Suffragist of the Month – July, 2018

Gertrude Foster Brown, 1867 – 1956

“It is one thing for women to win the vote, and a totally different one for them to know how to use that vote so it will count to the greatest good of the state. The keynote for woman’s long struggle for the ballot has been her ardent desire for service. Now…she is eager to learn how she can best render that service.”

Thus began a remarkable volume, written by Gertrude Foster Brown, Your Vote and How To Use It, which was designed to help newly-enfranchised American women wend their way through the labyrinth of government and politics that their vote had presented to them. But before she wrote the book on how to vote, Gertrude Foster Brown was a dedicated foot soldier in the battle to achieve it.

Gertrude Foster was born July 29,1867 in Morrison, Illinois, to Charles Foster and Anna Drake. As a child she demonstrated remarkable musical ability; she attended the New England Conservatory of Music, completing a four-year course in two years. After her marriage to Arthur Raymond Brown in 1893, she toured the United States, lecturing on Richard Wagner operas. The couple settled in New York, buying a home in Bellport, Long Island.

In 1905 she gave up her musical career to concentrate on working for suffrage, joining the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1914 she was elected President of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association. Her idea for the book was sparked by a casual remark by an acquaintance, stating “Women would have the vote if they weren’t such fools.” “Of course,” she reasoned, and the answer was the creation of a reference tool that would help them make informed decisions so their new power might be best used. The book explained government from the ground up, discussed how a bill became a law, listed requirements for service in government, and generally explained the workings of our government, something almost no-one else had bothered to do.

In 1918 Gertrude represented the US woman suffrage movement by serving as liaison officer for the Women’s Overseas Hospitals in France. After suffrage became the law of the land she worked with Carrie Chapman Catt to form the League of Women Voters.

In her book she counseled: “The ballot should be regarded as a sacred trust. Every man and woman who grows up under the protection of our flag should feel the obligation to give of his or her best to make our democracy to be a better expression of our ideals,” words that are as meaningful today as they were in 1920. She died in 1956.

Happy Birthday, Gertrude Foster Brown!

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