa legislator, president of the Iowa League of Women Voters, and housewife, was born in North Dakota in 1895. She graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1915. Shand taught high school Latin and coached girls' basketball from 1915-1916 in Mohall, North Dakota. From 1916 to 1920, Shand taught Latin and English and served as principal in Crary, North Dakota. From 1918-1920, she served as principal and teacher in Bisbee, North Dakota.

After Shand's marriage to E.L. Nelson in 1920, the young couple moved to Grinnell, Iowa and later to Newton, Iowa, where Gladys Nelson taught handicapped children. In Newton, Nelson became active in politics. She founded the Newton League of Women Voters in 1934, serving as its first president and only Life Member. She was appointed president of the Iowa League of Women Voters from 1937-1939. From 1939-1948, Nelson served as state legislative chairperson.

During the summer of 1950, Nelson was asked to run as a Republican for Jasper County Representative in the Iowa legislature against a very popular Democratic incumbent, during a time when women legislators were rare. Despite a close race, Nelson was elected and ultimately served three terms from 1950-1956. Nelson was forced to withdraw from the race for her fourth term because her husband became ill.

During her tenure in the legislature, Nelson made a name for herself as one of the biggest supporters of the Oleo colored margarine lobby. Nelson's public support helped to pass legislation that struck down a ban on the sale of colored oleo in the state of Iowa and prohibited taxation of this product. During two of her three terms, Nelson was the only woman in the legislature. Despite her minority status, Nelson claims she never suffered discrimination. Indeed, her male peers selected her for the honor of presiding over the opening ceremonies during her third term in the legislature.

The Nelsons traveled extensively in their later years. Gladys Nelson continued to travel into her eighties, visiting Africa twice, South America twice, the Middle East, Scandinavia and Russia, and several provinces in Canada. Newton earned considerable recognition for her years of public service. She was included in the first edition of Who's Who of American Women, was named one of Newton's Ten Women of the Century, and with her husband was the first to receive the Newton Chamber of Commerce citizen award. In 1955, Nelson received the Newton Kernel of the Iowa Tall Corn Award from the Press Columnists in appreciation for her contributions to Newton and Iowa. In 1995, Nelson was posthumously honored witha stone in the Plaza of Heroines at the dedication of the Carrie Chapman Catt Hall at Iowa State University.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Gladys Nelson papers

Identifier: IWA0662

Republican Iowa legislator from 1950 to 1956 and former president of the League of Women Voters of Iowa.

Dates: 1938-1995