Unlearning Ingrained Racism: Journalist Esther Griffin White’s Work to Become an Antiracist

Esther Griffin White, ca. 1915, Esther Griffin White Collection, Earlham College Archives, accessed George T. Blakey, “Esther Griffin White: An Awakener of Hoosier Potential,” Indiana Magazine of History 86, no. 3 (September 1990): 294-299, accessed scholarworks.iu.edu.

Esther Griffin White was a woman before her time—outspoken, rebellious, and willing to stake her reputation on the things that she believed in during an era when women were considered second-class citizens. Her Quaker upbringing imparted the importance of racial and gender equality, causes that she ultimately championed throughout her life. Her staunch political activism and dedication to gender equality throughout her life are, arguably, what she is most known for today. However, she also used her power, privilege, and platform as a white, middle-class, female journalist to speak out against racial injustice. Here, as we examine White’s writing, we clearly see someone trying to make sense of her own ingrained racism while at the same time standing up and speaking out against it.

Born in 1869 in Richmond, Indiana, White was a journalist, political activist, suffragist, and life-long Indiana resident. She began her writing career for the Richmond Palladium as an arts and culture critic and published her own paper (though infrequently) called The Little Paper, which she owned and operated out of her home at 110 South 9th Street. From the 1890s to 1944, she freelanced for many Richmond papers, often transferring from publication to publication as editors worried that her blunt and adversarial writing style could offend readers—likely a concern born partially out of sexism.

Clipping, Indianapolis Sun, 1913, Friends Collection and Earlham College Archives, If Chorus Girls Asked Men For Suffrage, They’d Get it, Box 5, Folder 4, Esther Griffin White Collection, Richmond, Indiana, accessed https://exhibits.earlham.edu/.

White joined the Indiana Woman’s Franchise League in the early 1900s and was elected chairman of the Publicity Committee in 1916. While in the League, she began actively working towards the cause she wrote so much about; for example, she organized a suffrage street rally for several suffrage speakers in June 1916 in Richmond. This event was heralded as “one of the largest street meetings ever held in Richmond and the first suffrage meeting of its character held in eastern Indiana.”[1]

White was also a politician, running for mayor of Richmond in 1921, 1925, and again in 1938. She also ran for a Republican congressional seat in 1926, making her the first Indiana woman to seek U.S. congressional office. White ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress again in 1928, but to no avail. According to historian George T. Blakey, White was the first Hoosier woman to have her name on an official election ballot, before women even had the right to vote, when she ran for a delegate’s seat at the 1920 Republican State Convention.[2] Though White never held elected office, her ambition sent a strong message—that women could and should be recognized as political actors and that, as far as White was concerned, would no longer accept anything less.

Clipping, Friends Collection and Earlham College Archives, Name of Item, Box #, Folder #, Esther Griffin White Collection, Richmond, Indiana, accessed https://exhibits.earlham.edu/.

While she is probably best known for her work to advance women’s rights, she was also a proponent of racial equality and used her journalistic platform to speak about racial issues in the town of Richmond, Indiana throughout the first half of the 1900s. An active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), White’s opinions on and support of African Americans garnered plenty of scorn and judgment in her small, rural town—especially because she was a single white woman.[3] Never one to care about others’ opinions of her, White used her talent, privilege, and position as a white female journalist to speak out against racial discrimination. Through her editorials and opinion pieces in both The Richmond Palladium and her self-published newspaper, The Little Paper, between 1910 and 1920, White condemned white supremacy and racial discrimination. Though she often wrote antiracist sentiment, on occasion her choice of words and arguments were in themselves racist—as she often touted common assimilationist and segregationist points of view. Through her published articles, we see the ways in which White grappled with her own ingrained and unconscious racism as she worked to be (what we call today) an antiracist in 20th-Century Richmond, Indiana.

Professor of history and founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, explains the relationship between antiracist, assimilationist, and segregationist beliefs:

the history of the racialized world is a three-way fight between assimilationists, segregationists, and antiracists. Antiracists ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways that they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally superior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.[4]

We find representations of each of these ideals, often within the same article, throughout White’s analysis of race. Though we understand that racial inferiority or superiority does not exist—all races are the same and race itself is a construct—we too understand that many people across time, and still today, have used pieces of assimilationist and segregationist ideas in their defense of equal treatment of the races. These racist ideas are so deeply ingrained in our societies that, although plenty of racist people have used them intentionally, plenty of others, like White, who believed in equality between the races, also sometimes unknowingly peddled racist beliefs.[5]

White was, as were some of her well-known contemporaries, engaging in the work to become an antiracist and to communicate antiracist ideas, while also at times touting assimilationist and segregationist ideas, which were prevalent views in terms of race in nineteenth and twentieth century America, and even today. However, highlighting White’s racist tendencies is not to discredit any of the antiracist beliefs she so clearly held—it is simply to be completely transparent about the reality of this type of work and the people engaged in it. She was not a perfect antiracist, but she was trying—she was standing up for what she believed in and, through her journalism, speaking on ideas of racial equality when it was not only unpopular to do so, especially for a woman, but potentially dangerous.

The last years of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century in America saw a rise in violence against African Americans by white supremacists looking to quell any power or rights the group received in the years after the Civil War.[6] The violence emerged, most horrifically, in the form of mob violence and lynchings, many of which were not hidden events done in the dark of the night, but rather public spectacles that often doubled as picnics for families and town folk.[7] Though the majority of lynchings occurred in the South, this barbaric act transcended regional lines and can be found nationwide. Mobs throughout the Hoosier state alone murdered at least sixty-six people between 1858 and 1930, eighteen of whom were African Americans.[8] Black men were not the only targets of lynchings, as Native American, Hispanic, Asian, white people, and women and children too were lynched across the United States.

Esther’s Quaker family (L to R): Winifred White Emory (sister), Mary Caroline Cotton White (mother), Esther Griffin White, undated, Friends Collection and Earlham College Archives, Letter From Raymond White, box 6, folder 1, Esther Griffin White Collection, Richmond, Indiana, accessed https://exhibits.earlham.edu/.

There were no recorded lynchings in Richmond, perhaps because of its large Quaker community and the anti-slavery beliefs they held.[9] The closest recorded lynching to Richmond occurred in Blountsville, about thirty miles northwest of the city, in February of 1890.[10] However, the possibility of such violence constantly lingered in the minds of Black Americans. These conditions at the turn of the twentieth century prompted Esther Griffin White, as a white, female journalist to speak out against the unjust treatment of African Americans.

In one of her most notable articles pertaining to race, written in her self-published The Little Paper, White expressed disdain for the depiction of African Americans in the blockbuster hit of the early twentieth century, The Birth of a Nation. This controversial film released on February 8, 1915 by D.W. Griffith claimed to represent the Civil War and Reconstruction in America. However, it depicted the Ku Klux Klan as the valiant saviors of the ravaged, post-war South by freed, barbaric Black people. The film was a commercial hit and helped to rekindle the once regional Ku Klux Klan founded in 1865. It depicted freed Black Americans as “uncouth, intellectually inferior and predators of white women.”[11] The Birth of a Nation prompted protests by the NAACP, but they had little impact as the films’ popularity was so wide. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson showed it at the White House, heralding it as “writing history with lightning.”[12]

"The Birth of a Nation" by Esther Griffin White
Clipping from “African American Relations” exhibit, accessed https://exhibits.earlham.edu/.

While she found the musical score and the general cinematography of the film noteworthy, Esther Griffin White did not share the same fervor over the film as President Wilson and so many other white Americans. In her newspaper review of the film, titled “’The Birth of a Nation’ Insidious Appeal to Race Prejudice, An Insult to Negro Citizens,” White writes that “colored people are justified, without any shadow of doubt, in their protest against the second part of ‘The Birth of a Nation.’” She continued, “the play is merely a dramatization of a novel by a well-known fire-eating Southern writer, who has done more to rake up old scores, to intensify class hatred, to accentuate race antagonism by his lurid pictures of conditions long since passed away than any other one medium in the United States.”[13] Here, we see White expressing contempt for the bestial, racist depiction of Black Americans in the film. She also adds:

The second part of ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ if it were looked upon as picture commentary on a phase of the country’s history, might be interesting. But the presentation is not made for this reason. On the other hand neither is it made for the glorification of a lost cause. Its raison d’etre is not philanthropic nor moral nor historic. But commercial…[it] is a business proposition. To make money for its producers.[14]

White seems to clarify here that she does not believe the film to be historically accurate or looking to start a conversation about the country’s past, but rather inflammatory and insulting to African American citizens: “the Negro citizen of this country was sacrificed to  make a moving picture holiday, so to speak. The glaringness of the sop thrown to them by the scenes at the end . . . is laughable if it were not sardonic.”[15] This review of The Birth of the Nation was certainly not the first, nor the last, public condemnation White would make regarding the treatment of African American citizens in the twentieth century.

In one of her earliest political articles from December 1911 in the Richmond Palladium, White writes about the idea of brotherhood and humanity among all people, and the exclusion of African Americans from those ideals. In her article “Negroes Pay Taxes on Millions,” White writes, “take our colored friends, in instance. ‘Live and let live,’ does not apply to our [white Americans’] attitude toward them. We push them clear outside of the limits and then denounce them if they resent total excommunication.”[16] While it seems here that White is arguing for the indiscriminatory inclusion of African Americans within American society and against segregation, further on in the article she begins arguing for more Black organizations to be formed in Richmond for Black residents, like a “colored” Y.M.C.A. for the “well behaved, educated and ambitious young colored men in this city.”[17] Rather than arguing for inclusion and accessibility, it seems White instead argued for the racist separate but equal doctrine we see come to a head in the 1890s with the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) case in response to African American’s push for equal treatment and opportunity under the law.

Clipping, Richmond Palladium, December 6, 1911, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

She continued, “they [Black Americans] are just as much a part of the social, economic and political life of the community as their paler-hued brothers and unless given some consideration will develop into a complicated and puzzling problem. . . . They are citizens of this country just as are the whites.”[18] This perfectly illustrates White’s struggle with the idea of dueling consciousness as it relates to assimilationist and antiracist ideas. At the end of the article, White argues that “there is no use retiring into the fastness of race prejudice and lumping all of the colored people together. There are as many grades and distinctions as there are among the white people.” This comment, as well as many of the other antiracist sentiments White expressed throughout this article, demonstrate her ability to understand and express the antiracist notion that all races are the same—it is individual distinctions that make humans different—distinctions that have nothing to do with the color of their skin. This article, as a whole, demonstrates her own dueling consciousness as a white woman trying to pursue an antiracist mindset and advocating for antiracist policies while also struggling to unlearn deeply rooted racist ideals in the early twentieth century.

The very next month, in January of 1912, White was much more explicit about her views of racism. In her article, while arguing generally for universal gender and racial equality as it pertains to voting and citizenship, White laments:

Why, in instance, “call names.” Why say “niggers,” “dagoes,” “shenies.” Why arrogate yourself a certain superiority because you have a white skin. Who made the “earth and the fullness thereof”? How do you know who got here first? Who are you, anyway? In a few years you will be turned over to the worms who make no distinction between black or white, man or woman, good or bad, educated or uneducated, yellow or red, brown or copper. Neither God nor the worms care what your color may be, your race or your previous condition of servitude. There is nothing so immoral as thinking you are better than anyone else.[19]

In this article, perhaps her most antiracist, White does not allude to any racist or assimilationist ideals. As can be noted in the excerpt above, she completely disdains any ideology that espouses the belief that one’s skin color makes them any different.

Esther Griffin White, undated, Friends Collection and Earlham College Archives, Esther Griffin White, Box 6, Folder 1, Esther Griffin White Collection, Richmond, Indiana, accessed https://exhibits.earlham.edu/.

Just a few months after the above article, White wrote another piece for the Richmond Palladium titled “It Is True You Can’t Always Tell.” In this article, White builds on her antiracist views and highlights an experience she had a few weeks prior while attending a concert in Richmond. She noted how wonderful the musical act performed by a group of male musicians was and that “they were, indeed, one of the best ‘attractions’ the vaudeville theatre has ever had.” [20] She continued that many of the spectators thought them Italian, as they sang many of their songs in Italian, or perhaps Spanish, because they were dressed as troubadours, but that they were in fact African American. This, White argued, proved that “race prejudice is frequently only a matter of thinking” and that “people were delighted with [the musicians]—not because they were Italians or Spaniards, white Americans or of the Negro race, but because they were superior musicians.”[21]

Here, White is arguing that race prejudice and racism are not logical —they are both only a matter of warped thinking. The musicians were not loved and celebrated because of their prescribed race, but simply because they were talented. White continued, “it is one of life’s famed tragedies that these people should have to masquerade, after a fashion, in order to have their talents appreciated for what they really were.”[22]

Looking back at Esther Griffin White’s life reveals many things about her as a person, which can generally be boiled down to one sentiment: she was unapologetically her own person and used her power, privilege, and platform as a white, middle-class, female journalist to speak out against injustices. Through White’s articles, we clearly see someone trying to process her own ingrained racism while at the same time speaking out against it. That is essentially what happens when engaging in antiracist work. White did not always say or do the right things when it came to her antiracism work, but one can trust in her intentions and hope that she learned from her mistakes. Ultimately, her fearless condemnation of injustice in early-twentieth century Richmond should inspire us all, perhaps now more than ever, to stand up and speak out for what is right, even if it is unpopular.

Notes:

[1] “Suffrage Street Talks Draw Large Audience, Women State Their Purpose,” Richmond Palladium, June 27, 1916, 1, 11, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[2] George T. Blakey, “Esther Griffin White: An Awakener of Hoosier Potential,” Indiana Magazine of History 86, no. 3 (September 1990): 294-299, accessed scholarworks.iu.edu.

[3] Blakey, 286.

[4] Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018), 31.

[5] So common was the dance between antiracist and assimilationist ideas for people that well-known Black author and activist W.E.B. Du Bois wrestled with them. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois’ 1903 essay, he expressed the dueling consciousness that demonstrates the fight between assimilationist and antiracist ideas, specifically for Black folk: “One never feels his twoness…an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”[5] Although Du Bois, as a Black man, had disproportionately different experiences than White did as a white woman, we see a similar push and pull between assimilationist and antiracist ideas in his defense of African American’s racial equality that we do in White’s writings.

[6] Michael J. Pfeiffer, Lynching Beyond Dixie: American Mob Violence Outside of the South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 1.

[7] Pfeiffer, 4. The more secretive, hidden lynchings would occur in the latter half of the twentieth century, often carried out by secretive groups like the KKK and often shrouded as “hate crimes” rather than what they were. It was middle-class southerners’ embarrassment at the newfound spotlight anti-lynching activists like Ida B. Wells were putting on the barbaric practice that drove it underground in the mid-twentieth century. In some areas, like the Midwest and West, public lynchings would continue into the mid-twentieth century.

[8] Pfeiffer, 9.

[9] “Early Black Settlements by County,” Research Materials, Indiana Historical Society, accessed indianahistory.org.

[10] Ibid., 1.

[11] Alexis Clark, “How ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Revived the Ku Klux Klan,” History Channel, accessed history.com.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Esther Griffin White, “‘The Birth of a Nation’ Insidious Appeal to Race Prejudice, An Insult to Negro Citizens,” The Little Paper, February 19, 1920, 1, accessed Earlham.edu.

[14] Ibid., 1.

[15] Ibid., 1.

[16] Esther Griffin White, “Negroes Pay Taxes on Millions,” Richmond Palladium, December 6, 1911, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[17] Ibid., 7.

[18] Ibid., 7.

[19] Esther Griffin White, “It Don’t Take Long When You’re a King,” Richmond Palladium, January 24, 1912, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[20] Esther Griffin White, “It Is True You Can’t Always Tell,” Richmond Palladium, February 21, 1912, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[21] Ibid., 6.

[22] Ibid., 6.

Putting the Vote to Work: How Women Voters and Poll Workers Rallied during the 1920 Election

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

A caravan of automobiles, expertly commanded by Evansville women, arrived at polling stations on November 2, 1920. That day, Hoosier women exercised their right to vote for the first time in history. In their decades-long work for enfranchisement, many women found their political voice, gained self-assurance by withstanding public scrutiny, and mastered the art of grassroots mobilization. This served them well on Election Day, when the Evansville Courier reported that “One girl had been held up by some of her boy friends who were attempting to remove the political insigna [sic] from her car, but she was demonstrating the fact that this day had women came into their own and was defending her car and her party valiantly. From somewhere another young amazon came to her rescue. It was a good natured scrap but the girls won.”

Indeed, the activism of the suffrage movement carried over to ballot box. In Evansville, women in “conspicuously labeled” automobiles ensured that no sister was left behind and picked them “up off the streets and hauled to their respective voting places, irrespective of politics.” Hoosier women invoked the communal spirit of the homefront during World War I, when they organized for war work and suffrage. Munster women drove to women’s houses to watch their children, while the “mistress of the house was taken to the polls.” In Evansville, as with cities across the country, “Many women took turns with her neighbor in minding the children while the other voted. That plan worked nicely. The political women workers also took charge of the children while mothers voted.”

Some working women in Evansville arrived at the polls early, so as to miss as little work as possible. Other women, like those employed by the Fendrich Cigar Factory, were given a “half holiday,” so they could exercise their newfound right. On the northside of the city, women went from “house to house,” arranging for housewives to vote earlier in the day. This would “clear the way for factory workers who could vote only between 5 and 6 o’clock.”

Evansville Courier, November 3, 1920, 13, Indiana State Library microfilm.

Once at the polls, women capitalized on the long-awaited opportunity. In Noblesville, papers reported that it was common for women who encountered long voting lines to insist that men let them vote first. The men obliged. Women at one precinct demonstrated passion equal to that of male voters, as they “became involved in some pretty heated arguments over politics,” but quickly disengaged when polling officials intervened. Muncie women, especially those who worked, voted early and the Star Press reported that “Intense interest was manifested in the campaign issues by the women clerks in many uptown stores and there were many heated debates overheard by those so fortunate to be far back in line awaiting their turn to vote.” As with Noblesville, the Muncie debates dissipated without incident.

Mrs. F. T. Reed, of Indianapolis, wouldn’t let a car accident, which left her “badly bruised and shaken,” keep her from casting her vote. After an ambulance took her home, she rested for a few hours before returning to the polls. Inspector of the Third Precinct of the 18th Ward, Charles H. Taylor, observed that women voted “intelligently, quickly, and manifested more interest in the election than the men.” In Gary, mothers hurried to the polls in the early morning. The Gary Evening Post remarked, “She didn’t stop outside to chat though, just hurried back home and resumed her management of a successful home while all the silly talk about mother neglecting her home and children to vote evaporated.”

Some Hoosiers marveled that women needed little help with the process of voting. In Indianapolis, “Contrary to expectations, women voters did not become confused when they reached the voting booths.” Far from meek or bewildered, one Evansville woman cast her vote so fervently that she ripped the handle off of the machine. The Noblesville Ledger remarked that Hamilton County women, some of whom voted in their “kitchen apparel” so as not to waste any time, “walked into the precincts as if they had been voting all of their lives.” The Tipton Daily Tribune attributed the success of local women in voting “to the interest they took in learning to vote. The voting schools in Tipton and over the county were filled each day with women trying out the system and receiving instructions.”

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

African American women, who had been so integral to obtaining the vote, too turned out in droves. The Indianapolis News noted that in some parts of the city “colored women swarmed to the polls in greater numbers than men.” According to historian Jill Weiss Simins, party organizers arranged for a cannon blast to rouse residents of the Fifth Ward, who lived in predominantly-Black areas like Indiana Avenue and Ransom Place, to ensure that no voters overslept on Election Day. Weiss Simins vividly depicted the moment:

The Black women of the Fifth Ward’s Second Precinct dressed up in high-heeled shoes and lace up boots, donned coats with wide collars and fur edging, and sported a variety of hats trimmed with satin ribbons. They made their way to 904 Indiana Avenue, walking past several shops, a large dry goods store, and a doctor’s office, and lined up outside ‘Wm. D. Chitwood Fruits,’ a large market that served as their polling place.

Like many white women voters, they endured long lines in the bitter cold and generally voted for the Republican Party. Unlike white voters, their livelihood and well-being depended much more on the results of the election, as Indiana Equal Suffrage Branch #7 president Carrie Barnes contended, “We all feel that colored women have need for the ballot that white women have, and a great many that they have not.”*

Evansville Courier, November 3, 1920, 6, Indiana State Library microfilm.

The women who staffed the polls displayed the same grit as female voters. In Elwood, women workers did whatever was asked of them, “holding the poll books in the chill November air.” In Culver, Republican women instructed voters how to properly mark their ballots, occasionally ducking into tents equipped with stoves to keep them warm. Hoosier reporters across the state commended the efficiency with which women worked the polls. The Elwood Call-Leader wrote, “The Republican and Democratic chairmen owe much to the efforts of the woman who entered the campaign with a commendable spirit and their participation lent dignity all along the line.”

Evansville Courier, November 3, 1920, 5, Indiana State Library microfilm.

While Hoosier women suffered no fools at the polls, their presence also produced a kinder, more dignified election than of those past. The Evansville Courier noted that “At the polls there was nothing but courtesy and kindliness, showing that the softening influence of a woman’s presence was felt even there.” The Richmond Item reported that the barbs thrown at voters whose candidates lost were noticeably gentler and that no brawls erupted due to the attendance of women. Even the ballots were cleaner, as the Tipton Daily Tribune reported: “All the ballots marked by the ladies were folded with an exactness and neatness which could easily be detected when the ballot boxes were opened.”

Evansville Courier, November 3, 1920, 11, Indiana State Library microfilm.

On the evening of November 2, Hoosier women, likely exhausted yet proud, waited as their ballots were counted. Evansville residents watched returns projected from stereoptican slides onto a twenty-four foot wide screen hung from a downtown building. In Muncie, crowds watched returns projected by the Star Press on a screen hanging from the YMCA building. The 1920 election experienced the largest voter turnout in the state’s history, with 71,000 of 76,000 registered women casting their vote in Indianapolis. The Black vote in Indiana, an estimated 45,000 voters, played a large part in the national election and shifted “the balance of power,” according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With the victors declared, many women held election parties at sites like the Victoria Hotel and the mayor’s office in Gary.

The 1920 election was significant not only because women skyrocketed voting rates, but because they changed the nature of elections. Hoosier women demonstrated how to conduct an election not only efficiently, but respectfully and with kindness. Evansville Democrat Walter Wunderlich said he had never seen “anything like it before in politics” and that “I wouldn’t go back to the old conditions for anything. I haven’t heard a quarrel all day.” The ingenuity women displayed in getting their fellow voters to the polls, regardless of party affiliation, was truly American. The spirit of Indiana’s suffragists lives on through the League of Women Voters, which formed with the ratification of the 19th Amendment and continues to ensure that voters are informed, empowered, and show up for the democratic process.

* While some southern states disenfranchised Black women through state election laws and voter intimidation, Black women in Indiana faced no legal obstacles to voting.

Sources:
*All newspaper articles accessed via Newspapers.com unless otherwise specified.

“Clean Sweep is Made,” Star Press (Muncie, IN), November 3, 1920, 4.

“Did You Hear That,” The Times (Munster, IN), November 3, 1920, 1.

“Election Crowd Good Natured,” Richmond Item, November 3, 1920, 2.

“Election is Quietest Ever,” Evansville Courier, November 3, 1920, 11, Indiana State Library microfilm.

“Indiana Women Wear Boudoir Caps to Elections,” Gary Daily Tribune, November 2, 1920, 1, Indiana State Library microfilm.

“Less Than 5,000 of 76,000 Women in County Fail to Vote,” Indianapolis Star, November 3, 1920, 11.

“Made Fine Showing,” Tipton Daily Tribune, November 3, 1920, 1.

Anita Morgan, “We Must Be Fearless:” The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2020) , 204.

Jill Weiss Simins, “A ‘Record of Protest Against Prejudice’: Black Hoosier Women Vote in the 1920 Election,” Indiana Historical Bureau (2020).

“The Election,” Culver Citizen, November 3, 1920, 1.

“Women Ballot Early and Fast,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, November 3, 1920, 1.

“Women Filled All Requirements in Election Day Duties,” Call-Leader (Elwood, IN), November 3, 1920, 1.

“Women Had Good Time at Election,” Noblesville Ledger, November 3, 1920, 1.

“Women Hurry to Polls to Cast Ballots,” Gary Evening Post, November 2, 1920, 7, Indiana State Library microfilm.

Reluctant Renegade: Sarah Parke Morrison and Women’s Equality at Indiana University

Scholar and reformer Sarah Parke Morrison is best remembered as the first female student and then professor at Indiana University. But she took on the role of trailblazer reluctantly, as she feared being the target of backlash against this furthering of women’s equality. Her fears were not unfounded. Unsurprisingly perhaps, she faced discrimination as she entered this previously all-male space. What was surprising as we dove into research for a new state historical marker honoring Morrison, was the intensity of the vitriol that some male students directed toward this groundbreaking scholar. While Morrison would continue to work to advance women’s educational opportunities at IU, she was for a time, driven from from her chosen profession by these students’ misogyny. Despite this difficulty, Morrison’s willingness to serve as the first woman at IU opened the doors for the many women who followed, each one furthering the cause of equality.

This and other stories of defeats, setbacks, small advancements, and modest gains are also important to women’s history as they show us the breadth of the movement and the perseverance required of its pioneers – women who challenged injustice in their small realm of influence. These local efforts, multiplied by the work of women across the United States, eventually created a sea change in women’s rights, roles, and power.

“Sarah Parke Morrison,” photograph, ca. 1869, accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits.

Sarah Parke Morrison was born in Salem, Indiana, in 1833, into a family that highly valued education and believed in equal opportunities for women. In 1825, her parents opened Salem Female Seminary and hired female teachers, “a rarity at this time.”[1] After extensive study at home with her professor parents, she pursued an advanced education at several colleges, including Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in Massachusetts. After graduating in 1857, she continued to study and began teaching at Vassar College in New York. Morrison thrived in a college atmosphere. Reflecting on her Holyoke and Vassar professors, Morrison wrote that “their wide knowledge of Latin and Greek, and in the sciences, were eye and heart openers to such as thirsted for fuller draughts of knowledge.”[2] Over the following years, she served on the faculty of several colleges, including Glendale Female College and the Western Female Seminary, both in Ohio.[3]

“Glendale Female College,” [Advertisement], Washington Democrat (Salem, Indiana), February 24, 1859, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.
Morrison consistently expressed her support for women’s equality in education, but her desire to work more directly for sweeping women’s rights was tempered by fear of a negative response from her community. In 1851, she wrote a poem praising social reformer and former Indiana representative for the U.S. House, Robert Dale Owen for his women’s rights advocacy during the constitutional convention, which was published in the Indianapolis Sentinel.[4] She chose to sign the poem with the pseudonym, “Fannie,” and we only know of her authorship because she described the work in a 1911 autobiographical essay. In this later essay, Morrison explained that she wrote this poem while she “cultivated the muse in secret,” meaning she had come to believe in women’s equality but determined it was not yet the time for her “coming out on the woman question.” She was moved by Owen’s work, but wrote that like the groundhog, she needed “to retreat for further security and more genial conditions until a later day.”

Morrison also wrote that as a young woman, she was aware of the work of Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony, “but their position was too peculiar, too audacious to be received wholy [sic] by such as had no courage and a rather sensitive imagination respecting mobs, sneers, hisses, mud-slinging and rotten eggs.” Instead, Morrison held a “secret respect” for these suffragists, as well as a desire to strengthen her nerve and awaken her conscience. Her fears of a negative response were she to enter the battle for women’s rights would be substantiated.[5]

(Indianapolis) Sentinel, March 27, 1851, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
“John Irwin Morrison,” photograph, n.d., accessed Indiana University Archives Photograph Collection.

Morrison had completed her advanced education and served as a professor at several colleges, but by the 1860s, she was again living back home because of the limited occupational opportunities available to a highly-educated woman. At this time, the Indiana University Board of Trustees had been debating the admission of women. Sarah Morrison’s father John, who was the State Treasurer as well as a former IU board president, advocated for women’s admission and persuaded his daughter to petition the board for entrance. Morrison had to be convinced. She was not an eager, young girl just out of primary school, hoping to expand her knowledge. She was a 34-year-old scholar and teacher with a lifetime of education and an advanced knowledge of ancient languages. She had little desire to be the first woman student at IU, or the subject of controversy, but she conceded for the larger good – and a five dollar bribe. Morrison wrote:

Father . . . said to me that he thought the time was about ripe for the admission of women; and that if I would prepare an appeal to that effect he would present it, and to show his interest would give me Five Dollars.[6]

“Indiana State University,” [Advertisement], Evansville Daily Journal, December 19, 1867, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
The IU Board of Trustees narrowly voted to admit women, first with some restrictions, but soon after announced: “Ladies are admitted to College classes on the same terms as males.”[7] Morrison would have been happy to leave it at that and to watch with satisfaction as young women entered IU. But she again found herself in the position of reluctant trailblazer. No women applied for the fall 1867 semester and one professor told her, “Miss Morrison, you will have to come to fill the breach.” While she considered this responsibility “rather a cloud” on her horizon, she feared the implications for the struggle for women’s equality if she didn’t rise to the occasion.

She wrote that she was tired of going to school, but she was more tired of the old arguments about why women shouldn’t attend a university. According to Morrison, these arguments included the idea that the “Female Colleges” were good enough for young women, there were too many “risks” in women and men attending the same schools, and male students and professors should be saved from the “embarrassment – yea scandal” of women’s presence. Morrison looked at the IU catalogue and determined she could complete the four-year course in two. She was worried though. “To fail would be worse than not to try,” she wrote. The first female student at IU would be representing her entire gender to the masses, not all who believed she deserved to be there.[8]

Sarah Parke Morrison, “My Experience at State University,” 1911, Box 1, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, accessed Indiana University Archives Online.

Morrison entered Indiana University along with three hundred young men in the fall of 1867.[9] She wore a large sun hat to protect herself “from six hundred eyes” trying to cast “a sly glance” at the school’s first female student. She soared through her Latin and Greek classes and by the second semester of her first year she became a sophomore.[10] More importantly, during that spring semester of 1868, a dozen women followed Morrison’s lead, entering Indiana University as freshmen students. In a powerful contemporary photograph, Morrison is seated front and center, surrounded by the women who followed in her wake.[11]

“Women Students,” accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits. IU Archives caption: “Sarah Parke Morrison pictured in the front row, fourth from left, was the first woman to become a student at Indiana University in 1867. The remaining women pictured became students in 1868.”

The next year, Morrison continued her accelerated course of study, beginning the fall semester as a junior and becoming a senior spring semester. She wrote that she could probably have skipped Latin “if I had chosen to make a point of it,” but instead “read more than really required” so no one could claim that she would “lower the standard.” At one point during her first semester, the students could choose to write an essay or make an oral argument for a final exam. The professor assumed Morrison would prefer an essay so as not to speak in front of an audience of male students. She responded simply, “why?” Her second semester, a professor discouraged her from making her “declamation” at examinations, which would be attended by the general public. Morrison told him that she had appealed to the Board, not him, for her position and he could not stop her from making her declamation in the same manner as her male colleagues. Yet another professor acknowledged her ability for public speaking, but discouraged her from engaging in an exercise where she would debate her male colleagues. She again responded, “why?” and entered the debate. Finally, before graduation, a professor encouraged her to submit an essay and not to speak at commencement. She again asked him simply, but pointedly, “why?” Morrison explained:

‘Why?’ became my one and only, but effective ammunition when approach to the ‘Woman question,’ was bold enough to lift its head.[12]

By this, Morrison meant that when faced with the question of whether her gender should prevent her from equal participation at the university, she simply asked the professor “why” because her continued success and proficiency left no answer that could be based on anything but gender discrimination.

Similarly, when she received a “slighting remark” from a fellow student, whom she described sarcastically as “a rather superior young gentleman,” she “lost her temper” but managed to bite her tongue. She chose not to retort, explaining: “It was probably intended as a test. If I was mad internally, I could not suffer my cause to suffer.” Instead, she chose to focus her efforts on her commencement address. She knew many had low expectations for her performance. She wrote:

To have a performance at Commencement that would pass a general critical public, was an undertaking, indeed for me. I could not come down to their notions, could I lift them up to mine?[13]

Morrison became the first woman to graduate Indiana University in the spring of 1869 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.[14] Indiana newspapers reported that Morrison “graduated in the Classical course with great credit to herself, delivering in a splendid manner a very fine oration.”[15] Newspapers across the country picked up the story, reporting on “the first female graduate of Indiana State University.”[16] She demonstrated that there was indeed no reason “why?” a woman couldn’t succeed at Indiana University.

“Educational,” [Advertisement], Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, September 3, 1869, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
After graduation, Morrison moved to Indianapolis and began teaching Greek language classes.[17]  She was active in the education field, attending a “special session” for teachers at the State Normal School in Terre Haute in the summer of 1870.[18] In 1872, she was elected as an “alumni orator” and spoke at the 1873 Indiana University commencement ceremony.[19] By this point, IU had also granted Morrison a Master of Arts degree, which was at that time “conferred upon such graduates of three years’ standing as have, in the meantime, pursued professional or general studies.”[20] In 1873, Indiana University hired Morrison as a “tutor” in the “Collegiate Department.”[21] And, by 1874, Morrison became an Adjunct Professor of English Literature, making her the first female professor at Indiana University.[22]

Like the stories of other women trailblazers, the moment where the glass ceiling shattered, is often the point where Morrison’s story ends for historians. But what was it like for Morrison and other women once they became the first and only woman in their place of employment? What did it feel like to be the only woman in the lecture hall, laboratory, or operating theater? Of course experiences vary, but all faced some level of discrimination, opposition, or misogyny. Morrison faced all of these, delivered with a maliciousness some might find surprising for a genteel, academic setting.

“Literary Building constructed in 1855 on the Seminary Square campus,” photograph, 1855, accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits.

Several of her male students refused to recite to her, recitation being the manner in which students orally showed their comprehension of the class material. By refusing to recite, they were showing that they refused to recognize her authority. They deemed that, as a woman, she was unqualified to teach them as men. Despite her years of schooling, mastery of several languages, experience teaching, advanced degrees, and praise from professors, these undergraduate students claimed that she was undeserving of their respect because of her gender. Newspapers in Indiana and then across the country, picked up the story. Taking an amused tone over her “awkward predicament,” newspapers reported on her appointment to IU faculty and the student discrimination in the same article.[23] The Chicago Tribune reported:

Miss Sarah P. Morrison, daughter of the President of the Board to Trustees and adjutant Professor of English Literature in the State University, has been struck against by a portion of the students, who refuse to recite to her. No adjustment of the difficulty has yet been made.[24]

Not content to demonstrate their disrespect for their professor through silence, some of the students in the fraternity Beta Theta Pi published an article slandering her character and qualifications. At the end of the school year, the fraternity published an issue of their newspaper the Dagger, which Indiana University Archives referred to as “the 19th century version of Rate My Professor.”[25] For Morrison, who had long moderated her work for women’s advancement for fear of backlash, the 1875 issue would have been humiliating and devastating.

The Dagger, 1875, accessed Archives Online at Indiana University.

Sarcastically referring to Morrison as “the Queen of the University,” these male students published a horribly sexist, misogynistic criticism of Morrison’s teaching and intelligence. They claimed she had no right to her professorship because she lacked even “some shadow of reputation, a few reliable words of recommendation; or at least the outward appearance of an intelligent being.” They claimed she barely taught any classes, was “pinned to the coat tail of our faculty,” and got paid to do “nothing whatever.” They wrote, “Never before in all the history of the institution, has there been so gross and imposition practiced upon the taxpayers of Indiana.” They continued with base name calling, referring to her in turn as “impudent,” lacking “all common sense,” “idiotic,” and an “uneducated ape.” The students claimed:

Petitions for her removal have been thrust in the faces of both her and her father. But shame has lost its sting upon this impudent creature, dead to the pointing finger of withering scorn.[26]

They wrote  that “their diplomas are disgraced by her contemptible name” and that the senior class would be marking her name out on their diplomas. They concluded the article:

We close with the warning to our idiotic subject. O! Sallie that you may not make a consummate ass of yourself, hast-to your mothers [sic] breast, sieze [sic] the nipple of advice and fill your old wrinkled carcass with the milk of common sense.[27]

The condescension and entitlement mixed with sexism is hard to read, especially knowing how qualified and intelligent Morrison was, but also how timidly she accepted the responsibilities that came with her groundbreaking position. Perhaps one element makes this misogynistic slander slightly bearable today: unintended humor. In short, the young men were terrible writers. Ironically, these students who claimed that Morrison did not posses the intelligence to be their teacher, populated their vicious article with spelling and grammar errors. Undoubtedly, they should have listened to what she could have taught them.

“Class of 1875,” composite photograph, 1875, accessed Archives Photograph Collection, Indiana University.

It would be much more satisfying to report that Morrison persevered in the face of this misogyny and went on to teach for many more years, but not all stories of women who furthered the fight for equality end with professional success and empowerment. Morrison left the university and the profession that she loved after the 1874-75 school year. She instead became an active advocate for the temperance movement, traveling throughout the country, including into Indian territory, and spoke at the national level.[28] She became a leader within the Society of Friends, speaking at state meetings.[29] And she penned poems and family histories.[30]

Though she never returned to teach at IU, she stayed involved with the university. She spoke at alumni events and commencements and wrote regular letters to the administration. Through these letters, she advocated for placing women on the Board of Trustees and the Board of Visitors, as well as hiring women professors. These letters show her finding strength in herself in demanding greater opportunities for women. For example, in 1906, she submitted her vote to the Board of Trustees “For Some Woman” and wrote on her ballot: “Every new man who allows his name to appear does that much to keep out some woman.”[31]

Sarah Parke Morrison to IU Board of Trustees, June 3, 1906 [Ballot for Board of Trustee Vote], Box 1, Correspondence, accessed Archives at Indiana University.
In 1908, Morrison returned to IU at the age of 75 . . . as a student. Reminiscent of her 1867 entry into the university as its first female student, newspapers across the country covered her latest adventure as a sort of novelty. The New York Times reported that Morrison enrolled in a post-graduate course on Greek during the summer term. The newspaper reported:

Though Miss Morrison is 75 years of age, she is as sprightly of body and mind, apparently, as she was when a student at the university nearly fifty years ago. She has never lost her interest in the classics nor in poetry.[32]

She must have continued to impress IU staff and administration because she delivered the alumni address at the 1909 commencement.[33] Morrison also continued to write to the IU administration in her later years. In 1911, she advised the university’s president and the Board of Trustees on filling a teaching position upon the death of a female professor. It’s likely that this advice was unsolicited, but she chose strong and clear words. She stated that the woman the Board chose to fill the vacant position should possess “very decided views respecting the equal [underline] privilege granted the young women of our University, and accepting suffrage for women as a matter of course.”[34] Before her death in 1916, Morrison found the courage to outwardly support women’s suffrage, something she had feared as a younger women.

This year, while commemorating the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, historians have enthusiastically shared stories of bold suffragists who marched in the streets and spoke passionately to large crowds – those women who stood unafraid before the Indiana Supreme Court or the Indiana General Assembly to demand their rights. But not all of the women who blazed the path toward equality loudly beat the drums of reform. Morrison shied from controversy and rightfully feared backlash from entering previously all-male spaces, but she ventured forward anyway. This is the very definition of courage – to persevere in the face of fear. While sometimes reluctant, she made important gains for women at Indiana University. Hers was the foot in the door, wedging it open for other women to follow her. And they did. Sarah Parke Morrison should be remembered not only for her “firsts,” but for her selflessness, determination, and quiet audacity.

Notes:

[1] 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Washington Township, Washington County, Indiana, September 20, 1850, roll 179, page 37 (338A), line 35, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Raysville Monthly Meeting, Henry County,” 1876, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana Minutes, Indiana Yearly Meeting Minutes, accessed AncestryLibrary;  “Indiana University,” [Alumni Form], 1887, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Indiana University Archives, submitted by marker applicant.; Indiana State Board of Health, “Certificate of Death,” (Sarah Parke Morrison), July 9, 1919, Roll 13, page 532, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Biographical Note,” Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Archives at Indiana University. The quoted text comes from the “Biographical Note” written by the Archives at Indiana University.

[2] Annual Catalogues of the Teachers and Pupils of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary from 1847-1857 (Northampton: Hopkins, Bridgman & Co., n.d.), 44, accessed HathiTrust.; “Indiana University,” [Alumni Form], 1887, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Indiana University Archives, copy available in IHB marker file.; Indiana University, Arbutus [yearbook], 1896 (Chicago: A.L. Swift & Co. College Publications, 1896), accessed HathiTrust.

[3] Advertisement, “Glendale Female College,” Washington Democrat (Salem, Indiana), February 24, 1859, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.; Memorial: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Western Female Seminary, Oxford, Ohio, 1880 (Indianapolis: Carlon & Hollenbeck, Printers and Binders, 1881), 208, accessed GoogleBooks.

[4] Fannie (Morrison), “Lines to Robert Dale Owen,” Indiana State Sentinel, March 27, 1851, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[5] Sarah Parke Morrison, “My Experience at State University,” 1911, Box 1, Series: Writings, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Archives at Indiana University.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Advertisement, “Indiana State University,” Evansville Daily Journal, December 19, 1867, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[8] Morrison, “My Experience at State University.”

[9] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1867 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1868), Indiana State Library.

[10] Morrison, “My Experience at State University.”

[11] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1867 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1868), Indiana State Library.; “Women Students,” accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits.

[12] Morrison, “My Experience at State University.”

[13] Ibid.

[14] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1868-69 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1869), Indiana State Library.

[15] “Commencement at the State University,” (Greencastle) Putnam Republican Banner, July 8, 1869, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[16] “Digest of Latest News,” Galveston Daily News, July 24, 1869, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.; Fair Haven (Vermont), July 31, 1869, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[17] Advertisement, “Educational,” Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, September 3, 1869, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[18] “Normal School,” Terre Haute Daily Gazette, July 20, 1870, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[19] “All Sorts and Sizes,” Bangor Daily Whig and Courier (Bangor, Maine) July 30, 1872, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; Freeman’s Journal (Dublin, Ireland), September 11, 1872, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

[20] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1872-73 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1873), Indiana State Library.

[21] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1873-74 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1874), Indiana State Library.

[22] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1874-75 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1875), Indiana State Library.

[23] Chicago Weekly Post and Mail, November 26, 1874, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[24] “Indiana,” Chicago Tribune, November 19, 1874, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Former Trustees,” Indiana University Board of Trustees, https://trustees.iu.edu/the-trustees/former-trustees.html.
While Sarah Morrison’s Father John I. Morrison was an IU Board member 1874-75, he was not the president.

[25] “The Dagger: The 19th Century Version of Rate My Professor,” January 26, 2016, accessed Indiana University Archives.

[26] “Faculty Reviewed: Sarah P. Morrison,” The Dagger, 1875, 2, Box OS3, accessed Archives Online at Indiana University.

[27] Ibid.

[28] “Woman’s Temperance Union,” Vermont Chronicle (Bellows Falls) November 15, 1879, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Noble Women,” Washington Evening Critic (Washington, D.C.), October 29, 1881, 1, Newspapers.com.; “Work for Women,” Indianapolis Journal, January 30, 1886, 8, accessed Chronicling America, Library of Congress.; Izumi Ishi, Bad Fruits of the Civilized Tree: Alcohol & the Sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 136, accessed Google Books.

[29] “The Quakers,” Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1877, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.; “The Yearly Meeting,” Richmond Item, October 1, 1892, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “At Plainfield,” (Chicago) Inter Ocean, September 17, 1894, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

[30] “Current Literature,” (Chicago) Inter Ocean, June 18, 1892, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Literary Notes,” Friends Intelligencer and Journal 60 (Philadelphia: Friends Intelligencer Association, 1903), 187, accessed Google Books.

[31] Sarah Parke Morrison to “Alma Mater,” January 16, 1905, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.; Sarah Parke Morrison to William L. Bryan, February 22, 1905, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.; Sarah Parke Morrison to William L. Bryan, December 4, 1905, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.; Sarah Parke Morrison to Isaac Jenkinson, January 19, 1906, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.

[32] “Still A Student at 75,” New York Times, June 28, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[33] “Alumni Day at the State University,” Indianapolis News, June 22, 1909, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Indiana College News,” Indianapolis Star, June 17, 1909, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

[34] Sarah Parke Morrison to Indiana University President and Board, March 7, 1911, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.

Challenging the “Double Standard of Morality:” Indiana’s First Women Lawyers

1) Adele Storck 2) M. Elizabeth Mason 3) Eleanor P. Barker 4) Jessie Levy 5) Ella M. Groninger 6) Mrs. “Peggy” Edward Franklin White, courtesy of The Indianapolis Star, August 11, 1923, 30, accessed Newspapers.com.

The results of a hotly challenged event, the first ever Women’s Safety Driving Contest made the front page of the August 12, 1923 Indianapolis Sunday Star. Sponsored by the newspaper and Indianapolis police department, the contest had drawn two hundred entrants. Competition proved fierce, with first place decided by a solitary point. Photos of the top eight “lady drivers” featured prominently, yet ten pages back, tucked between “Married Women Often Forget Maid Friends” and “Gotham Gossip About Hoosiers,” an event of arguably more significance would soon be taking place. The headline simply read: “Women Lawyers to Attend Convention.”

Fifty years before winning the right to vote in 1920, women began entering the legal profession. In 1899, a group of eighteen New York City women formed the Women Lawyers’ Club. Twenty-four years later, the newly-rechristened National Association of Women Lawyers planned to hold its first convention on August 28 – 29, 1923 in Minneapolis, with Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft in attendance. The six Hoosier lawyers highlighted in the Star’s story would play key roles in moving women into positions of power and public leadership.


Emma Eaton, 1894, courtesy University of Michigan Law School.

On October 7, 1894, the Sioux City Journal announced that “Miss Emma Eaton of Creston, Iowa, passed the examination at the head of the class.” The paper noted “She is a graduate of the state university [Iowa University] and the law department of Ann Arbor University [University of Michigan]. When her standing was announced, she was congratulated by the judges present and applauded by her classmates.”

Emma made a handful of court appearances in Iowa, assisting the Union County Attorney before settling on legal editorial work. In 1900, she married Edward Franklin White, a respected Indianapolis attorney and author. “Peggy” as she now called herself, was expected to put aside her professional career. For a few years she did just that, likely helping her husband edit law books. But in 1915, she got involved with a legislative bill to grant Indiana women partial suffrage; evidently not a universally popular position judging by the number of letters to the editor opposing it.

Historian Jill Weiss Simins noted that the two major state suffrage organizations—the Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) and the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL)—opposed one another regarding the question “Should suffragists accept partial suffrage to get their foot in the door and later work for full suffrage or demand full suffrage as their inalienable democratic right?” White toed the ESA’s line of thought in this regard. Responding to one particularly irate missive, White noted, “Some little independence of thought doesn’t hurt any cause.” That same year, White prepared arguments to the Indiana General Assembly for a bill to approve “the appointment of policewomen in twenty-five cities of the state.”  Supporting her would be another entrant into Indiana’s legal profession, Eleanor P. Barker. Through their work, Indiana became one of the first to inaugurate a statewide system of policewomen. When “the policewoman bill” introduced by Robert W. McClaskey failed in 1915, she used her involvement in the Women’s Legislative Council of Indiana to pressure lawmakers to revisit it.

While membership in the Women Lawyers’ Club had grown to 170 members by 1914, locally two women would graduate from the Indiana Law School, one of them being Barker. The Indianapolis trailblazer became the first woman to win highest honors from any Indiana law school and the only woman to accomplish that particular feat two years in succession.

Eleanor P. Barker, circa July 1918, courtesy of (Indiana) Angola Herald.

Like White, Barker dedicated herself to the cause of women’s enfranchisement. However, she toed the WFL’s line and felt it couldn’t be achieved on a state-by-state basis, opining that partial suffrage “took the steam out of the suffrage movement.” Instead, she supported the Anthony Amendment, which would become the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Along with her role as the Indiana standard-bearer in Washington, D.C. suffrage parades, Barker chose to picket the White House “to impress President (sic) Wilson with the vigor of the militant suffrage crusade.” She also traveled the state registering women to vote and giving free classes in civics and political science.

Like many suffragists, Barker committed to war work at the outbreak of the Great War. Dr. Anita Morgan noted in her “We Must Be Fearless:” The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana that “What the war managed to do was to finally focus the energies of all these suffragists and clubwomen, so they acted in concert for one goal—win the war and in the process win suffrage for themselves.” The February 24, 1918 issue of the Indianapolis Star reported on Barker’s work, noting “In a time of below-zero weather, stalled traffic, all but impassable roads and multiplied discomforts and difficulties she heroically kept on her schedule made by the 14 – Minute Women’s Speaker’s Bureau.” As head of the state’s Congressional Union/Woman’s Party, Barker delivered thirty-two speeches, fourteen minutes long of course, about food substitution and conservation to record crowds throughout the Midwest. She also led the Women in Industry Committee, advocating for women’s and children’s working conditions during the war.

The Sacramento Star, November 3, 1919, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Ella Groninger was the second graduate from the class of 1914 and joined the family law firm of Groninger, Groninger & Groninger. A native of Camden, Ella had taught school before moving to Indianapolis in 1900. There, she attended the East Business College, clerking at her brothers’ law firm before obtaining her law degree. On October 15, 1919, in Marion County Superior Court, room five, Ella M. Groninger became the first woman judge to preside in an Indiana courtroom, ruling on the Tenney v. Tenney case.

George Tenney arrived with a litany of grievances in his divorce petition against Ida M. Tenney, claiming his wife hadn’t sewed buttons on his clothes and left the house lights on when she went out at night. After careful consideration, Special Judge Groninger denied the petition, saying “From the evidence introduced here, this woman has given twenty-nine of the best years of her life to this man. There is no proof of wrong.” When questioned afterwards on her decision, Groninger remarked, “The double standard of morality should not be given a chance to grow out of our divorce courts.

The Indianapolis Star, August 28, 1920, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Groninger was judge and jury, serving on the first jury of women in an Indiana court, made possible by ratification of the 19th Amendment. The case, a replevin suit for the recovery of a Victrola, took place in the court of T. Ernest Maholm, Justice of the Peace, on August 28, 1920. Although the trial was scheduled to start at nine o’clock, Mary E. Boatwick, the first Indiana woman to be served with a jury summons, had to be excused due to pressing matters related to her work for the Indianapolis Star. A half hour later, twelve women were sworn in to a courtroom, which was decorated with a “bank of flowers” arranged around dusty law books in honor of the historic occasion. The women represented a variety of religions, races, and professions, and included African American suffragist and actuary Daneva Donnell.

Although Gronginger was listed as the only attorney, juror M. Elizabeth Mason had begun her final year at Benjamin Harrison Law School. Born in Ohio, she had attended the University of Chicago before relocating to teach at Indianapolis public schools in 1904. At the age of forty-four, she decided on a legal career, taking classes at night. The following year, “Minnie” Mason became one of three exceptional women to earn a degree from Hoosier law schools.

The Indianapolis News, August 28, 1920, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

The defense’s strategy, noted by the Indianapolis Star, was unique: “Louis Dulberger, in a snappy gray suit and white suede shoes, smilingly told the jury how he had ‘long awaited to see the time when women could sit on the jury in the court, and, now that the time has come, insisted that only women serve on the jury in this case.’” His platitudes did little to sway the jurors, who deliberated for five minutes before forewoman, Groninger, announced they’d reached a verdict—in favor of the plaintiff. As they filed out of the courtroom, the jurors were given a white chrysanthemum as a memento from the historic day.

Following Mason was Adele Storck, who became the second woman to graduate from Benjamin Harrison Law School in 1921, winning top honors for the best senior class thesis. Born in Kassel, Germany, Adele Storck immigrated with her family to Odell, Illinois. In 1900, similar to her friend, Mason, she took a teaching position within the Indianapolis public school system. Later, she attended DePauw University before entering law school at the age of forty-five.

After graduation, Storck became the first woman admitted to the Indianapolis Bar Association. She and her friend established Storck & Mason, credited as “the first woman’s law firm in Indiana” and one of the earliest in the country. On October 21, 1921, in one of the fledgling partnership’s first cases, Storck & Mason filed suit for the plaintiff, Hattie A. Storck, Adele’s sister in Marion County Circuit court. The outcome has been lost to history, but the law firm of Storck & Mason continued on for well over three decades with both partners considered “pioneer women attorneys.”

Advertisement, January 1, 1942, courtesy Indianapolis News, accessed Newspapers.com.

Officially, the law firm of Stork and Mason ended upon the death of “Minnie” Mason in 1955. Over the years, it had stood as a sterling example of equality, setting the stage for the emergence of numerous women-owned business nearly five decades later. Of equal note, Mason and Storck showed that it’s never too late in life to pursue your dreams.

The final woman from our group of trailblazers benefited from the others’ experience. Graduating in 1921 from the Indiana Law School, Jessie Levy eschewed the expected career “in estate planning, probate, and related tax matters,” instead gravitating towards criminal law. Her clientele included four members of the John Dillinger gang. Accused of trying to throw open “the doors of freedom to the most notorious public enemies in the Midwest,” Levy replied that her only interest was in obtaining a “fair trial,” but added, “When the time comes and I am challenged, I will have plenty to say.”

Jessie Levy and client, Russell Clark, in a Lima, Ohio courtroom, March 1934, courtesy of the author’s collection.

And that she did, becoming in May 1934, the first woman from Indiana admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. A month later, Levy became the first woman to deliver a stay of execution in Ohio. Reflecting back, she observed, “Oh, I had some pretty lurid cases in my time but I enjoyed what I was doing and found the cases challenging.” On February 1, 1951, a bill sat pending in the Indiana General Assembly with a clause allowing a husband to sell jointly-owned property without the signature of his wife. Contending that the proposed bill would make it easier for one spouse to cheat the other, Levy led a referendum for an amendment requiring the signatures of both spouses.

In 1971, after a half century practicing law and presiding over every Marion County court as either a special judge or judge pro tem, Levy would be honored by the Indianapolis Bar Association. When an Indianapolis Star reporter observed that fifty years in practice qualified her as a senior citizen, Jessie protested, “But I still feel young,” and then excused herself for a scheduled court appearance.


These six exceptional women epitomized the advice given by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in 2015 told a group of young women at Harvard University: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” While the 19th Amendment increased women’s agency, it did not eliminate discrimination against them. Women still had to navigate a maze of state laws meant to keep them from exercising their rights. This is where the six Hoosier women made their most lasting contributions; each opposed discriminatory practices and laws restricting women’s access to the courtroom and the office. In the 1926 words of Eleanor P. Barker, “Women in Indiana have done more for politics and received less at the hands of politicians than the women of any other state.”

Click here for other firsts accomplished by these attorneys and a list of further reading sources.

“Leaving Party Politics to Man:” How Some Hoosier Women Worked Against Suffrage

Anti-suffrage booth at the 1915 Old Home Days in Skaneateles, New York, courtesy of New York Heritage Digital Collections.

It is easy to assume that women unanimously supported woman’s suffrage, while men, clinging to their role as the households’ sole political actor, opposed it. However, this was not the case. In 1914, suffrage leader Alice Stone Blackwell wrote, “the struggle has never been a fight of woman against man, but always of broad-minded men and women on the one side against narrow-minded men and women on the other.”[i]

With the centennial of women’s suffrage upon us, we celebrate the determination of those women who fought for so long to secure their own enfranchisement. Understandably, many examinations of the suffrage movement only briefly touch on organized opposition of the movement, if at all. This is likely because it is much easier for us to identify with suffragists than it is with their counterparts. However, this lack of coverage can lead to the assumption that the anti-suffrage movement was weak or inconsequential compared to that of the pro-suffrage masses. That assumption would be incorrect. According to Historian Joe C. Miller, organized anti-suffragists outnumbered organized pro-suffragists until 1915, just five years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. [ii]

Suffrage Madonna postcard from 1909, showing the fear of anti-suffragists that women with the vote would leave men to care for their families. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.

In the wake of suffrage gains in western states, anti-suffragists began to organize in 1895, forming the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women. Later, women formed similar organizations in New York (1895) and Illinois (1906). In 1911, leaders within these groups came together to establish the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS), which led to increasing organization on a national scale. By 1916, when pro-suffragists finally outnumbered antis, NAOWS claimed to have organized resistance in 25 of the 48 states.[iii]

You may be wondering why so many women felt strongly about legislation that we would consider to go against their best interests. That’s a difficult question to answer since, as with any movement, each woman would have had her own reasons to oppose suffrage. The various pamphlets and broadsides distributed by NAOWS, such as the one below, shed light on their reasoning.

“Why We Oppose Votes for Women,” courtesy of Tennessee Virtual Archive.

Views like those expressed in “Why We Oppose Votes for Women” became even more pervasive throughout 1916 and 1917 in response to a national spike of suffrage activity across the nation.[iv] Some Indiana women belonged to this opposition movement. Hoosier suffragists were working tirelessly to promote three separate bills that could lead to their enfranchisement. In the midst of the 1917 legislative session, anti-suffragists made their appearance in the form of “The Remonstrance,” a petition sent to State Senator Dwight M. Kinder of Indianapolis.

Indianapolis News, January 20, 1917, 7.

This “Remonstrance,” presented to the Indiana General Assembly on January 19, 1917, and subsequently reprinted in Indianapolis newspapers, laid out arguments against suffrage in three broad strokes:

  1. We Believe it is the demand of a minority of the women of our state.
  2. We are opposed to woman suffrage because we believe that women can best serve their state and community by leaving party politics to man and directing their gifts along the lines largely denied to men because of their obligations involved in the necessary machinery of political suffrage.
  3. We believe that with women in party politics there will arise a new party machine with the woman boss in control.

While these are the core arguments presented in the petition, it’s worth reading it in its entirety, as the supporting statements are fascinating. The petition’s arguments are similar to some of those put forth by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and there is a reason for that. On January 13, the Indianapolis News reported that anti-suffragists from Boston had been in the city for two weeks,

prepared to do a big and brave work. They went from house to house telling the poor misguided women of Indianapolis what a dreadful thing would befall them if they obtained equal suffrage. They asked that the women sign a petition against this particular brand of punishment the men of the legislature might mete out to them.

This was the same petition that would land on Senator Kinder’s desk days later. These East Coast anti-suffrage activists, either from the national organization or the closely-related Massachusetts group, came to Indiana, where no anti-suffrage organization existed, to turn women against their own enfranchisement.

While this work did convince some Hoosier women to submit the petition, it wasn’t particularly successful—if anything, the petition generated more support than ever for the suffrage bills before the Indiana General Assembly. While the document claimed to represent the “great majority of women” in the state, it was signed by just nineteen women, all of whom lived in the same upper-class Indianapolis neighborhood and who would likely have traveled in the same social circles. The response from suffrage activists around the state was swift.

Just two days after “The Remonstrance” appeared in Indianapolis papers, the Indianapolis News published an article penned by Charity Dye, an Indianapolis educator, activist, and member of the Indiana Historical Commission (which eventually became the Indiana Historical Bureau). Responding to the antis’ claim that they represented ninety percent of Hoosier women, Dye released the results of a poll taken in the fall of 1916. The women polled were all residents of the Eighth Ward of Indianapolis and each woman could select from “pro,” “anti,” and “neutral,” options. Of 1,044 women polled, 628 (60%) were in favor of suffrage. Dye ends the article, “In view of the fact that nineteen Indianapolis women asserted in The News Saturday that 90 per cent of Indiana women are opposed to suffrage, this is interesting reading.”[v]

Indianapolis News, January 23, 1917, 3.

The next day, women from around the state began sending their own list of nineteen names to newspapers—all in favor of suffrage. First, nineteen librarians and stenographers declared their support for suffrage “for what it will mean to them in the business world.”[vi] Next came nineteen Vassar College graduates, who signed their names “in protest against the assertion of nineteen anti-suffragists that women do not want suffrage.”[vii] Finally, nineteen “professional women,” who held medical degrees added their names “just because it is right.”

As lists of names continued to pour in from around the state, Joint Resolution Number 2, which would have granted Hoosier women full suffrage if passed, was winding its way through the Indiana General Assembly session. Just as enthusiasm for the bill reached its zenith, a new, even more promising prospect appeared when the legislature enacted a Constitutional Convention bill on February 1. According to Historian Anita Morgan, “A new Indiana Constitution could have full suffrage included in the document and eliminate the need to rely on a state law that could be overturned.” Pro-suffrage support for the convention flooded in.

Anti-suffragists saw this as possibly their last chance to block the enfranchisement of women in Indiana and called for a legislative hearing, where they could voice to their grievances.  Their goal was to persuade future members of the Constitutional Convention not to add women’s suffrage to the newly penned constitution. They got their hearing, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. On February 13, 1917, men and women, who supported and opposed suffrage, flooded the statehouse. What followed was hours of “speeches for and against votes for women [which] flashed humor, keen wit and an occasional bit of raillery or pungent sarcasm that brought laughter or stormy cheering.” First, state representatives heard from pro-suffragists, who pointed out that both the House and Senate had already expressed support for suffrage – all that was left now was to hammer out the details. The crowd, overwhelmingly composed of suffrage supporters, cheered throughout the address. Then Mary Ella Lyon Swift, leader of the original nineteen anti-suffrage remonstrants, spoke. She opined:

Suffrage, in my opinion, is one of the most serious menaces in the country today. With suffrage, you give the ballot to a large, unknown, untested class – terribly emotional and terribly unstable. . . If you thrust suffrage upon me you dissipate my usefulness, and in the same way you dissipate the usefulness of the most unselfish, most earnest and most capable women, who are working in their way, attracting no attention to themselves for the good of their country and mankind.

When one representative asked Swift to explain that last statement, she replied that suffrage would make “it necessary for us to fight the woman boss and the woman machine.”

Minnie Bronson, Buffalo Times, March 27, 1909, 2.

There again appears that talking point from the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, that once women get the vote, they’ll be irrevocably corrupted, with all-female political machines being run by female political bosses. One of the only other female speakers opposing women’s suffrage was Minnie Bronson, the secretary of NAOWS. Bronson addressed the overwhelming presence of pro-suffragists, quipping, “[Anti-suffragists] are not here pestering or threatening you, but are at home caring for their children.” Finally, after hours of  debating, Charles A. Bookwalter, former mayor of Indianapolis, delivered the decisive line, “It is 10:35 o’clock. Suffrage is right and hence inevitable.”[viii]

This hearing seems to have been the last gasp of the anti-suffrage movement in Indiana. While suffrage detractors continued to voice their opposition from time to time, the organized efforts of NAOWS in Indianapolis had come to an end. The nineteen women who sent “The Remonstrance” to the Indiana General Assembly went back to hosting parties, attending literary club meetings, doing charity work and, presumably, not exercising their newly-granted rights when the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920.

[i] Joe Miller, “Never a Fight of Woman Against Man: What Textbooks Don’t Say about Women’s Suffrage,” The History Teacher 48, no. 3 (May 2015): 437.

[ii] Ibid., 440.

[iii] Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge, “Keynote of Opposition to Votes for Women,” Boston Globe, October 15, 1916, 54, accessed Newspapers.com.

[iv] Dr. Anita Morgan, “We Must Be Fearless”: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2020), p. 137-138.

[v] Charity Dye, “Gives Suffrage Vote for the Eighth Ward,” Indianapolis News, January 22, 1917, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vi] “Petition of ‘Nineteen’ Stirs the Suffragists,” Indianapolis News, January 23, 1917, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vii] “Protest of Vassar Women in Factor of Equal Suffrage,” Indianapolis News, January 24, 1917, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[viii] “Sparks Fly at Hearing for Women,” Indianapolis Star, February 14, 1917, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

THH Episode 35: Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly

Transcript for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly

Jump to Show Notes

Crouch: The new day comes slowly, it is true, but none can fail to see that it approaches . . . the women who are asking for political liberty want it chiefly because it will enable them to get certain things . . . When enough women awake to the necessity of these things, then the battle will be won . . . We must reach the ‘women of the long gray streets,’ as well as . . . women of wealth and leisure. This will take time, patience, and tireless effort. A great responsibility rests upon those of us who have heard the call and have taken the yoke upon us. We have the consolation of knowing that ours is perhaps the greatest cause that has ever engaged the attention of the world – it is the cause of human liberty, which will not be attained until woman is recognized as joint partner with man in all the affairs of life.

Beckley: That was Indiana’s Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch reading from a speech given in 1911 by Hoosier suffragist Grace Julian Clarke.

By 1911, Indiana suffragists crackled with energy, hope, anxiety, and intention. They were a new generation of young activists determined to be the last struggling for the vote. They were peaceful, but radical, both in their demands and the innovative techniques used to gain support for their cause. They were, according to the Indianapolis News, “engaged in warfare—moral warfare—an assault on prejudice and ignorance.”

In this episode, we’ll meet the diverse suffragists who led Hoosier women’s fight for the vote during the re-invigoration of the movement starting around 1911. We’ll follow them as they organize, educate, lobby, protest, and march in the streets. And as we commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage, we can learn from their struggle. After all, women are still fighting for equality, from equal pay to equal representation in government. And while it may be disheartening that women still haven’t secured an Equal Rights Amendment after generations of work, today’s activists can take some solace in looking to the generations that came before. Suffragists have taught the next generation to organize, agitate, lobby, and most importantly, in the words of Terre Haute suffragist Mabel Curry, they taught us: “We must be fearless.”

I’m Lindsey Beckley, and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Since 1851, Hoosiers from all backgrounds had been clearly, loudly, and bravely demanding the vote. That year, a small group of men and women held Indiana’s first Woman’s Rights Convention in Dublin, Wayne County. There, they passed resolutions that seem surprisingly modern – equal access to employment and education, equal pay for equal work, and the abolishment of laws which discriminated against women. Most importantly, they demanded “the same rights of citizenship with man,” or, simply put, they demanded suffrage.The following year they established the Indiana Woman’s Rights Association (IWRA).

Shrewd leaders emerged. In 1859, Dr. Mary Thomas became the first woman to address the Indiana General Assembly, pointing out the injustice that

Ellis reading Thomas: the law, with its ruthless hand, undertakes to ‘settle her business for her,’ when she had no voice in making that law.

Beckley: Just how frustrating that would be – working to change the laws denying your rights, but being stymied at every turn because you don’t have those very rights you’re working towards.

The Civil War gave Hoosier suffragists hope that they would finally gain their rights. They believed that their work nursing soldiers, running the farms, and raising funds for the war would force lawmakers to recognize their citizenship. They even put their suffrage work on hold to serve their country, proving their dedication to the nation. When the war ended and they were not rewarded with suffrage, they resumed the fight.

The first IWRA meeting after the Civil War, held in 1869, was also the first time historians have been able to document African American women’s participation in the state’s suffrage organizations. At the meeting one woman demanded assurance that Black voices would be included as well. The IWRA agreed. Black women would remain an essential part of the fight for suffrage, especially in Indianapolis. When Black men gained suffrage with the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 and women were still left without the vote, disappointed Hoosier women were determined to work more directly for change.

By the 1880s, they shifted their approach to directly lobbying their representatives. Historian Anita Morgan explained that by this point, women recognized that “the path to success for suffrage was persistence and continuous pressure.” But they couldn’t have known just how long it would take to travel that path.

In 1881, it looked like all of their work lobbying and delivering impassioned speeches before the Indiana General Assembly had paid off. A women’s suffrage bill passed both the House and the Senate. Only one, seemingly small technicality stood between Hoosier women and the ballot box. At that time, bills for constitutional amendments had to pass two legislative sessions, so it would have to be brought up for another vote in 1883. Again, Indiana women wrote letters, signed petitions, delivered speeches, and lobbied their representatives, and hundreds of suffragists, both Black and white, gathered at a mass meeting in Indianapolis to make their voices heard. Despite all of this, the suffrage bill wouldn’t even get a hearing in 1883.

In what Dr. Morgan called “a clear case of political chicanery,” suffrage opponents brushed off a dusty rule that stated pending legislation must be printed in full in the House and Senate Journals before it could be voted on in the following session. The suffrage bill somehow-mysteriously-wasn’t printed in 1881 and thus couldn’t be considered in 1883. To get so close to the vote only to be unjustly thwarted was a huge blow to the movement.

Nevertheless, they persisted. Over the following decades, Indiana’s suffragists used political and legal strategies to further their cause. Hoosier women solidified partnerships with national suffrage organizations and spoke before the U.S. Congress. In 1894, Indiana women attempted to vote without a suffrage law, knowing they would be denied, in order to sue for their rights through the court system. Helen Gougar of Lafayette took her case all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court. Despite her argument for the “Constitutional Right[s] of the Women of Indiana,” in which she declared that a “right withheld is a wrong inflicted,”  her appeal failed.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the women’s club movement helped make suffrage more mainstream. It became increasingly clear to the highly educated clubwomen who were interested in political reform that only the vote would allow them to completely achieve their goals.

However, despite being a more mainstream idea, by the turn of the 20th century, after more than fifty years of struggle, the Indiana suffrage movement itself had stagnated. It’s not surprising that after half a century of work, some women were beginning to feel apathetic by the slow pace of change. But that wasn’t the only reason for this stagnation – the movement was also divided along ideological lines and  by the strong personalities of its leaders, who clashed over goals and the methods for achieving them.

Some believed prohibition went hand in hand with suffrage in protecting women from abusive situations and loss of property. Others, including the large number of German immigrants whose cultural celebrations included beer, believed prohibition would drive many away from the cause. Some suffrage supporters thought women should first work for partial suffrage – or the right to vote in limited, local elections. Others believed full suffrage was their natural right and they would settle for nothing less. Some wanted to work for suffrage at the local and state level; others thought only an amendment to the U.S. constitution would guarantee the vote.

It’s really no surprise their views were diverse because so were suffragists. The heroes of Indiana’s suffrage movement were immigrants, African Americans, and union members. They were rich women, poor women, working women – Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, Prohibitionists, and Socialists. They were Quakers, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics. Indiana’s movement included everyone who believed that women who paid taxes, contributed to their communities, and aided in war efforts when called – women who had proved their worth as citizens time and again – deserved a say in who represented their interests.

After years of stagnation, and with a richly diverse pool of potential supporters, Indianapolis firebrands Grace Julian Clarke and Dr. Amelia Keller put a defibrillator on the weakly-beating heart of Indiana’s suffrage movement in 1911. After lobbyists failed to convince the legislature to pass partial or municipal suffrage bills, the two women recognized the need to overcome apathy and seriously mobilize, forming the Indiana Woman’s Franchise League (WFL). At the same time, Indiana’s Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) ramped up efforts to gain support for women’s enfranchisement. While the groups shared the same underlying goals,  the Equal Suffrage Association embraced different tactics and audiences. Unlike the WFL, it welcomed men. It also worked more closely with labor unions and African American women, especially early in its history. Within the reinvigorated movement emerged new leaders from both groups, who embraced savvy political and promotional tactics. Suffragists, long familiar with statehouse chambers, increasingly spread their message to public squares, street corners and even the skies.

Long maligned as being militant or overbearing, the suffragists decided to generate public interest with a variety of innovative approaches throughout 1912. Among these, there were a few stand outs. The spring brought a “Funfest,” which featured peanuts, a fortune teller, and a satirical “opray,” which had even anti-suffragists laughing against their will. More importantly, it provided an influx of much-needed funding. In June, suffragists led by Grace Julian Clarke, undertook an automobile tour of Hamilton County, distributing flyers and spreading information about suffrage with fantastic results. Perhaps most innovative of all, suffragists took to the skies in May and June, flying over events in hot air balloons showering spectators with “votes for women” buttons and circulars reading,

Ellis reading circular: Women of Indiana . . . come and show that you are no longer satisfied to be ignored and that you insist in having a voice in this government.

As these tactics helped the movement grow, Hoosier reformers recognized the need to be more representative as many of Indiana’s suffragists were white and financially well-off. The Equal Suffrage Association sought new partners in the historic fight for equal rights, with association president Dr. Hannah Graham speaking to working women around the city about how the vote could help the labor cause.  The diversity of the ESA was even more obvious at a meeting held in Indianapolis in the summer of 1912. There, members of over a dozen unions, representatives of Black organizations, members of various political parties, and Indianapolis Mayor Lew Shank converged to hear speeches and debate about suffrage. The argument made by African American civil rights leader Freeman Ransom, that without the ballot women were forced to pay taxes without representation, was one of the most applauded speeches of the day.

But the ESA wasn’t alone in diversifying their membership. The Woman’s Franchise League also made laboring classes a priority at its 1913 state convention. At the convention, there was the following reading of Luluabelle Kern’s “Factory Meetings and the Working Woman,” :

Ellis reading Kern: The answer is that the working woman must study the Constitution of the United States and see just where she stands. Working women are in the majority and we must get them interested in suffrage. We cannot gain the ballot without them.

Later that year, WFL member Harriet Noble spoke before attendees of the Central Labor Union’s meeting in Indianapolis. There, she implored working women to support the movement, saying that it was them who would benefit the most from the vote if it were secured.

Along with members of organized labor, suffrage groups also sought to work with those members of Indiana’s African American community who supported the cause.  With these relationships forged, Dr. Graham, along with Black leaders like Freeman Ransom, helped found Indianapolis’s African American branch of the ESA, No. 7, in 1912. None other than revered Black entrepreneur, Madame C.J. Walker, hosted the branch’s first meeting at her home, where public school teacher Carrie Barnes was elected president. Of the branch’s work, Barnes proclaimed

Ellis reading Barnes: We all feel that colored women have need for the ballot that white women have, and a great many needs that they have not.

Beckley: Black suffragists hosted debates at the Senate Avenue YMCA and local African American churches and worked with white ESA branches and trade unions to forward women’s right to vote. While historians are still working to discover more about Black suffragists and their role in the movement, it’s clear that their work led to greater citizenship for women. The unlikely collaboration of Indiana’s privileged white women, laboring classes, and African American community—one which was uncommon in other Midwestern states—would help lead to the ratification of women’s suffrage.

These coalitions were needed more than ever when in 1913 Governor Thomas Marshall proposed a new, increasingly restrictive state constitution that would further cement women’s disenfranchisement.

Suffragists needed to convince the General Assembly to create equal suffrage legislation before it was too late. Despite the shared goals of the ESA and the WFL, the two groups took opposing positions during a January discussion before a legislative committee weighing a partial suffrage bill. The debate at this commission meeting was simple: should suffragists support this limited suffrage bill in hopes it would lead to more rights in the future or should they hold out for full suffrage? The ESA supported the former solution, while the WFL insisted on the latter.

This division grew fierce. ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham was an outspoken proponent of full suffrage, but put her ideological stance aside. She felt like Hoosier women couldn’t miss the opportunity that this bill afforded. According to the Indianapolis Star, ESA members voted to support the partial suffrage bill because “such franchise is as much as can be expected at this time.” Simply put, a little suffrage was better than none and may help in winning full suffrage down the road.

WFL leaders vehemently disagreed. Digne Miller noted first that the bill would only grant this partial suffrage to women in Indianapolis and Terre Haute – more a fractional suffrage bill than a partial one. Dr. Amelia Keller expressed her fear that the bill could actually hurt the larger movement. Before the legislative committee, Dr. Keller argued:

Ellis reading Keller: If that bill goes through it will be immediately sent into the courts on protest of being unconstitutional and then when the vote for full suffrage really comes we will receive our answer, ‘O that question is now in court. Wait until that is settled and we’ll see about it then.’

Beckley: Even members of the same organization voiced their disagreement during the meeting. Prominent WFL member Belle Tutewiler broke with her WFL colleagues to support the bill. Her argument in favor of partial suffrage was to use this limited franchise to pry open the door of full suffrage. Her point may have been overshadowed by her fiery language. She called the league’s opposition “childish” and stated:

Ellis readiness Tuttewiler: It is mere child’s play to say that if we can not get all, we will take nothing. I think it would be better to take school suffrage now and use that as an entering wedge for full suffrage later.

Beckley: As the debate continued, the women’s language grew more contentious. In the midst of the discussion, Elizabeth Stanley of Liberty threw open a suitcase “scattering yards and yards of cards bearing a petition for full suffrage” and “ridiculed the idea of using school suffrage as a wedge.”

The women exchanged more heated words before the ineffective meeting was adjourned and the partial suffrage bill abandoned.

Public clashes such as these weren’t great press, and the WFL and ESA knew it. The organizations, both experienced in publicity, realized they needed to present a united front before the General Assembly. After all, both groups supported a proposed amendment to the constitution that would remove the word “male” as criteria to vote.  The WFL and ESA would march to the Indiana statehouse on March 3, 1913, the same day 5,000 suffragists paraded through the nation’s capital. Five hundred Hoosier suffragists from across the state walked into the statehouse that Monday afternoon.  As historian Jill Weiss Simins points out, this was not a celebratory parade, nor was it a raucous demonstration.  It was a protest. The suffrage bills being considered by the General Assembly were unlikely to pass and the Senate had already rejected at least one of the pending propositions earlier in the day. The suffragists were there not because they thought any “immediate good” would come from the day’s session. Rather, hundreds of women marched into their capitol that day to make their collective power felt.

In fact, even in the unlikely event that one of the measures were to pass on that day, it had to be approved again at the next session in 1915, and then voted on in a statewide referendum in 1916 at the earliest. Hoosier suffragists had lost this battle before, celebrating the passage of suffrage bills at one session, just to be disappointed at the next. The women marching in the Indiana statehouse that day would have, if anything, been cautiously hopeful, rather than celebratory if the bill passed, because they knew passage of a bill didn’t always lead to a change in law. Their spirit would have been somber and determined.

The women were there to “work on the legislature,” to show them that suffrage was not a fringe movement, that a large number of Hoosier women demanded the vote. Decked in yellow “Votes for Women” lapel ribbons, the women walked through the statehouse, stopping to pin ribbons on a few willing lawmakers, like Governor Samuel Ralston. Most Indiana lawmakers didn’t take a ribbon, and pages mocked the women’s efforts.

Because their march was a protest, they chose to silently file first into the House and then to the Senate. Lawmakers would have to face legions of the state’s most upstanding Hoosiers before voting to continue to deny them their right as citizens. As predicted, the suffragists didn’t achieve their legislative aims, but they didaccomplish their goal in marching: they presented a united front. Even in the face of this success, suffragists were mocked as ignorant women with the Indianapolis News writing,

Clark reading from Newspaper: Although hundreds of suffragists were jammed in the senate when Senator Grube introduced to the state Constitution to allow women suffrage, no one of them seemed to realize what ‘was doing.’ No demonstrations of any sort took place.

Beckley: This claim that the women didn’t realize what was happening is preposterous. Many of these women had dedicated their life to the cause – does it seem likely that they would have been ignorant of any upcoming legislation that would lead to victory? Of course not. What’s more, the leaders of the WFL and ESA had been working with members of the General Assembly on the legislation in question. But this protest wasn’t about legislation. It was about perseverance. And they would need that perseverance. Hoosier suffragists had a long road ahead of them.

If anything, this legislative defeat galvanized the suffragists and weeks after the march, Dr. Keller stated:

Ellis reading Keller: Against this new spirit of women nothing can stand. The wave of their determination cannot be stayed by any legislature bidding it make no further progress. It will come on and on, sweeping all obstacles which attempt to bar its path.

Beckley: Once the women made their presence known in the statehouse, they were determined to make it felt constantly. In 1914, Grace Julian Clarke formed a lobbying group, the Legislative Council of Indiana Women. The council held lawmakers’ feet to the fire regarding women’s rights bills and represented 50,000 Hoosier women from various and diverse groups. Securing an office in the statehouse, suffragists worked alongside AP statehouse reporters.

Suffragists also worked to keep the issue in front of the public. Between Illinois Street and Monument Circle a bugle sounded in the spring of 1914, summoning 300 men and women. They listened, some on foot and others in cars, as Luella McWhirter read the Woman’s Declaration of Independence and the Anthony Amendment (what would become the 19th Amendment). Suffragists like Clarke used the power of the press to inform the public about women’s right to vote. Others continued to court the laboring classes, slipping pro-suffrage literature into the hands of reform-minded celebrants at Fountain Square’s May Day festivities.In 1915, Anna Dunn Noland secured the endorsement of 1,600 miners at a national convention in Indianapolis. Support for the cause seemed to be increasing daily.

In working for the right  vote, women in Indiana and across the nation found their civic and political voice as never before. Decades of winning and then losing the right to vote didn’t quell their determination. It gave them a chance to hone their organizational skills, articulate the many rationales for women’s enfranchisement, and learn how to weather criticism. In the reinvigorated movement of the early 20th century empowered Hoosier suffragists enrolled in public speaking courses and hosted citizenship classes in their homes. Surely, as the audacious women pressed forward, the fear that the ballot would always be just out of reach lingered. But on the horizon was an event that would change the course of history, and the fortunes of suffragists: World War I.

In the next episode, we’ll discuss how Hoosier women clenched the long-awaited vote, in part, by leveraging war relief work.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is produced by the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. I’d like to thank Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and the director of the Propylaeum Liz Ellis for lending their voices to the show. This episode was written by Nicole Politika and Jill Weiss Simins. Sound engineering by Justin Clark and production by Jill Weiss Simins. We’ll be back in two weeks with another installment of Giving Voice. Until then, find us on Faceook and twitter as the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to like, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

Listen to part two here.

Show Notes for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly

Music:

If you’re interested in the story of Indiana’s Suffrage Movement, we highly suggest reading Dr. Anita Morgan’s book, We Must Be Fearless.

Read more about the suffrage movement in Indiana with the Indiana History Blog.

Newspapers

Indianapolis News, June 10, 1913, 5.

Indianapolis News, May 2, 1913, 23.

Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1914, 5.

Blog Posts

Jill Weiss Simins, “A Silent Roar: Indiana Suffragists’ 1913 March to the Statehouse,” Indiana History Blog.

Jill Weiss Simins, ”Suffrage Up in the Air:” The Equal Suffrage Association’s 1912 Publicity Campaign,” Indiana History Blog.

Books

Anita Morgan, We Must Be Fearless”: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana, IHS Press, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2020.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 6, Susan B. Anthony, 1922.

“Suffrage Up In The Air:” The Equal Suffrage Association’s 1912 Publicity Campaign

By the start of the twentieth century, Hoosier suffragists were experienced political actors. They had spent decades exerting pressure on public officials to end discriminatory practices against women and lobbying for the vote. They delivered speeches and petitions to the Indiana General Assembly and the United States Congress. They marched, organized, lobbied, and strategized. But their success was limited because of one infuriating Catch-22: the women trying to gain the vote were often ignored by politicians because they were not voters. It became clear that they needed to change public opinion on a grand scale. They did this through broad public actions like demonstrations and parades, but they were not above the occasional publicity stunt.

During the summer of 1912, the women of the Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) had become “masters of publicity,” according to historian Dr. Anita Morgan.[1] The stakes were high. Governor Thomas Marshall was attempting to introduce a new state constitution with stricter voter requirements that would continue to exclude women from the ballot box. In response, the ESA worked to expand its organization, adding labor and African American branches, and reach women across the state.[2] In the spring and summer of 1912, during the weeks leading up to the state convention, the ESA got especially innovative.

Indianapolis News, January 11, 1912, 3, Newspapers.com.

In May, physician and ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham of Indianapolis invited sociologist and suffrage lecturer Elizabeth N. Barr of Topeka, Kansas to speak at an upcoming meeting. Barr planned to deliver her speech, “Active and Passive Opposition to Suffrage.” Barr hoped this would draw some anti-suffragists to the meetings as she was “anxious to debate with some person who is opposed to woman suffrage.”[3]

Indianapolis Star, August 2, 1912, 7, Newspapers.com.

Determined to draw press attention to this important talk, Dr. Graham came up with a creative strategy. She proposed they charter a hot air balloon to carry Barr high above Indianapolis and drop suffrage buttons to curious onlookers below. Barr agreed to the stunt, “declared that all true suffragists are ‘game,’ and was glad to prove the contention to the public.”[4]

Dr. Graham and other ESA leaders followed the balloon through the city in a parade of automobiles, drawing even more attention to their campaign. Her strategy worked and the press reported widely on the “Balloon Jaunt,” as the Indianapolis Star called it.[5] Fortunately, the stunt didn’t overshadow their message as newspapers reported on the upcoming meeting and Barr’s speech, as well as Graham’s goals with the airdrop:

Dr. Graham said the association encouraged the flight in order to show that woman was capable of entering any sphere of life, even a high one.[6]

“Votes for Women Button Early 1900s,” Indiana Historical Society Digital Collections.

Interestingly, the balloon, the Duesseldforfer II, was donated for the trip by the Indianapolis Brewing Company. This is notable as some suffrage organizations were also prohibitionists, an alliance that had regularly hurt the suffrage cause throughout Indiana history. The ESA was likely making a public statement that they were working only for the vote not for prohibition. They likely hoped this public collaboration with a brewing company would draw people to their cause who supported women’s rights and enjoyed their beer.

“The Successful Start for Westminster,” photomechanical print, Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, Rare Book And Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.
“Mureil Matters,” photomechanical print, 1909, NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, Rare Book And Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.

Dr. Graham and ESA leaders were evidently studying the tactics of other suffrage organizations around the globe, as there were a few recent precedents for the balloon stunt. In 1909, Australian-born British suffragist Muriel Matters chartered an airship (similar to a blimp) to fly over West Minster during a procession of the members of Parliament led by King Edward VII. Her balloon, branded with a large “Votes for Women,” was blown off course and did not make an appearance over Parliament. Nonetheless, Matters garnered an enormous amount of publicity for the Women’s Freedom League.[7]

The ESA’s May 1912 success in drawing press attention with the balloon air drop would have been on their minds as they prepared for their statewide conference in June.

[Anna Dunn Noland] Indianapolis Star, June 18, 1916, 47, Newspapers.com.
For the state convention they pulled out all the stops. ESA organizers posted “press notices in every daily and weekly paper” and ensured “large posters [were] put up at the cross roads in every county” with “banners stretched across Broadway announcing the date.”[8]  They created circulars that were sent to women’s club and suffrage meetings across the state. On June 22, 1912, the Saturday before the state convention, the ESA arranged for “the meeting circulars announcing it and a parade were dropped over the city from an airship.”[9] The circulars were written by Anna Dunn Noland, a leading Logansport suffragist and the ESA’s publicity chairman. Her words remain powerful:

To the Progressive Women of Indiana, Greetings:

On June 28 and 29, 1912, the equal suffragists of Indiana will assemble in state convention at Logansport, Ind. To report the progress of the woman suffrage and to confer upon existing conditions and the best methods to work in the state.

Since the purpose of the Indiana Equal Suffrage Association is to secure for the women of the state the right to vote, we have called this convention.

Six of the states of the Union have granted full suffrage to women, and many of our neighboring states are in the midst of active campaigns, but Indiana still refuses to allow her voters to consider this question.

This will not be a convention of an exclusive class, but a democratic meeting of all classes.

Come and take part in the discussions and give the stimulating influence of your presence to the work.

Women of Indiana, this is your organization and this is your work. Come and show that you are no longer satisfied to be ignored and that you insist in having a voice in this government.[10]

The ESA’s hard work paid off. Over 50,000 Hoosiers watched the suffragists parade through the streets of Logansport and “every business house was beautifully dressed in suffrage colors.”[11] In addition, “the convention was widely noticed by the press” and other suffrage organizations. In fact,that September, Wisconsin suffragists hired a “great air pilot,” who “scattered suffrage flyers from the airship which he took up into the clouds at the State Fair in 1912.”[12] The ESA’s success with their suffrage circular airdrop may have been their inspiration.

Fort Wayne News, August 7, 1912, 1, Newspapers.com.

The ESA’s much anticipated state convention was progressive and productive. The organization committed to further political action. Dr. Graham reported to the large convention audience that ESA representatives recently attended the Democratic State Convention to pressure the party to add a women’s suffrage plank to its platform. Unfortunately, only “one or two of them thought of putting such a plank in the platform worth considering.”[13] In response, they would be attending the Republican State Convention to again advocate for a suffrage plank. Dr. Graham called on ESA members to pressure candidates to make public statements in support of suffrage and to sever ties with political candidates who did not support their right to vote. She called this the “Woman’s Declaration of Independence” and the convention voted to adopt it. The ESA declared:

We believe that women will attain their inherent right by agitation and organization, and that they may have influence in the political world; be it

Resolved, That the delegates of the third annual convention of the Indiana Equal Suffrage association hereby instruct our incoming officers to forward a communication to each candidate for the Indiana state legislature of each political party, requesting an expression from said candidate on the subject of equal suffrage for the purpose of placing all candidates for the Indiana general assembly on record.[14]

Finally, the convention circulated a petition to present to the next Indiana General Assembly calling for a suffrage amendment to the state constitution. The ESA continued their publicity campaign throughout the summer. According to the History of Woman Suffrage:

Billboards were covered with posters and barns, fences and stones along the country roadways were decorated with ‘Votes for Women.’ Free literature was distributed and handbills were given out at every opportunity. Sunday afternoon meetings were held in picture show halls in many towns. Booths were secured at county and street fairs. Tents were placed on Chautauqua grounds with speakers and all kinds of suffrage supplies. This program was kept up until the World War called the women to other duties.[15]

In 1912, women’s suffrage was truly “up in the air.” It was not just a “matter of time.” Many people, including Indiana’s governor and many lawmakers, opposed women’s right to vote. Women gained suffrage because of their hard work and shrewd politicking, but the odd stunt in some sort of aircraft probably didn’t hurt either.

Further Reading

Read more about Hoosier suffrage publicity campaigns in Dr. Anita Morgan’s Indiana History Blog post: “Taking It to the Streets: Hoosier Women’s Suffrage Automobile Tour.”

This post was inspired by Dr. Morgan’s mention of the air drop on page 102 of her book, We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana.

Notes

[1] Anita Morgan, We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2020), 102.
[2] Ibid., 102, 110-112.
[3] “Suffragist to Take Balloon Jaunt Here,” Indianapolis Star, May 11, 1912, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Suffrage Up In The Air,” Indianapolis News, May 11, 1912, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.
[7] “The Successful Start for Westminster,” photomechanical print, Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, Rare Book And Special Collections Division, accessed Library of Congress; Beverley Cook, “Shades of Militancy,” January 31, 2018, Museum of London, accessed https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/shades-militancy-forgotten-suffragettes.
[8] Chapter 13: Indiana, Part 1, in History of Woman Suffrage, ed. Ida Husted Harper (New York: J. J. Little & Ives Company, 1922), 168, accessed  GoogleBooks.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “Suffragets [sic] Held Meeting,” Elwood Call-Leader, June 25, 1912, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[11] Chapter 13: Indiana, Part 1, 168.
[12] Theodora W. Youmans, “How Wisconsin Women Won the Ballot,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 5, No. 1 (September 1921): 21, accessed JSTOR.
[13] “Meeting of Suffragists,” Tipton Daily Tribune, June 29, 1912, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.
[14] “Mrs. Nolan Again Head of Equal Suffragists,” Muncie Star Press, June 30, 1912, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.
[15] Chapter 13: Indiana, Part 1, 168.

Taking It to the Streets: Hoosier Women’s Suffrage Automobile Tour

Indianapolis Star, June 6, 1912, 5, courtesy of Grace Julian Clarke’s scrapbooks.

“Five prominent suffragists wooed Nora, stormed Carmel, showed Westfield the sun of political equality rising in the East, and splintered their verbal swords, maces, spears and daggers against two club closing days and a bridge party in Noblesville.”  The June 6, 1912, edition of the Indianapolis Star vividly described what was probably the first women’s suffrage automobile tour in the state. The suffragists in question—Sara Lauter, Grace Julian Clarke, Mrs. R. Harry Miller, Julia Henderson, and Mrs. W.T. Barnes—represented the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL), one of the two major suffrage organizations in the state (the other was the Equal Suffrage Association).

This Hamilton County event was part of the Woman’s Franchise League’s re-energized campaign to get the vote.  After sixty-one years of petitioning state legislators to enact laws that recognized women’s right to vote with no success, the WFL decided to take its arguments more directly to the people.  Suffragists wanted to better inform the public about the benefits for all people when women voted and hoped that constituents would in turn pressure their legislators to enact women’s suffrage legislation.  The WFL needed to garner enough support over the summer of 1912, when travel was easiest in the still very rural state, to have suffrage legislation introduced in the 1913 state legislative session. Gov. Thomas Marshall had added an urgency to the task with his proposed new state constitution.  Marshall wanted only “literate male citizens of the United States who were registered in the state and had paid a poll tax for two years” to be permitted to vote. The existing state constitution, with its arcane amendment system, which had prevented women from gaining the vote in 1883, at least did not designate a sex as criteria for voting as Marshall’s proposal did.

To get their message to the people, the WFL came up with innovative publicity ideas. At the WFL’s request, women’s suffrage supporter and former U.S. Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks hosted a heavily attended suffrage-themed lawn party at his Meridian Street home. WFL member Lucy Riesenberg suggested a suffrage baseball game. The Indianapolis Athletic Association, owners of the local field, agreed to host the event as long as the WFL sold 3,000 tickets at 50 cents each.  The suffragists deemed those terms “unreasonable” and dropped the idea. Grace Julian Clarke, ardent member of both the WFL and the Federation of Clubs, urged the group to pursue a suffrage auto tour as she heard had been completed by suffragists in Wisconsin. Sara Lauter offered the use of her car for the occasion and they almost immediately put the plan into action.  What better way to reach women than to go directly to them.

Indianapolis News, June 6, 1912, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

On June 5, the five suffragists fastened a yellow “Votes for Women” banner to the side of Lauter’s car, loaded suffrage flyers and themselves into it, and set out from Indianapolis at 9:30 a.m.  Traveling north, they left some of the flyers behind in Nora and then motored to Westfield.  A group of men and women suffragists hosted the travelers at the public library, where everyone enjoyed lunch and the Indianapolis women gave short talks about how women voters could improve the lives of mothers, working women, and everyone else. Westfield suffragists formed a new WFL branch league on the spot, with Mrs. N.O. Stanbrough named President of the new group, Anna D. Stephens named Vice President, and Lizzie Tresmire as both Secretary and Treasurer.  The enthusiastic Westfield women even offered to travel to the village of Carmel, just three or four miles to the south, to establish a branch suffrage league there. When the Indianapolis suffragists returned to their car to take their message to Noblesville, they found it decorated with peonies, roses, and lilacs.

Indianapolis News, June 6, 1912, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Noblesville visit did not go as planned. The WFL suffragists had unfortunately chosen an inconvenient day for their visit. Women’s clubs did not meet in the summer and June 5 was the last meeting day of the year for two Noblesville clubs. The final day of the club season was a highlight of any club’s yearly program and not to be missed—even for a suffrage auto tour. Disappointed with the small number of women who attended the meeting at the First Presbyterian Church, but understanding the importance of the last day of the club year, WFL suffragists made the best of a bad situation. First, they promised to return the following week, and Mrs. Harry Alexander, Mrs. Walter Sanders, and Mrs. Charles Neal of Noblesville agreed to make the arrangements. Second, Clarke and Lauter took to the streets, where they distributed suffrage flyers and talked to unsuspecting shoppers and business owners around the courthouse square.  At the end of the day, the suffragists headed south to Allisonville, distributed more flyers, returned to Indianapolis around 5:00, and declared their first auto tour “a good day’s work.”

Motivated by their warm reception in Westfield and undaunted by the problems in Noblesville, suffragists chose Boone County as their next destination and traveled to Zionsville and Lebanon the following week. Hanging the “Votes for Women” banner from Mary Winter’s car, Winter, Julia Henderson, and Celeste Barnhill took on the task. The Rev. G.W. Nutter hosted the suffrage meeting at his church, the Zionsville Christian Church.  He announced his full support for women voting and asked to be allowed to join the WFL.  As had happened in Westfield, other men also attended the meeting and displayed as much support for the cause as women.  Winter and Barnhill welcomed them and noted the support the WFL received from many men.  They worried more, it seems, that some women remained indifferent to the vote. They tried to turn that indifference into support by explaining how the vote had the potential to improve the lives of all women through enactment of health and sanitation laws, regulations on child labor, and even by limiting or prohibiting the manufacture or sale of alcohol.

Indianapolis Star, June 13, 1912, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

Leaving behind suffrage flyers in Zionsville, the women trekked to the courthouse in Lebanon for their next meeting.  This time, Mary Winter stressed that women voters could bring about the introduction of new legislation that dealt with working conditions and wages, liquor legislation, and vice regulation. She noted that women who worked in factories realized the need for the ballot more than women who did not work outside the home.  She hoped that those two groups of women would join forces and improve working and living conditions for everyone.  As with Zionsville, while the crowd expressed an interest in the cause, Boone County residents did not create a new suffrage organization.

In the end, Marshall did not get his new state constitution that would have explicitly forbidden women from voting.  He instead joined the ticket of Democratic presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson and in the November 1912 election became the Vice President of the United States.  No suffrage legislation passed out of the 1913 state legislative session.  In spite of that setback, auto tours became a standard means to reach women.  In Indianapolis, suffragists used automobiles as speaking platforms for impromptu street meetings. By standing in their cars, women were elevated enough above the crowd to clearly be seen and heard.

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

As a sign of the success of the auto tours, street meetings, and other suffrage work, in 1917 the state legislature had granted women partial suffrage (they could vote for some state officials). After a court challenge, however, the state Supreme Court ruled the partial suffrage bill unconstitutional.  Before that ruling, suffragists, sometimes with a public notary in tow, traveled the state in cars adorned with “Votes for Women” banners to be sure that women registered to vote.  Thousands of women registered in the summer of 1917 in part because of the persistent auto tours of the WFL. The experiment of 1912 became the standard means of reaching Hoosier women and promoting suffrage in even the remotest part of the state.

On January 16, 1920, the Indiana General Assembly ratified the 19th Amendment to the federal Constitution which recognized women’s right to vote. Finally, after federal ratification, Indiana women from all walks of life, sometimes with children in tow, stood in line in the bitterly cold weather to vote on November 2, 1920. Even an automobile accident did not prevent one Indianapolis woman from voting when, after a quick trip to the hospital, a friend drove her to her polling place.  The automobile proved crucial not only in getting the vote, but to the voting booth.

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

Further Reading:

Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello, Women Will Vote:  Winning Suffrage in New York State (Ithaca:  Three Hills Press of Cornell University Press, 2017).

Genevieve G. McBride, On Wisconsin Women:  Working for Their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993).

Eleanor Flexnor and Ellen Fitzpatrick, Century of Struggle:  The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge:  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Enlarged Edition 1996).