Biographies of Influential Suffragists
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
For over 50 years, Susan B. Anthony was the leader of the American woman suffrage movement. Born in Adams, Massachusetts on February 15, 1820, Anthony lived for many years in Rochester. In 1872 Anthony was arrested for voting. When she died in 1906, only four states allowed women to vote, but Anthony’s single-minded dedication to the cause of suffrage was largely responsible for the passage of the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920, giving women the vote.
Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950)
After graduating from Boston University in 1881, Alice Stone Blackwell, the daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, began working on her parents’ newspaper, The Women’s Journal and served as editor for the next thirty-five years. Blackwell was instrumental in bringing about a reconciliation between the two factions of the woman’s suffrage movement in 1890. She also served as the recording secretary of the new organization for many years. Besides her efforts for women’s rights, Blackwell was also very active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Women’s Trade Union League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the American Peace Society.
Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825-1921)
Born in Henrietta, New York, Antoinette Brown Blackwell received a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in 1847 and then, much to the consternation of the college, applied to study theology. Although she finished the requirements for the program in 1850, Oberlin did not allow her to graduate. Undeterred, she was ordained in 1853 as minister of the First Congregational Church in Butler and Savannah, Wayne County, New York, and thus became the first ordained woman minister of a recognized denomination in the United States.
Harriet Stanton Blatch (1856-1940)
The daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Stanton Blatch carried on her mother’s work as one of the leaders of the woman suffrage movement. After marrying an Englishman in 1882, Blatch lived in England for twenty years, returning to the United States in 1902. In 1908 she founded the Women’s Political Union. Patterned after organizations Blatch had known in England, the Union—sometimes to the discomfort of more conservative suffragists—fostered close ties with working-class women and employed such tactics as massive parades and active political campaigning.
Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894)
In 1849 Amelia Bloomer began publishing a temperance newspaper, The Lily, in Seneca Falls, New York. Presently, the paper began to publish articles on women’s rights as well as temperance. In the winter of 1850-51 Bloomer wrote an article defending the pantaloons and short skirt worn by the dress reformer Elizabeth Smith Miller against the fashionable, constricting clothes worn by women. Several feminists, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone, wore what became known as the “bloomer” until ridicule forced them to return to more traditional garb.
Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947)
After graduating from Iowa State College in 1880, Carrie Chapman Catt pursued a brief career as educator, journalist, and lecturer. After attending her first national suffrage convention in 1890 as a delegate from Iowa, Catt quickly rose to the top ranks of the suffrage movement. When Susan B. Anthony retired from the presidency of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1900, she chose Catt as her successor. Forced to resign in 1904 because of her husband’s failing health, Catt again became president of the NAWSA in 1915 and led the suffrage cause to victory in 1919. She was also the leader of the international suffrage organization and the peace movement.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an author and lecturer. Her book, Women and Economics, published in 1898, was widely read in the United States and abroad, eventually being translated into seven languages. In the book, Gilman argued that women need to be economically independent in order to develop fully as individuals.
Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910)
Best known as the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe was also a leading suffragist and a pioneer in the women’s club movement.
Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880)
Lucretia Mott was a Quaker minister, abolitionist, and pioneer in the women’s rights movement. In 1840 she traveled to London with her husband James Mott as a delegate to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. At the convention, the women delegates were refused recognition and not allowed to participate in the proceedings. Grieved by this treatment, Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was also attending the anti-slavery convention, determined to hold a meeting to discuss the rights of women. Mott, Stanton, and Mott’s sister, Martha Coffin Wright, organized and called together the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York in July of 1848. Throughout her long life Mott continued to work for the rights of women and of freed blacks after the Civil War.
Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919)
In 1878 Anna Howard Shaw graduated from Boston University with a degree in theology. In 1880 she was ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church, becoming that denomination’s first woman minister. In 1883 she enrolled in the medical school of Boston University and earned an M.D. degree in 1886. Shaw soon came to believe, however, that neither religion nor medicine could solve basic social problems, particularly those of women. After meeting Susan B. Anthony in 1888, she devoted her oratorical talents full-time to the woman suffrage cause and served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1904 to 1915.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton accompanied her husband Henry to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. When the British excluded from the convention the American women delegates, including Lucretia Mott, Stanton and Mott resolved to hold a women’s rights convention when they returned to the United States. In 1848, the first such convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, where Stanton was then living. The Declaration of Sentiments that Stanton drafted for the convention enumerated eighteen legal grievances suffered by women, including lack of the franchise and the right to their wages, their person, and their children. It also called attention to women’s limited educational and economic opportunities. In 1851, Stanton met Susan B. Anthony and for the next fifty years they worked in close collaboration, Stanton articulating the arguments for improving the legal and traditional rights of women, and Anthony organizing and campaigning to achieve these goals.
Lucy Stone (1818-1893)
In 1843 Lucy Stone graduated from Oberlin College, which had been established ten years earlier as the first co-educational college. Stone became a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and an eloquent speaker on behalf of women’s rights. In 1855 she married fellow abolitionist Henry Browne Blackwell in 1855 on condition that she would retain her maiden name. After the Civil War, the suffrage movement split over tactical and policy differences, with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founding the National Woman Suffrage Association and Stone the American Woman Suffrage Association. Beginning in 1872, Stone, Henry Blackwell, and later their daughter Alice Stone Blackwell, published the most influential women’s rights newspaper, The Woman’s Journal, for forty-seven years. In 1890 the two suffrage organizations merged, and Stone became chairman of the executive committee.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
In 1843, Isabella, a former slave, changed her name to Sojourner Truth and began traveling through the eastern United States preaching the word of God. In Northampton, Massachusetts, she encountered the abolitionist movement and began traveling and lecturing on behalf of that cause. She maintained herself by selling copies of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which had been written by Olive Gilbert and published in 1850. After attending a women’s rights convention in 1850, Truth also became a speaker on women’s rights issues. During the Civil War she solicited gifts of food for regiments of black volunteers, and after the war she worked to find homes and employment for recently freed slaves.
Adapted from biographies prepared by Mary M. Huth, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, University of Rochester Libraries, February 1995