The Youngest Suffragist: Olivia Watson (1900-1985)

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Olivia Watson Hoffman and her poetry book – The Four Seasons.

Olivia Lyman Watson was only seventeen or eighteen when she served as a corresponding secretary for the Newport County Woman’s Suffrage League in 1918 and 1919. Maud Howe Elliott, Julia Ward Howe’s daughter, had taken over the presidency of the group and Olivia might have joined through her influence. Later newspaper articles mention that Olivia was related to Julia Ward Howe. Olivia was very proud of her deep Rhode Island family roots.  She was a descendent of one of the first Newport founders, Thomas Hazard.  Ancestors William Green Arnold and John Cook served as colonels in the Continental Army.

Early newspaper articles identify her as “Olive” but she seemed to use “Olivia” as she was older.  She thought of herself as a literary woman.  In a newspaper interview she said that her forebears were founders of the Redwood Library in Newport, one of the oldest libraries in the United States.  She was a member of the League of American Pen Women and contributed articles and poetry to a number of publications.  Olivia was a published poet and she said she wrote poetry from childhood.  In an interview she said – “I can’t remember when poetry did not sing itself to me.”

She married a Navy officer, Joseph H. Hoffman, in Newport in 1929 and she moved all over the country as a Navy wife.  She always kept her Newport connections and visited Aquidneck Island frequently.  Later in life she became a song writer and  wrote the words to a “Breaker’s Ball” song and it was performed at the Breakers by the Meyer Davis Orchestra.  She even wrote a campaign song in 1968 for Richard Nixon called “Win with Dick” which was used at campaign rallies.

Georgie Nichols Wentz (1858-1945) – Society Suffragist

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What is your image of the suffragists?  Georgie Wentz may not fit the stereotypes.  Her campaign against immodesty in women’s evening dress got  coverage in the New York Times and other publications.  She opposed cocktails, cigarettes and the “drug habit.”  Apart from suffrage, her passion was electing Republicans.  Even before she was able to vote she worked on the campaigns of Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley.  She actually went door to door in the tenements of New York to campaign for her candidates.

When Maude Howe Elliott took over as President of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League the center of league activities moved to Newport. Georgie Nichols Wentz (Mrs. James Griswold) is a good example of the Newport summer colonists that joined the league and helped the effort. While in Newport, Georgie Wentz worked hard for her causes.  As early as 1914 Newport County Woman Suffrage League meetings were being held at the Wentz home – “Beaumaris.” Newspaper articles show her as a speaker at  suffrage meetings and demonstrations.   In 1915 she helped with Mrs. Belmont’s event at Marble House.  Mrs. Wentz (along with several other socialite suffragists) are listed as Vice-Presidents of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League in 1917.

Like many of the suffragists, Georgie Wentz helped in the war effort during World War I.  She opened her estate in Newport to entertain sailers from the Naval Training School.  She was an active member of the Red Cross.

Once women secured the vote, Mrs. Wentz focused on organizing the Newport County Woman’s Republican Club.  She established her headquarters on Thames Street and by the mid 1920’s she had 400 members.

Sources:  Biographical Cyclopaedia of American Women, Alvord Publishing, 1924.

Newspaper clippings from Newport Mercury and New York papers.

“Society Suffragist Replies to Attack of Professor”

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Katherine McCormick’s glamorous image graced the front page of national newspapers in October of 1913. The newspaper articles told of a scene at the Colonial Theater in Newport.  The Rhode Island Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage rented the hall for a free lecture by a noted journalist who opposed the suffrage movement.  The Boston Globe (11/11/1913) reported that after Talcott Williams spoke against “votes for women” the three women (Katherine McCormick, Maude Howe Elliott and Mrs. James Wentz) “arose one after another, and refuted every argument he had made.  Their pointed questions worried Mr. Williams considerably, it is said, but he stood his ground — that is, he remained on the platform until the end of the meeting.   The Anti-Suffragists, however, marched indignantly out of the hall – a pantomime of what they thought of the performance. Then the Suffragists forces ended the meeting with a demonstration for their ’cause,’ the Anti-Suffragists having paid for the use of the theatre for the evening.”

Who was  “Society Suffragist” Katherine Dexter McCormick?  Katherine was well educated.  She graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1904 with a degree in biology. That same year she married Stanley McCormick whose father, Cyrus McCormick, had patented the mechanical reaper.  By 1906 Stanley McCormick was diagnosed with a catatonic dementia.  Katherine had little say over Stanley’s care and she and all other women were kept from seeing him.  Katherine remained married to Stanley and sought to use new hormone treatments to cure him.  There were constant legal battles over his care.

She fought for a voice on other issues and by 1908 she began to be quite an active speaker and benefactor for the cause of woman suffrage.  Based in Boston, Katherine was an officer in the Massachusetts and national suffrage movement.  She became the first auditor for the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1912 and 1913.  She went to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance Congress at Budapest and was elected to the International board.

How was Katherine connected to the Newport County Woman Suffrage League?  Mrs. McCormick spent her summers in Newport, renting properties on Bellevue Avenue.  When in Newport, Katherine would be a speaker for the league and she would host league meetings at her gracious homes.  The local suffrage league benefited from her state, national and international connections.  For example, she shared her personal experiences at the International Congress at Budapest at a time when news resources were limited to the newspapers.

She is quoted as saying:  “To come into contact with the suffrage movement means, to some individuals, to come into a larger world of thought and action than they had known before.  To others it means approaching the same world in a more real and effective way.  To all it gives a wider horizon in the recognition of one fact – that the broadest human airs and the highest human ideals are an integral part of the lives of women.” (Hutchinson Gazette, 10-12-1912)

When the vote for women was won, Katherine was one of the founders of the League of Women Voters.  She continued her philanthropy by funding housing for women at MIT and she provided necessary funding for the development of “the Pill” and research on the long term effects of the birth control pill.  She may have been a “socialite” but she used her considerable resources for social causes dear to her.

Aquidneck Island and Influenza in 1918-19

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Few of us remember that we have seen a very deadly outbreak before. How did Aquidneck Island cope with what was called the “Spanish Flu?”  Newspaper accounts give us an idea of what things were like. There are many parallels between what we are experiencing now and what they experienced over a hundred years ago.

By Fall of 1919 public health officials had learned some lessons. This is the advice given in a September 27, 1919 Newport Mercury article.

“People who have influenza symptoms should not be kept on at work the way they did last fall, thus spreading the fatal scourge all over the county. It was shown that a person having the disease mildly might communicate it to others who would have it severely and die therefrom. People who have even a slight case have no right to endanger the lives of others by venturing out in the public. They will be far safer themselves by remaining at home, and caution on their part will save the community from great peril.”

The September 27, 1918 Mercury had more healthy tips. “Live a simple life, do not over-eat, be sure to keep your house well ventilated with keeping room windows wide open. Be careful not to cough or sneeze in a public place, if you must, then always use the protecting handkerchief…. It is hopeful that many are predicting a short-lived outbreak and that the worst is over, but the real serious epidemics of this disease in the past do not warrant such a conclusion.”

We know from articles in November of 1918 that churches were closed because of the influenza.

The Newport Mercury would weekly list the influenza patients and how they were doing.

Newport Mercury September 28, 1918: “William A. Smith and Allen Smith, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Smith who have been ill with Spanish influenza, are recovering slowly. Mrs. William F. Grinnell and son Albert, who have also been suffering with it, are able to be up. Joseph Rose is serious ill with the same complaint. Mr. Charles Almy, who has been very ill, is recovering.”

There were also too many death notices. Some of those notices showed the place of death being Emergency Hospital in Newport. The overload at Newport Hospital was so great that a separate hospital was opened up.

From Newport Mercury on Oct. 5, 1918: “The conditions Friday morning seemed a little improved, as few cases had been reported during the preceding day, and the number of deaths in the city had also been reduced. The city emergency hospital on Maple Avenue was opened on Friday, with two nurses in attendance. Two wards were opened at first, as it was hoped that this might be sufficient. Great difficulty was experienced in securing nurses.” By November the 9th the Emergency Hospital was closed. Newport officials authorized a thousand dollars to pay for the expenses of the Emergency Hospital and bills from the flu emergency.

An article in the Newport Mercury on Oct.4, 1918 gives us some interesting insights. The article was hopeful that the cases of the influenza had reached the peak in Newport. On Monday there had been 222 reported, but by Tuesday the number had dropped to 160. The death rate would not go down so quickly. Deaths usually came days after beginning of the disease, so more deaths would come. The article urged the readers to continue being careful. “We cannot let up with precautions and cannot lift bans. Daily inquiries about if one can hold this or that gathering are simply a waste of effort and the authorities are too busy to answer these questions.” Most of the normal entertainments were banned.




Suffragist Fanny Faulkner and her daughter Charlotte: Travel Writer

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Charlotte Almy Cameron

As I research the suffragists, I look for interesting stories.  Looking into Frances Sisson Faulkner (1847-1920) I found a link to a storyteller – Lady Charlotte Cameron.  She wrote the stories of her travels, but the story of how she evolved from a Portsmouth girl to a world renown traveller is an interesting and somewhat mysterious tale.

Fanny Faulkner was active in the Newport County Woman’s Suffrage League in the early days.  She  joined when there were only seventeen members and the meetings were held in the Bristol Ferry neighborhood.  By that time the league was beginning to branch out.  Fanny lived on Power Street off of East Main Road.  She was active in the Methodist Church, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society.  Like many of the league women, Fanny was a member of the board of the Portsmouth Free Public Library.   Fanny’s husband George was a fisherman.

Fannie had been married once before.  She had married Jacob Almy.  At age sixteen Jacob went to sea and travelled both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  He made two trips to Alaska for fishing and prospecting for gold.  He must have passed his love of travel to his daughter with Fannie – Charlotte Wales Almy.  In an interview with a Honolulu reporter, Charlotte portrayed a different view of her father.  She claimed her “ancestors were navy people and in roaming earth and sea in British domains upon which the sun never sets acquired the passion of the wanderlust.”  She portrayed herself as an orphan although both her parents were alive and living in Portsmouth when she came to visit in 1918.

According to local newspaper accounts, Charlotte left Portsmouth in 1904 to be a “traveling companion for a wealthy English lady.”  She was traveling even earlier because another newspaper account records a letter from “Miss Lottie Almy” about her travels in Scotland.  According to Charlotte, during her travels she met and married Lord Cameron who took his bride to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Her husband died after only a year, but after his death she travelled all over the world and became a famous travel writer recounting her adventures.  She became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Other newspaper accounts tell of her being awarded the Excellent Order of the British Empire.

In 1918 Charlotte came to Portsmouth to visit her mother on her way to an Alaskan adventure.  She gave travel talks at St. Paul’s Church to benefit the Red Cross.  She donated some of her travel books to the Portsmouth Free Public Library.  Among her books are accounts of travel in Africa, Mexico, South America and Alaska.  As her fame increased, Charlotte let people believe she was from Portsmouth, England instead of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. She also told the interviewer in Hawaii that her home in London had been home to five generations of her family.

Charlotte from a Feature article in Hawaii

If you search for information on her, she is listed as an English author.  There are conflicts between dates of her marriage and when she left for England.  It is difficult to know what was the truth and what was how Charlotte presented her past.  One quote attributed to her ties back to her father’s adventures. She wrote “when there runs through your veins the blood of sailors, soldiers, adventures, and hardy pioneers, yours is not a temperament that rejoices much in rest. Having seen most of this wonderful world, you have an unquenchable desire to explore yet farther”.

Newport Daily News:  Dec. 26, 1893

Newport Mercury: Nov. 1, 1919

Fall River Daily Evening News: Aug 24, 1918

More Bristol Ferry Suffragists


The History of Women Suffrage* notes that the work of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League was “at first largely carried out by an active group of philanthropic women of Bristol Ferry.”  In other blogs we have talked about some of the ladies who were founding members:   Sarah Eddy, Mary Ballou, Sophie and Cora Mitchel, Clara May Mitchel and Emeline Eldredge.  Who were some of the other women who served in leadership roles while the suffrage movement was centered in the Bristol Ferry neighborhood?   Some of the women had deep Portsmouth roots and were the typical wives, mothers and daughters – Lillian Wheeler Boone, Edith Chase, Letitia Lawton, Pearl Hicks, Marjorie Hicks, and Hannah Hall Sisson.

The philanthropic work these women (neighbors and friends) did drew them together.  Many of the women were active in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  The ladies of St. Paul’s were not just focused on religious causes. They were active in charitable outreach to the poor, young girls and the disabled.  The women were active in the fabric of Portsmouth society.  Many  helped organize the Newport County Agricultural Fair  Two were teachers at Bristol Ferry School.  Many of the women were also active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

The Newport County Woman’s Suffrage League was a sub-group of the American Woman Suffrage Association.  This organization believed in organizing at the local level and the Bristol Ferry group was a good example of the effectiveness of this strategy.  The Bristol Ferry women had advantages.  1.  Within the neighborhood there were women (Sarah Eddy and Mary Ballou) who had contacts with the national and state organization.  They regularly attended conferences and brought the information back to Portsmouth.  They circulated the suffrage publications. 2. The Bristol Ferry area is a natural neighborhood bounded by the Town Pond and shoreline of the bay.  The Social Studio and the Town Commons served as hubs of community gathering.  3.  Bristol Ferry was the transportation hub of Portsmouth.  This was before the Mt. Hope Bridge was built and Bristol Ferry landing was a junction of railroads, steamboats, and ferries.  The Fall River Line stopped there for easy access to New York. 4.  Bristol Ferry was a cultural and artistic center for Portsmouth.  There was a community of artists.

*The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume IV by Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper

Maud Howe Elliott (1854-1948): The Suffragist Who Had to Get Her Citizenship Back

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Can you imagine the U.S. Congress taking your citizenship away. That is what happened to Maud Howe Elliott (the daughter of Julia Ward Howe) and many other women. In 1907 the Congress passed the Expatriation Act which took citizenship away from American born women who had married a foreigner. Maud had married English artist John Elliott about 25 years before. What is interesting is that this applied ONLY to women. Men retained their citizenship if married to a foreign citizen. So when women got the vote in 1920, Maud could not cast a vote. She had to wait until another bill was passed. The Cable Act passed in 1922 BECAUSE women now had the vote and the politicians were anxious to solicit the votes of women. A newspaper article in June of 1923 records that Maud had petitioned the Superior Court in Newport in order to regain her citizenship under the Cable Act.*

I consider Maud to be a “Portsmouth Suffragist” although Newport and even Boston lay claim to her. She spent fourteen summers at her parents’ homes at Lawton’s Valley. As her mother Julia grew older, she spent more time with her at the Oak Glen home on Union Street. After her mother’s death in 1910, Maud and her husband John lived at Oak Glen. Oak Glen was a base of operation for the Newport County Suffrage League when Maud became president. Maud was a busy woman and she hesitated about taking on the presidency of the league.

Sept. 6, 1912: “Miss Cora Mitchell asks me to take the presidency of the Newport County Suffrage League. I delayed decision but suppose I shall in the end accept, unless we can find another person. With the heavy work I have undertaken as secretary of the Art Association and for the Progressive Party, this seems the last straw. **

Maud’s connections with both the Art Association and the Progressive Party drew many new women to the suffrage movement. As a co-founder of the Art Association, she had a great impact on Newport culture. She founded the Rhode Island Woman’s branch of the Progressive Party and she worked tirelessly for the party’s candidates. Most of the local suffragists favored the Republican Party.

Maud and the other ladies of the Newport County League did not believe in the militancy of the English suffragists or even noted Newport socialite Ava Belmont. However, they were not hesitant to press their case. Maud and others from the League “botton-holed” Rhode Island legislators in 1914. When the “Antis” (those against suffrage) rented a theater in Newport, Maud and two other League ladies came to refute their arguments. Maud was an excellent spokesman for the suffrage cause and she energized a new group of suffragists among Newport women and the summer socialite community.

*Rutland (Vermont) Daily Herald, June 5, 1923

** Maud Howe Elliott: Three Generations. Little Brown, 1923.

Community-minded Suffragist: Veva Storrs (1875-1950)

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Although her obituary makes no mention of her suffrage activities, Mrs Bertram Storrs (Veva) was singled out in the History of Woman Suffrage* as a key contributor to the movement in Newport County.  Veva was also an important member of the Portsmouth community for almost fifty years.  Like many of the other Portsmouth suffragists, she was deeply involved in community activities.

Born Veva Etheline Potter in 1875, she came to Portsmouth around 1903 as the bride of Dr. Bertram Storrs.  Dr. Storrs was the proverbial “country doctor” and he held many medical positions within the town, county and state.  They were often involved in activities together. When a movement started to hire a school district nurse, both Dr. Storrs and Veva were active on the committee.  It is interesting to note that many of our Portsmouth suffrage women were involved in the effort as well.  Maud Howe Elliott was a featured speaker and focused on combating the idea of “what was good enough for their fathers was good enough for them.”  Emeline Eldredge, another suffragist, chaired the committee.**

Veva was active in the St. Paul’s Ladies Guild and did a number of charitable works through that group and many of the Bristol Ferry Suffragists were active there as well.  Veva, Emeline Eldredge, and Sarah Eddy all served together on the Board of the Portsmouth Free Public Library.  Veva served on Girl Scout Councils, as a charter member of the Portsmouth Historical Society, and she was in charge of a Red Cross book drive (Victory Book Campaign) to collect books for service men.***

Mrs. Storr’s suffrage activities were centered around the Newport County Woman Suffrage League.  She served as secretary in 1913 and 1914.  Fall River Daily Evening News accounts (9/14/1909) show that she and Cora Mitchel (the founder of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League) were delegates to the state fair in Kingston.  Their role there was to “man” a table of suffrage literature and to talk to fairgoers about the cause.

The life and contributions of Veva Potter Storrs illustrate an important fact about the women of the Newport County Woman’s Suffrage League.  These were women who actively worked in their community.

*Ida Harper, ed.  The History of Woman Suffrage Vol. 6:  1900-1920 (New York:  J.J.Little, 1922, page 577-578

** Fall River Evening News 5/5/1914.

*** Newport Mercury, 1/22/1943.