The Suffrage Cause and Bryn Mawr

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony medallion, Leila Usher.  Bryn Mawr College CollectionsIn 1901 M. Carey Thomas's surgeon, Dr. Howard Kelly, offered to donate a large bronze medallion of Susan B. Anthony to Bryn Mawr College. Kelly and President Thomas turned the presentation into a celebration in which Anthony herself could be honored, and where Anthony could introduce the topic of women's suffrage to the students in earnest.

Anthony's secretary originally arranged for the renowned British suffragist, Florence Fenwick Miller (1854-1935), to accompany and assist Anthony. However, Miller ultimately preceded Anthony and thus became the College's first major suffrage speaker.

On April 21, 1902, Anthony arrived on campus with Anna Howard Shaw, Vice President at Large of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Dr. Kelly introduced Anthony and presented a list of her accomplishments and work for women's rights. After another introduction by Thomas, Anthony addressed the audience for half an hour. She concluded her speech by saying, "We are the only intelligent class of people under the shadow of the American flag that has no voice in the government."

Anthony's second visit to Bryn Mawr, again with Anna Howard Shaw, occurred in November 1905. They met privately with M. Carey Thomas and Mary E. Garrett to make arrangements for the 1906 Baltimore NAWSA convention. This convention would be Anthony's last.

Portrait of Susan B. Anthony, Sarah James Eddy.  Bryn Mawr College CollectionsIn the fall of 1920, President Thomas addressed the Bryn Mawr College community on the recent donation of a painting of Susan B. Anthony :

It is a very great satisfaction to celebrate our first formal meeting together after our enfranchisement by the gift to the College of the portrait of a great woman who gave her life to give us the vote. This portrait of Susan B. Anthony was painted in 1902, when she was eighty years old, by Miss Sarah J. Eddy, who was both an artist and her friend. It is one of three replicas.

...At this glorious time, when woman is celebrating her enfranchisement, Miss Anthony takes her place for all time beside the greatest man of America, Lincoln, our savior from fatal partition, our liberator from human slavery, as the greatest woman of America, the foremost pioneer of all the great suffrage pioneers - like Lincoln infinitely wise, unfathomably tender, unalterably true; like him consumed by an unquenchable passion for human liberty, distinguished from all the other men or women I have known by the quality of sheer unadulterated greatness that made of her the heaven-sent leader of our suffrage cause.

During the correspondence relating to the medallion presentation ceremony, Anthony introduced Carey Thomas to Anna Howard Shaw. She wrote:

If you want a good evening and want a woman suffrage lecture, or a college woman's hard experience - a woman who commenced her studies with nothing and worked her way through college and through the theological school by the hardest - Rev. Anna Shaw would give your girls a good lesson, and there is no one for whom I like to hold the bonnet better than for Miss Shaw.
Letter from Susan B. Anthony to M. Carey Thomas, February 1, 1902. M. Carey Thomas Papers, Special Collections, Bryn Mawr College Library.

Anna Howard Shaw

Anna Howard Shaw in her "Yellow Devil" car, campaigning for suffrage. C.C. Catt Albums, Bryn Mawr College LibraryAnna Howard Shaw was president of the NAWSA from 1904-1915 and was known for her great oratorical gifts. She was among the first women to be ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church. Shaw also earned a medical degree from Boston University in 1885.

Instead of focusing on her training, Shaw dedicated much of her career to the suffrage movement. But despite her speaking skills, commitment to the cause and impressive resume, Shaw was criticized for her ineffective leadership. The phase of suffrage history during which Shaw was the leader of NAWSA saw few major victories and the NAWSA was thought by many to have been too quiet a force during her tenure.

Shaw was the most frequent of the national suffrage figures to visit Bryn Mawr. Following her introduction to M. Carey Thomas and Mary Garrett in 1902, she spoke publicly on campus at least nine times, often at the invitation of the College Equal Suffrage League. "The suffrage cause and Bryn Mawr. . . are the two dearest interests I have in the world," Shaw wrote to Thomas in 1911. She was the keynote speaker at Mary E. Garrett's campus memorial service in 1915.

Anna Howard Shaw.  C.C. Catt Albums, Bryn Mawr College LibraryIn a 1914 letter home, Helen Robertson '16 described one of Shaw's talks and her speaking skills:

Last evening the Reverend Anna Howard Shaw spoke under the auspices of the College Equal Suffrage League. I went rather to be able to say I had heard her than because I expected to get much out of it. I soon changed my mind however. She is quite an elderly woman, plump and pretty with snow white hair - not at all the accepted type of elderly suffragette. And when she began to speak I soon discovered she did not speak in the usual fashion. She has a wonderful, dear voice . . . . She is the wittiest person I ever heard. Her humor as incisive as a needle . . . . It was just a pleasure to listen to her. She presented her facts with a mixture of personal anecdotes and plain statistics that was at once persuasive and convincing. I wish I could tell you half of the funny and interesting and inspiring things she said. I think she has quite convinced me for the time being at any rate.

Following Shaw's death in 1919, Thomas and Bryn Mawr College established an ongoing lecture series in her honor. A memorial fund to benefit the suffrage movement also was established at Bryn Mawr in Shaw's memory and was first chaired by Edna Fischel Gellhorn '00. Rev. Shaw's accomplishments are now commemorated on a plaque in the Cloisters.

BackThe Suffrage Cause and Bryn Mawr - More Speakers Forward

Speakers at Bryn Mawr Speakers
More Speakers
British Lecturers
Bryn Mawr Antis                                        

Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections