Suffragist of the Month- November, 2019

Rheta Childe Dorr, 1868 – 1948

Rheta Childe was born in Lincoln, Nebraska November 2, 1868. Her father Edward Childe, was a druggist and a probate judge; her mother, Lucie Mitchell a homemaker. Both parents held the conservative belief that women should cleave to traditional roles of wife and mother, a belief that Rheta chafed against from an early age.

When she was twelve years old she sneaked out of her home to attend a suffrage rally featuring Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, using her only prized silver dollar to join the National Woman Suffrage Association. Listening to the speeches of these pioneering suffragists only solidified her belief that a woman should work towards financial and social independence, and should depend only on herself. A brief marriage to John Pixley Dorr in 1890 ended in divorce when her husband did not share her views; Rheta moved with her son to New York to begin a career as a free-lance writer.

While she enjoyed some success – writing for the New York Evening Post, and Everybody’s Magazine – she was continually frustrated by the discrimination imposed on women by conservative editors, whom she discovered often gave credit for her writing to men.  She then joined the staff at Hampton’s magazine where her ideas of outlawing child labor and increasing wages for women were better received. In 1910 she wrote her signature work, What Eight Million Women Want, detailing the work of suffrage clubs, trade unions and consumer leagues towards equality for women. She argued: “Women are not better than men. The mantle of moral superiority forced upon them as a substitute for intellectual equality they accepted because they could not help themselves. They dropped it as soon as the substitute was no longer necessary.”

Dorr’s belief in woman’s independence led her quite naturally to work for suffrage. In 1912 she had travelled to England to interview suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst. The British suffrage movement was more militant than the American, and Dorr’s time in England had convinced her that the American movement could learn from the British. In 1913 Alice Paul, founder of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, convinced Dorr to become the editor of the fledgling organization’s newspaper, The Suffragist. Although Dorr stayed on as editor for only a year she helped to make the publication financially self-sufficient, as well as prominent in the public eye.

After suffrage Dorr continued to espouse her then-radical beliefs of equality for women, both in marriage and in the workplace, also working as a war correspondent and journalist. She died in 1948.

Happy Birthday, Rheta Childe Dorr!

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