Unsung Heroes of the US Suffragette Movement

Here is a list of lesser-known suffragettes who advocated for historically underrepresented women during the women’s suffrage movement.

 

Photo Source: Paula May on Unsplash 

 

An uneducated factory worker in Boston, Jennie Collins (1828-1887) managed to become an early voice for labor reform and women’s rights in the span of a decade. In the late 1860s she began speaking at major conferences and political campaigns and helped form the Boston Working Women’s League. In 1870, she established Boffin’s Bower, a social center for working women, the first of its kind. Collins’s annual reports on Boffin’s Bower were published nationally, shedding light on the plight of working women.

 

Emma ‘A’ima A’ii Nāwahī (1854-1935), of native Hawaiian descent, actively opposed the coup against Queen Liliʻuokalani and the country’s 1898 annexation. In 1899, during the formation of the Territory, Nāwahī helped organize the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In the 1910s, she became one of the territory’s major supporters of women’s suffrage.

 

Dr. Louise Southgate (1857-1941) was an early advocate for women’s health reform. Her community outreach and advocacy for women was extensive, as was her involvement in women’s clubs. In 1910, Southgate addressed the 21st Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) state convention and suggested KERA reach out to the Kentucky State Federations of Colored Women’s Clubs, one of many black women’s suffrage organizations established following exclusion of black women and their interests.

 

Born into slavery, Victoria Earle Matthews (1861-1907) was an accomplished social worker, journalist, and activist. She wrote for The Women’s Era, the first newspaper written by and for African-American women, and helped establish the White Rose Mission in 1899 to house and assist young southern black women moving to NYC. She was an advocate for suffrage and the rights of black women, contributing to the Woman’s Loyal League of New York and Brooklyn and the National Federation of Afro-American Women.

 

Juno Frankie Seay Pierce (1864-1954) was one of Tennessee’s leading black suffragists. In 1919, she took part in getting 2,500 black women to vote in Nashville’s first election black women could vote. In May 1920, she addressed the state suffrage convention in Tennessee and in 1923 she opened the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls.

 

Janie Porter Barrett (1865-1948) was a social worker and leader of the black women’s club movement. In 1890, Barrett organized the first settlement house for African Americans, the Locust Street Social Settlement in Hampton, Virginia. In 1908, she helped establish and run the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls, providing rehabilitation and education to incarcerated black girls.

 

Margaret Foley (1875-1957) was an Irish-American suffragist and labor organizer in Boston. Foley served on the board of the Boston WTUL and was involved with the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. She excelled at public speaking, successfully debating anti-suffrage speakers so often she was called “The Grand Heckler.” She was also able to connect with the majority male, working class audiences more effectively than her non-working class peers, arguing women’s suffrage benefitted labor and political reform.

 

Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972) was a Polish-Jewish immigrant and prominent woman labor union leader. She was WTUL’s New York regional and then national president and represented the interests of working class women in movements either dominated by middle class housewives or working class men. She partnered with Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to bridge the divide between working women and educated suffrage leaders in New York.

 

Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin (1883-1965) was a suffragist and civil rights activist. In 1912, she began hosting suffragette meetings in her home, becoming involved with the movement’s Pittsburgh leadership. Around the same time, she joined the New Negro Woman’s Equal Franchise Federation, acting as president from 1915 until 1955. She continued her work for voting rights as vice-Chairwoman for both the Negro Voters League of Pennsylvania and the Colored Voters Division of the Republican National Committee.

 

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (1897-1966) was a Chinese-born suffragist who, at age 16, helped lead a suffrage parade in New York. From 1914 through college, she wrote essays and gave speeches on feminism and gender equality in the US and China. In 1917, Lee led Chinese and Chinese American woman in a pro-suffrage parade. However, the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 denied Lee and other immigrants the right to vote until repealment in 1943.

 

These women are only a small number of amazing but nearly-forgotten suffragettes. While the United States’ women’s suffrage movement always supported universal suffrage, its leadership, primarily white, middle class housewives, overlooked the concerns of black women, working-class women, and immigrant women. This dissonance continues today in the histories we choose tell and the people we choose to remember. Hopefully, we can start to change that and keep the memory of these and other inspiring suffragettes alive.

 

Charlotte Lerner-Wright graduated in 2018 from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. An apparent masochist and downright nerd, she will return to school in the fall of 2019 to get her Master's in history at the University of Edinburgh. Outside the classroom, you can find Charlotte cuddling her three tiny dogs, drinking Thai iced tea, and drawing while binge-watching Netflix. She hopes to one day use history to empower the disenfranchised and invoke lasting change.

 

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