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The Blue Book of Iowa Women A History of Contemporary Women

Compiled by Winona Evans Reeves, 1914.


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Mrs. Mary T. Watts

Mrs. Mary T. Watts of Audubon is president of the American Baby Health Contest Association, and the woman to whom the world gives credit for originating the idea of Baby Health Contests.  At the Iowa State Fair in 1911, for the first time in any state a baby health contest was held.  Mrs. Watts has been asked many times how she came to think of the plan and this is her reply:  "One day, two years ago, I attended our county fair," said Mrs. Watts.  "I stood at the booth, which I was supervising, listening to the talk that drifted in snatches of prizes won on pigs, sheep and cattle --- the same talk that I had heard at every fair for ten years.  Suddenly I became conscious of how often I had heard this talk of the wonderful improvement that had really been made in the conditions of live stock in that length of time.  Just at that moment a woman with a fretful baby in her arms stopped near me to rest.  A child of about three years clung to her skirts with one hand and with the other fed herself with a large under-ripe banana.  Three other children, brothers and sister, clambered about in imminent danger of broken necks and tramped toes.  One might label the picture, I thought, an average family on a holiday.  As I looked back I saw myself and my brothers and sisters forty years ago, no better --- no worse.  Measles, mumps and whooping cough would be a part of these children's lives as it had been of mine.  If they lived through these necessary evils, without too great loss of vitality, they might grow to manhood and womanhood.  Then I began to think that this family would probably mean five more families of the same kind --- possibly with less endurance. 

"A friend interrupted my thought to invite me to go to the stock barns with her where the premiums had just been awarded.  Blue ribbons and red ribbons showed bravely on the stalls.  Every animal in the clean, well ordered cattle and hog pens had been fed and groomed with utmost care.  A man pointed with pride to a pen of hogs, and told us that they had been watched almost night and day;  that the water they drank had been analyzed, their food measured and weighed and only the kinds given them that would bring results.  It was then that the idea of the babies' health contest for our next state fair was born.

"When the thought really became something tangible I wrote to Dr. Margaret Clark of Waterloo, asking her to try to make a score card.  This she did and together we planned the details of the first contest at the Iowa State Fair.  Miss Neale S. Knowles of Iowa State College granting the use of the rooms in the college building on the fair grounds and contributed five dollars as a first prize.  The Mothers' Congress of Iowa financed this contest to a large extent and assisted in various ways to make it a success, in fact I worked under the auspices of the congress and Mrs. B. F. Carroll who was president at that time was an enthusiastic supporter."

This first contest was put on for eighteen dollars, the next one cost five hundred dollars.

In 1913 she asked the legislators of Iowa for an appropriation of $75,000 to erect a building on the state fair grounds, to promote the welfare of "Iowa's greatest crop," the babies.  The appropriation was allowed and Iowa is the first state to recognize this campaign and to erect a child welfare building.  Mrs. Watts has assisted many contests by mail in all parts of the United States and Canada.  She has personally assisted in contests in many cities, at county fairs, chautauquas, Armours's Institutes, etc.  She has written scores of articles for magazines and newspapers.  For only one of them has she received pay, all the others have been given in the interests of the cause.  She has been an active club woman in her home city, has been vice president two years and president two years of the Iowa Congress of Mothers.  She says her life "has been happy and uneventful."  One might that it was an "event" to have started a world-wide movement which is bound to result in a better and stronger race.

She was born in Andalusia, Ill.  She began teaching at the age of sixteen and taught until she was twenty, when she was married to F. S. Watts, a clerk in the First National Bank of Audubon of which he is now a stockholder and cashier.  They have two sons, both of whom were graduated from the University of Chicago and are now successful business men.

Mrs. Watts ancestry is as follows:

Maternal grandmother, Jane Barlett, born in Pennsylvania, Dutch descent;  Maternal grandfather, Daniel Barlett, born in Pennsylvania, Dutch descent;  Paternal grandfather, Daniel Terrill of English descent;  mother, Helena Barlett, born in Conneautville, Penn.;  father, John Terrill, born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey;  Mary Elizabeth Terrill Watts, born, Andalusia, Ill. (one of six girls and one boy, all living) January 19, 1864.



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