Iowa has a lot of counties for a state that's not massive in size. We are, in fact, ranked 23rd in land area in the U.S. Not tiny, but far from the largest. So it's a little strange we have 99 counties.

That said, with 99 different counties comes 99 different naming stories, right? All of our counties are named after someone. Black Hawk County... Chief Black Hawk, a Sauk leader. Linn County was named after Senator Lewis F. Linn of Missouri.

But of our 99 different counties, how many of them are named after female figures? Obviously, when Iowa became a state (December 28, 1846), it was a different country. Women weren't treated as equals to men.

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They couldn't vote, something that didn't change until August 1920. They didn't hold much power or sway politically, so it may not shock you that so few of our counties are named after a woman.

In Iowa, there's a total of four counties that bare the name of a famous woman.

The one that jumps out right away, is Pocahontas County. Located in the northwestern part of the state, the county is named after the Native American woman who belonged to the Powhatan people. According to the county website, linked above, the name was suggested by Iowa Senator John Howell.


The next of the four counties to be named after a woman, Ida County. Ida was established in 1951 and named after Ida Smith according to the county's website. Ida Smith was the first child of European immigrants to be born in this region.

Ida County is located in Western Iowa along Highway 20.

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The next county with a women's namesake is Louisa County. Louisa County is located in Southeastern Iowa along the Mississippi River. Unlike the first two counties showcased, Louisa County's website doesn't get into many details about how it came to be named Louisa.

The website IowaGenWeb claims the county is named after Louisa Massey.

The reason is a wild story. In 1834, Woodbury Massey, a new resident of Iowa's oldest city Dubuque (pre-statehood), purchased a mining claim. What that is, is a parcel of land that the claimant has asserted their right of possession over. They then have the right to develop and extract a discovered.

Massey later learned that it was also claimed by Mr. Smith and his son. A short time later, a judge awarded the claim to Mr. Massey and when he arrived to evict the Smith family, he was shot and killed.

In anger, Henry, the brother of Woodbury Massey, shot and killed his brother’s murderer.  Vowing revenge, William Smith rode to Dubuque and announced he would kill the first Massey he met. That's when he came across 16-year-old Louisa Massey. Louisa had learned of his arrival and encountered Smith on a street.

Ordering Smith to turn and defend himself, Louisa fired a pistol and hit him in the chest, mortally wounding him. Because Smith was carrying a large wallet in his chest pocket, the bullet never entered his body. He survived and lived on for two years. He eventually died from internal injuries caused by Louisa's shot.

Louisa fled Iowa after the shooting and lived in Illinois until her death in 1849. Although technically a fugitive, no attempt was ever made to arrest her. See the newspaper clipping of the story here.

google maps

The last of the counties named after a woman is the closest one to most of us. Bremer County. Just north of Black Hawk, Bremer was named after Frederika Bremer. Bremer was a Finnish-born writer and feminist reformer.

Bremer became known for women's emancipation in Sweden. She wanted women to be allowed to study in both elementary schools and universities to become professors, judges, and physicians. She argued that women were owed the same rights as men.


According to the county website, Bremer County is believed to be the only Iowa county named after a person famous for their literature.

She died in Sweden on New Year’s Eve in 1865. The town of Frederika in Bremer County, although spelled differently, is named after her.

Those are the Iowa counties named after female figures. A tidbit of Iowa history. While four out of 99 is not many, the history these four women bring to their county namesake is still important and unique.

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