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Sarah "Annie" Turner Wittenmyer (August 26, 1827 – February 2, 1900) was an American social reformer and relief worker. She served as the first President of the Women's Christian Temperance Union from 1874 to 1879.[1] The Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home was renamed the Annie Wittenmyer Home in her honor.

Life and career

Born in Sandy Springs, Ohio (across the Ohio River from Vanceburg, Kentucky) she attended a seminary for girls, then married merchant William Wittenmyer at age 20. In 1850, they moved to Keokuk, Iowa, and she started a tuition-free school for underprivileged children in 1853. She also developed a Methodist congregation from these children and wrote several hymns. Three of her four children died before reaching adulthood, and her husband died in 1860.

During the American Civil War, she cared for wounded soldiers and joined the Keokuk Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society. She traveled to military hospitals and described the horrible conditions, prompting local support. In 1862, Wittenmeyer became the first woman mentioned by name in an Iowa legislative document when she was appointed as a Sanitary Agent for the Iowa State Sanitary Commission. In 1863, she began advocating for war orphans, helping to create several new Iowa orphanages, including the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home, which was later renamed the Annie Wittenmyer Home. She resigned her position in 1864 to work on her dietary system for hospitals.

Following the war, she helped found the Woman’s Home Missionary Society and served as their first corresponding secretary in 1871. She edited the periodicals The Christian Woman and The Christian Child, and she wrote several more hymns and the book Woman's Work for Jesus.[2]

During Wittenmyer's tenure as first president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the group grew to over 1,000 local chapters. She edited their periodical Our Union and published two books on the topic: Her book History of the Women's Temperance Crusade in 1878, and Women of the Reformation in 1884. She was succeeded by Frances Willard when the organization began to focus on women's suffrage.

Wittenmyer then returned to medical advocacy for veterans and nurses.[3] In 1889 she was elected President of the Woman's Relief Corps and focused on providing retirement living for nurses and war widows.[4] She lobbied for pensions for retired military nurses, leading to legislation passed in 1892.

She published her autobiography Under the Gun in 1895 and received her own pension in 1898. Wittenmyer died of an asthma attack following a lecture and was buried in Sanatoga, Pennsylvania.[5]

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union's Annie Wittenmyer White Ribbon Award is named in her honor, and the Iowa Soldiers and Sailors Orphanage was renamed The Annie Wittenmyer Complex in her honor. It previously housed a branch of the Davenport Public Library and currently houses The Parks and Recreation Department and several children's organizations.


  1. ^ Riley, Glenda (1986). Annie Turner Wittenmyer: Reformer. Iowa Woman, September 1986, pp. 26 – 33.
  2. ^ Sillanpa, Tom. Annie Wittenmyer: God's Angel. (Hamilton, IL: Hamilton Press), 1972.
  3. ^ Staff report (August 1, 1886). A union of human societies. New York Times
  4. ^ Staff report (September 15, 1895,). Woman's Relief Corps Officers. New York Times
  5. ^ Staff report (February 3, 1900). A Great Work Done: Death of Mrs. Annie Wittenmeyer, the Philanthropist. Davenport Democrat and Leader

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