Suffragist of the Month – February, 2018

Anna Howard Shaw, 1847 – 1919

Anna Howard Shaw was born in Northumberland England, February 14, 1847 and brought to the United States as a young child. The family settled on a remote farm in Michigan and depended on Anna to help with the farm work, thus restricting her time to attend school. She eventually moved to Big Rapids where she lived with her sister, and attended high school and college. She graduated from Boston Divinity School in 1878, but was refused ordination because she was a woman. She eventually became a minister in the Methodist Protestant Church, and later received a medical degree from Boston University, all amazing accomplishments for a woman at that time.

But all those interests were put aside when in 1887 she joined the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, and became a professional lecturer. In 1888 she met Susan B. Anthony, and was immediately enthralled by Susan’s dedication to the cause. In 1904 Anna became President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), a post she held until 1915. Under her guidance the association grew from 17,000 to 200,000 members, and saw several more states receive full suffrage. She traveled more than any other suffragist, lecturing four and five times a day, travelling by any conveyance she could find – train, automobile, wagon – eventually visiting every state in the union. During World Was I she also worked for the war effort, receiving the Distinguished Service Medal in 1919.

Along with Carrie Chapman Catt and other suffrage leaders Anna was unsympathetic with the more radical views of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, two young women who had become impatient with NAWSA and had formed the Congressional Union (CU) in Washington, DC. The CU’s goal was an amendment enfranchising all women throughout the nation, and to that end it sponsored parades and rallies, eventually leading to the controversial picketing of the White House in 1917. The schism between the two rival groups was detrimental to them both, and was only resolved with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Unfortunately, Anna Howard Shaw never lived to see that victory; she died July 2, 1919.

Anna Howard Shaw broke many barriers in her lifetime, overcoming myriad obstacles to become one of the first ordained woman ministers, and one of the first woman medical doctors. But she reserved her most fervent dedication for the suffrage movement that would allow women’s voices to finally be heard. In her autobiography, The Story of a Pioneer she said: “Nothing bigger can come to a human being than to love a great Cause more than life itself, and to have the privilege throughout life of working for that cause.”

Happy Birthday, Anna Howard Shaw.

3 Responses

  1. John Tepper Marlin February 6, 2018 at 5:48 pm | | Reply

    Detrimental to them both? Given the huge opposition to the 1913 women’s march in Washington (sponsored by the group that became the National Woman’s Party) on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s first inauguration, I find it hard to accept that rewriting of history. NAWSA had it all to themselves since the Civil War. The activists turned around public opinion in four years. The New York Times had it about right when they editorialized that the gold pen for the 19th Amendment went to NAWSA and the silver inkstand to the National Woman’s Party.

  2. John Tepper Marlin February 6, 2018 at 5:56 pm | | Reply

    The “detrimental to both” throwaway comment is especially astonishing given that so much of the early money enabling the National Woman’s Party originated from Alva Belmont, whose Long Island home is of great historical importance.

  3. jovana February 7, 2018 at 5:38 pm | | Reply

    As always you have written a beautiful article. I almost felt I knew Anna.

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