Celebrating Women’s History Month With Mary Bailey

Women's History Month has officially begun! Women’s History Month originated as “Women’s History Week” in 1982, and continued to be a week-long celebration until 1987, when the National Women’s History Project petitioned for a month long event. From then on March has officially been known as Women’s History Month.

Black and white portrait of Mary Bailey

Mary Bailey; Image Source

Here in Iowa, we have had a number of successful and inspiring women throughout the years. Today, we have decided to shine the spotlight on Mary Bailey, a passionate bird watcher and Iowan.

Mary L. Davis Bailey was born July 29, 1861 in Sioux City, Iowa to Mr. and Mrs. S. T. Davis. Growing up, Mary spent a lot of her time exploring the outdoors with her father, where she developed a love for bird watching. On June 21, 1888 Mary married Henry M. Bailey. They went on to have four children together, three sons and one daughter.

Mary was the first secretary of the Iowa Ornithologist’s Union from 1923-1925, and then in 1929 she served again until 1931. During this time most of the communication between the organization and its members were written by Mary. Many of her letters can be found in IOU collection on the AvIAn database that will launch soon! Along with the Iowa Ornithologist’s Union, Mary was also an active member of the Wilson Ornithological Club and National Audubon Society. Mary also served as President the Sioux City Bird Club.

Scan of a letter from Mary Bailey to the members of IOU

Letter from the Mary Bailey to the members of the IOU. MS 166 Box 4 Folder 15

When Mary was 70 years old, she went on a 20 month trip to Europe alone. While there she nearly got herself arrested several times for trespassing on various properties while bird watching in England! In 1933 when President Roosevelt declared a bank holiday that lasted an entire week, Mary found herself stuck in Italy with no means of cashing American checks. Eventually Mary found her way back home to Sioux City, Iowa where she continued bird watching until her death in 1955.