Placing a name with a face opens up a new dimension as I research our local suffragists. Through the Hall family, I was able to see a picture of Hannah Hall Sisson. She had been part of a database of 40 women I found involved in the Newport County Woman Suffrage League. With her picture in front of me, I began to think of her as a person with her own story. Our culture has portrayed the suffragists as radical and militant. There are other words I would use to describe our Portsmouth suffragists. Caring, community centered and dedicated are the words I would use. Hannah Hall Sisson played a small role in the suffrage movement, but she illustrates what I have found about the women in general.

I search the vintage newspaper databases to gather information about the lives of the women. Hannah was very dedicated to her church, St. Paul’s Episcopal. Many of the local suffragists were part of St. Paul’s women’s groups – Grace Hicks, Emeline Eldredge, Veva Storrs and Abby Sherman among them. Their activities went beyond socials and they supported causes such as raising funds for the Girl’s Friendly Society which was an Episcopalian society that sought to help girls – especially working girls. The women of St. Pauls held fundraisers like whist parties which helped them donate to homes for these young girls. One newspaper clipping in 1927 records that they were donating to “St. Virgin’s Home” in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Like most of the Portsmouth suffragists, Hannah lived in the Bristol Ferry neighborhood. It is very clear that the early roots of the Newport County league were neighborhood meetings at Sarah Eddy’s Social Studio or Cora Mitchel’s home. Hannah had long roots in the Bristol Ferry area and grew up there.

We may focus on winning the right to vote, but the suffragists were concerned about the rights of women in general. Women, especially married women, were just beginning to get rights to their own children. They had to fight for rights to own property on their own or even to keep what they earned. For too long husbands had all the rights. I don’t know Hannah’s story, but from newspaper clippings I know that she had to fight for guardianship of her daughter and she had to sue her husband to gain the income from a property that was willed to her and her daughter. Hannah was tenacious in fighting for her rights. In the suffrage movement she would be fighting for more than just the right to vote.