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Conklin, Charlene, 1929-2022



Charlene Conklin was born on July 10, 1929 on a farm in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, as Willa Charlene DeWitt, daughter of Charles and Viola DeWitt. After graduating from Griswold High School in 1947, she attended Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), graduating in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. From 1950 to 1952 Conklin taught English, speech, and mathematics at Massena (Iowa) High School. In 1952 she married Dr. Dwight E. Conklin, an anesthesiologist in practice at St. Francis Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa. The Conklins, who made their residence in Waterloo, raised five children. In 1953 Conklin graduated from the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) with a Master of Arts degree in speech pathology and audiology and worked from 1953 to 1954 as a speech therapist at the University Hospital for Handicapped Children in Iowa City.

In 1966, running as the candidate for the Republican Party, Conklin was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives from Black Hawk County to serve in the 62nd General Assembly for the 1967-1968 term. In 1968 she was elected to the Iowa Senate and served in that capacity for two consecutive terms, 1969-1970 (63rd General Assembly) and 1971-1972 (64th General Assembly). She served on the following Senate committees: Appropriations, Constitutional Amendments and Reapportionment, and Social Services, and was the ranking member on the Schools Committee. In 1973 she chose not to run for reelection.

Conklin is perhaps best known for being a key figure in the legislative struggle for the liberalization of abortion rights in the early 1970s. In fact, "she became in some sense the legislative point person for Iowa abortion reform"" (see "Iowa's Abortion Battles", by James C. Mohr in The Annals of Iowa, vol. 50, 1989, p. 71). However, efforts to liberalize Iowa's abortion policy in 1970 and 1971 were repeatedly defeated. The issue was raised again in 1973 after Conklin's retirement from the Senate, but the struggle for reform in Iowa and elsewhere was summarily preempted by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 1971 Conklin, with four other senators, co-sponsored a resolution authorizing the State of Iowa to take possession of Terrace Hill mansion, the classic Victorian home of Frederick M. Hubbell in Des Moines for use either as the governor's mansion or a state museum, or both. After leaving office, Conklin helped organize and was elected president of the Terrace Hill Society, a non-profit group designed to provide funding for and give direction to the restoration of the mansion. The mansion was eventually restored and opened to the public in 1978.

Charlene Conklin passed away in 2022.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

A Political Dialogue: Iowa's Women Legislators oral histories

Identifier: IWA0089

Interviews with Iowa women legislators conducted by Suzanne O'Dea Schenken.

Dates: 1988-1993

Charlene Conklin papers

Identifier: IWA0004

Member of the Iowa House of Representatives,1967 to 1969, and the Iowa Senate, 1969 to 1973.

Dates: 1954-1981

Additional filters:

1981-1990 1
1991-2000 1
20th century 1
Abortion 1
African American women -- Iowa 1