Social Legislation

(Asylums, Deaf, Dumb & Blind, Reform School, Penitentiary, Soldier’s Home, Orphan’s Home, Insane, Industrial School, Hospital for Inebriates, Colony for Epileptics, Sanatorium, Juveniles, etc.)

Under statehood, the collective treatment of defectives was substituted for the treatment of individual cases. Mount Pleasant Hospital, and asylums for the deaf, dumb and blind at Iowa City were founded and the larger cities were authorized to provide homes for delinquent children.

Later a second hospital for the insane was established at Independence, a college for the blind was founded at Vinton, also one for the deaf and dumb at Council Bluffs, a reform school at Eldora and a penitentiary at Anamosa, and so on to the social legislation of the Thirty-sixth General Assembly. Mining was made subject to state inspection.

Public health and public morals found recognition as subjects for legislative consideration. The Soldiers' Home at Marshalltown, the Orphans' Home at Davenport, the Institution for the Feeble-Minded at Glenwood, a third hospital for the insane at Clarinda, a fourth at Cherokee; the Industrial School for Girls at Mitchellville; the segregation of minors from adult criminals in penitentiaries, the creation of a bureau of labor statistics; automatic couplers and power brakes for railroad trains; new precautions against the spread of contagious and infectious diseases, against the adulteration of foods, against impure illuminating oils and misuse of poisons; ampler fire protection, prohibition of prize-fights, a mulet-tax on saloons, on the sale of cigarettes; for prohibition of the sale of tobacco in any form to minors, and of opium-smoking establishments,—this in general terms, is the comprehensive scope of legislation down to the adoption of the Code of 1897.

The legislation of 1898 creating a salaried board of control was a veritable revolution in methods. This board, consisting of three members, took upon itself the duties of fourteen separate boards, with fourteen state institutions under its control. The details of this radical change are given in connection with the Twenty-seventh General Assembly. Since the passage of this law, the College for the Blind has been turned over to the board of education; the Industrial Home for the Blind has been discontinued, and a Reformatory for Females, a Hospital for Inebriates, a Colony for Epileptics and a Sanatorium for the Treatment of Tuberculosis have been created.

The centralization of control of state institutions other than educational so strongly suggested a centralization of control of state educational institutions, that the consequence was a State Board of Education, not like the board of control, but having a large and state-wide membership, with a salaried financial committee of three.

Much wholesome legislation in the interest of dependents and defectives has been passed since 1897. The state was late in assuming responsibility for its epileptics and its inebriates. A law to prevent the procreation of habitual criminals, idiots, feeble-minded, insane, diseased, epileptic, syphilitic and moral or sexual perverts was passed in 1911 and strengthened in 1913; but the federal court declared it unconstitutional so far as it applies to habitual criminals; thus weakening the force of the measure by raising a question as to its constitutionality as applied to other classes.

A Board of Parole, with the "indeterminate sentence" is a marked innovation of recent years. The workings of the board are in the main a vindication of the wisdom which brought it into being; but a vigorous though unavailing effort was made in the Thirty-sixth General Assembly to abolish that body and turn the parole system over to the board of control.

The authorization of a Juvenile Court in cities has been another feature of advanced legislation, showing, as other legislation for delinquents shows, that Iowa is in sympathy with the views of modern penologists—that punishment has no place in our system of laws for the treatment of criminals and that the sole purpose of the state should be directed toward reform.

Arbitration of labor disputes and conflicts, relief for the unemployed, and, last and most marked, employer's liability legislation—obtained only after a hard and prolonged struggle, are some of the latest serious endeavors of Iowa legislators to meet, if not anticipate, the increasingly complicated situations of our modern social state.

After even a mere outline of these, some of the principal measures of relief from social conditions which are proving embarrassing and costly, the reader cannot fail to see behind this strong trend a serious purpose to meet new difficulties with new remedies, to rise to new occasions with a new consecration to public duty.

Iowa, Its History & Its Citizens, Volume 2, 1918
Submitted by Cathy Danielson


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