Harriot Stanton Blatch, 1856 – 1940
From the moment of her birth on January 8,1856 Harriot Stanton Blatch had the mantle of the woman suffrage movement tucked firmly around her. As the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, organizer of the 1848 Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Conference, and head of the movement, there was small chance she could escape involvement, had she even wanted to.
The Stanton family would eventually include seven children and was lively and boisterous. Her father Henry was a journalist and popular speaker for the abolition movement, and since both parents were intensely involved with the politics and issues of the day Harriot and her sister spent summers with their aunts and grandmother in Johnstown, New York. In that enclave of women Harriot learned to think for herself, and to form and voice her own opinions, the first action of which was changing the spelling of her first name from Harriet to Harriot!
She graduated from Vassar College in 1878 and spent the next few years traveling through Europe, eventually meeting William Henry Blatch, (Harry), an Englishman whom she married in 1882. For twenty years she lived in Basingstoke, England where their two daughters were born. But Harriot never really felt at home in England, especially since marriage to Harry caused her to lose her American citizenship. (Such restrictions didn’t apply to men.)
When Harriot and her family eventually moved back to the United States in 1902, she discovered the suffrage movement was mired in “the doldrums” of inactivity and lethargy. Only five states offered women the rights of full suffrage, and interest in the movement had waned. When her mother died in 1902 she began working in earnest to infuse it with new energy and spirit.
One of her first goals was to make known to all women, across the spectrums of ethnicity, age, race and income, the importance the vote held for them. In 1907 she founded the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women to help impress upon such women the ways in which the vote could change their lives. She also began involving wealthy women in the movement, reasoning that the wealthy had the time and resources to work for the cause. In 1910 the organization’s name was officially changed to the Women’s Political Union. (WPU).
Harriot was active in the communities near her home at Shoreham on Long Island, organizing and speaking at meetings, inviting Long Island suffragists to march with her in New York City, and generally trying to include all groups in the work. In 1916 the WPU joined with the Congressional Union (CU) of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, and became active in picketing the White House, attempting to convince President Wilson to back the suffrage cause.
With the advent of World War I Harriot left the vigorous battle for the Amendment in the hands of the younger suffragists, convinced that it would only be a matter of time before victory would be achieved, and put her prodigious energies into the war effort, heading the Food Administration’s Speakers’ Bureau and the Woman’s Land Army. Her book, Mobilizing Woman Power, written in 1918 emphasized the contributions European women were making to the War effort, and the need for their American counterparts to do the same. After full suffrage was finally won in 1920 Harriot continued to work with the National Woman’s Party for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and for rights of women throughout the world. She died in 1940, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.
Harriot Stanton Blatch’s legacy as a great leader of the woman suffrage movement does not rest simply on her position as the daughter of its founder. Rather it rests on what she did with that inheritance, how she shaped it and refocused it to fit the challenges of her own life and times. Her life was not without sorrow – her daughter Helen died in 1896; she lost her husband in 1915. But she did not let sorrow deter her from her work, skillfully drawing on the lessons of the past to plan for the needs of the future, pioneering alliances that were crucial to the movement’s success. She may have begun with a desire to continue her mother’s life’s work, but in the end her efforts created a lasting legacy that was entirely her own.
Happy Birthday, Harriot Stanton Blatch!