The Fourth of July Tornado of 1873 and the Women of Guthrie
Guthrie county, Iowa
Around four in the afternoon on July 4th, 1873, a tornado struck Guthrie County. One resident’s home was hit “with a rush and a roar like a dozen Niagara’s.” The home was pulled up from the ground by the storm and carried half the length of a football field before being ripped into smithereens.
Nearby, Mrs. Anderson Parcel and her children were at home. Perhaps Mrs. Parcel was getting ready to prepare supper or nursing her newborn of four days. Maybe her older children were playing outside, called in when the sky turned menacing. Were they huddled in an interior room when the tornado hit? Or were they caught by surprise, the family preparing to celebrate the fourth of July?
The article “cyclone,” in the 1884 History of Guthrie and Adair Counties did not take into account how Mrs. Parcel and her children planned to weather the storm. However, Mrs. Parcel must have had her mind on her newborn as the winds began to thrash against her home. Perhaps she clutched the child to her breast, one hand wrapped around the infant’s skull for protection. What we do know, is that the two “were blown some thirty yards, injuring this and the other children.”
Women’s experiences of pioneer living are sometimes left out of county histories. When they are included, they aren’t always telling their own stories. However, in 1876, Sadie B. Maxwell published the Centennial History of Guthrie County, Iowa. In it, she includes an essay on the “Women of Guthrie.”
In the essay, Maxwell describes another woman who might have gathered her “eight or nine” children inside as the storm struck that Independence Day: Emma W. Harlan. Earlier in the day, Harlan may have read the Declaration of Independence aloud at the Guthrie Fourth of July celebration. Harlan often did so, as she was known as quite an orator in the county. Harlan would also give patriotic speeches during the Civil War, temperance lectures, and write for local newspapers. In reference to all of Harlan’s accomplishments, Maxwell wrote in her county history: “What man would or could have accomplished more?”
Maxwell’s essay includes many empowering statements supporting her fellow women in Guthrie County. She states, “We have many, very many good women and true, who though but little known outside of their own families, are nevertheless, by their quiet home influence, doing much for the refining of society, the education of the rising generation, and consequently, for the development and improvement of our county.” She highlights a local reverend’s wife, Mrs. Todd; a former principal of Burlington public schools, Mrs. J. B. Hatch; and a poetess, Sarah E. Elliot, among others.
Maxwell ends her essay with the following paragraph: “A great many men (that means most of them) think and feel, that they are born to command and to plan, and women, to obey and execute. Perhaps they are, but had I the time and space, I think I could disprove this. However, I will not quarrel with you, my big brothers, but simply ask you to give to my sisters, the credit due to them, for the work they have done and are doing for Guthrie.”
On July 4th, 1873, Mrs. Parcel certainly deserved credit for her resilience. In the face of a tornado, she protected her children. While Mrs. Parcel did not show her courage in the same way as Emma Harlan, giving speeches in front of crowds, she did exhibit her bravery as a mother. And in the thankless vocation of motherhood, resilience and bravery are called upon often, not only when imperiled by a tornado.