How the Vote Was Won

suffragettes in MD

This year many of us are celebrating the centenary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. And so I’m doing some research on how the WLCB was–and was not–involved in the suffrage movement.

If you search for “suffrage” in the WLCB minutes, it appears very infrequently, giving one the impression that the Club members either didn’t care or opposed the franchise outright. We also noticed that the Club met while the National American Woman Suffrage Association was holding its 1906 convention less than a mile up the street–this particular convention was especially significant because Susan B. Anthony would give her last public address there–and no mention of the convention, or NAWSA, or anything relating to suffrage was included in the minutes for that entire year.

Further research, however, brought the WLCB suffragettes out of the woodwork. It’s become clear that the Club secretary, Lydia Crane, sought to minimize their influence by avoiding reference to them in the minutes whenever possible. The power of the secretary should never be underestimated!

We now believe that several members likely attended the NAWSA meeting in Baltimore; Club member Emily Lantz recounted details from the event 20 years after the fact in the Baltimore Sun. Others wrote in favor of suffrage, marched, and demonstrated.

One of the most interesting suffragist members of the Club was Corinne Robert Redgrave, who worked with producer Charles Frohman in NYC and also acted in and directed plays in Baltimore after moving here in the early 1900s. One of the plays in which she appeared, “How the Vote Was Won,” got a vivid (and not wholly positive) write-up in the Baltimore Evening Sun on Nov. 8, 1910.

The play was performed in the Belvedere ballroom and makes mention of “abandoned eggs and ill tomatoes” suffered by suffragettes on Court House Plaza. The writer seems to think women’s suffrage a rather silly conceit, but history tells the tale. Enjoy!

New Year’s, and after

Emily Dickinson

One of the most intriguing members of the Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore was Clara Newman Turner—known in the minutes as “Mrs. Sidney Turner”—who served for several years on the Board of Managers and appears frequently in the minutes as a presenter and commenter on others’ presentation. The sleuthing of Jill Fury, one of my students, revealed that Turner was the cousin of no less than Emily Dickinson–and had in fact grown up with Emily in Amherst after being left an orphan.

Clara Newman Turner
Clara Newman Turner (1844-1920), in The Kennel Club: A History and Record of Its Work (London: Kennel Gazette, 1905).

Clara and Emily apparently remained close for many years. Clara visited Emily and her sister Lavinia in Amherst every year, even after she married Sidney Turner in 1869 and moved to Connecticut. According to Clara’s niece and apparent namesake, Clara Newman Pearl, the famously reclusive Emily actually left her Amherst home to comfort Clara after her husband passed away a decade or so later. Clara Newman Pearl describes the visit thus:

“A slight figure wrapped in an old squirrel-lined circular flew up the steps and into the house. A rusty crepe veil fluttered in the wind as she hurried to my aunt’s side. It was the first time that she had been out of Amherst for twenty years, and she was the center of attraction as long as she stayed. My fifteen year old curiosity made me ask why she did not leave Amherst more often. I remember well her reply. ‘Because, my dear, I do not like to travel. One sees so many people and things that one does not wish to see.’” (Qtd. in Richard B. Sewell, Life of ED, Vol. 2, p. 266)

Some years after Sidney passed away, Clara Newman Turner ended up in Baltimore, first living at the old Altamont Hotel, and then at the Cecil apartments, which are still located at the corner of Eutaw St. and Dolphin Ave. Here, she would have lived near several other WLCB members, including longtime secretary Lydia Crane, who lived just around the corner, and it’s likely that that’s how she became a member of the Club.

Clara was not just a reader of Emily’s poetry. She also wrote poetry herself. Jill discovered the title of a book titled Mail from Nowhere, and after contacting several librarians, we located a single copy in the Houghton Library at Harvard. The Houghton digitized the self-published, privately printed volume, and it’s now available for anyone to read.

Front cover/wrapper of Mail from Nowhere
Front cover/wrapper of Mail from Nowhere (published before 1900?), by Clara Badger Newman Turner (Mrs. Sidney Turner), Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The Houghton digitized the self-published, privately printed volume, and it’s now available for anyone to read.

Clara, as a confidant and correspondent of both Emily and Lavinia Dickinson, almost certainly received the handwritten poems Emily enclosed in fascicles and circulated among family and friends. The title and dedication page of Turner’s book itself evokes the privately circulated fascicles, and it is tempting to think of the poems in this book being written as responses to poems by Emily (and which ones?).

Dedication page of Mail from Nowhere.

The poetry included in Mail from Nowhere, like Dickinson’s poems, tends toward short, balladic verse structures and frequently touches on religious subjects. Unlike Dickinson’s, however, Turner was far more confident in her faith, and also frequently treated domestic subjects including marriage, motherhood, and widowhood, which were almost entirely absent from her cousin’s poems.

While her poetry was far more conventional than her cousin’s, Clara Newman Turner was nevertheless capable of ironic introspection, and her poems frequently express a faint (or sometimes not so faint) disappointment in life and in woman’s lot. The deflating aura of January 2nd– the second-sleepiest day of the year, according to a newly released study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, after January 1–prompts me to share two poems from Turner, both included in Mail from Nowhere as well as in our anthology of works by the Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore, Parole Femine: Words and Lives of the WLCB. Enjoy–and happy new year, or Jan. 2, or … whatever.

The New Year

Thou hast opened thine eyes to a new, strange thing;
Thou hast opened thine ears to hear bells ring
     To the birth–to the birth of a year.
Thou hast opened thine heart with those who pray;
The dear old year is a yesterday;
     A new, strange thing is here.

To-morrows are all bound close together,
With their varied suns, and winds, and weather.
     Can any one–any one know?
We sometimes wish, “If we only knew!”
We only say, “Happy year to you!”
     And pray it may be so.

January the Second

January First promised to protect me.
January First has gone away and left me;
Me–January Second, at the head of all this train!
Indeed you’ll never catch me in such a scrape again!

I can’t live many hours; “I feel it in my bones,”
The sad responsibility of all these other ones
Tugging at my heels as tho’ their lives depended
On their getting right along as soon as mine was ended.

It’s the way with lots of things–They’re sort of in the way
If they claim a single minute beyond their little day.
You’re January Second till the Third comes up apace.
And then you just step down and the next one takes your place.

We all just have to face it, and have our little day,
Without a single question as to any other way.
We’re on the top a little while, and people read us through,
And then we’re gone, and laid aside, the best that we can do.

A Living Counterpart to the WLCB

Treble Clef & Book Lovers' Club

One of the questions we are asked most frequently when we share our research on the WLCB is “Did they included black members?” The answer is simple: no. The WLCB was formed as Jim Crow took root and solidified, and its members were either in vocal support or complicit through their silence.

But there were black women’s clubs during this time. The National Association of Colored Women (NACW) was founded in nearby Washington, DC in 1896 by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell, and the DuBois Circle was established in Baltimore in 1906.

And today I discovered a black women’s literary club, the Treble Clef and Book Lovers’ Club, started in the former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA, in 1908. They claim to be one of the oldest black women’s literary clubs in the United States. The Treble Clef and Book Lovers’ Club was established by a group of faculty wives from Virginia Union University, founded in 1865 to educate the formerly enslaved.

In contrast to the WLCB, the TCBLC spends an entire year reading a book, examining it from a different angle each month in order to gain a thorough, multifaceted understanding.

And also in contrast to the WLCB, the Treble Clef and Book Lovers’ Club is still very much in operation today– as is Baltimore’s DuBois Circle. So perhaps the arc of history does bend toward justice.

Truth and reconciliation

This post from Rector Grey Maggiano at the Memorial Episcopal Church website hits close to home.

New deacon Natalie Conway, they recently discovered, was descended from people who had formerly been enslaved by Memorial Episcopal’s founding rector, David Ridgely Howard, whose family owned the Hampton plantation north of where Towson Town Center mall stands today.

This discovery inspired some 50 members of the congregation, including Deacon Conway, to travel together to Hampton plantation last week to learn more about their collective history.

Parishioners of Memorial Episcopal and St. Katherine of Alexandria churches tour the grounds of the Hampton plantation, formerly owned by Memorial rector David Ridgely Howard. Photo courtesy Memorial Episcopal Church, Baltimore.

This history intersects with the WLCB because David Ridgely Howard was the half-brother of Margaretta Sophia Howard Ridgely, the mother of Eliza Ridgely, first secretary of the WLCB. Eliza grew up at Hampton and later lived in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, just around the block from founding member Hester Dorsey.

A number of other Club members also attended Memorial Episcopal–during a time when the church fervently supported segregation. In fact, Clara Love and Katie Kazmierski spent some hours poring through church records early on in our research, when we were trying to find WLCB club members and where they lived.

As we’ve discovered, the history of the WLCB is intertwined with some ugly, long-hidden (and carefully hidden) truths about Baltimore and racial attitudes in the United States as a whole. The present-day parishioners’ visit to Hampton is a step toward reconciling this past with a more hopeful future. Read Grey’s post here.

Why the WLCB opposed suffrage

Anti-suffrage Quartette, Women's Journal, 1912
This 1912 cartoon from the pro-suffrage Woman’s Journal offers arguments from, left to right, “White Slavers,” “Antis,” “Big Biz,” and “Liquor.”

We have been puzzled and disappointed throughout our research on the WLCB by their reluctance to embrace suffrage. Many, in fact, were adamant “antis,” the name given to those opposing the women’s vote. This group happened to coincide with Club leadership, and as a result very little by way of pro-suffrage expression appears in any of the Club documents. Members who worked for the women’s vote did so outside the Club meetings.

How could these women, who sought artistic and professional independence and autonomy, NOT want the right to participate as full citizens?

A key reason, as documented in this op-ed by Goucher history prof Jean Baker appearing in today’s Baltimore Sun, can be encapsulated in a single word: racism. They were willing to sacrifice their own right to vote in order not to extend it to black women.

After the 19th Amendment passed, it was left up to the individual states to ratify and implement it in state law. And in Maryland, Baker writes, “Democratic legislators argued against women moving beyond the domestic sphere into a male public space and also expressed their fears about enfranchising black women.”

It’s mind-boggling to think that women were so committed to white superiority that they were willing to sacrifice their own rights. It’s mind boggling, but true. And it’s worth keeping in mind that people will overwhelmingly opt for self-interest over equality when given the choice.

Amazingly, Maryland did not ratify the amendment until 1941, which was also the year the WLCB officially disbanded. A revealing coincidence, one might say.

Lizette Woodworth Reese’s last poem?

I am in the process of compiling the Club bibliography (more on this in a future post) and discovered that Lizette Woodworth Reese, the WLCB’s best-known poet and first woman poet laureate of Maryland, published several poems in the final years of her life in a magazine called Gardens, Houses, and People, which turned out to be the neighborhood newsletter of the up-and-coming development of Roland Park in North Baltimore.

Gardens, Houses, & People cover
Cover of the January 1936 issue of Gardens, Houses, and People, published by the Roland Park Company, Baltimore.

Reese did not live in Roland Park. Why would she have published her poems in this little fly-by-night publication? Initially, I assumed that the newsletter simply reprinted her poems, by way of adding some local flavor, seasonal interest, and cultural cachet to their pages. This seems to have been true for the poem “Hallowmas,” published in Gardens, Houses, and People in November, 1934. But several other poems appear to have appeared solely in this publication.

I still haven’t completely figured out why, but in looking up the poems in the pages of the magazine I encountered a fascinating story about the final poem published there, a sonnet with the intriguing title, “To an Indecent Novelist,” published in the January 1936 issue. Why would a poem critiquing the decadence and prurient inclinations of contemporary authors appear in a neighborhood newsletter, I wondered? And why would they publish it?

Well, it was because Reese had just passed away, on December 17, 1935, just a few weeks after having sent this poem, along with one titled “A Christmas Song” (appropriately, if tritely, published in the December 1935 issue of Gardens, Houses, & People), to the magazine’s editor, Warren Wilmer Brown. Thus, Brown concluded, it was highly likely that “To an Indecent Novelist” was “the last poem by Lizette Woodworth Reese.” He featured the poem on the first page of the issue, alongside a poignant depiction of Reese in her final days. I include a bit of it below. But first, the poem:

To an Indecent Novelist
Lizette Woodworth Reese

You measure by a ditch, and not a height,
Make life no deeper than a country bin
One keeps for apples on a winter’s night,
Thence prate the immaturities of sin.
You weigh by littles, by some cracked emprise.
Why not by that one thing a man has done,
In some vast hour, beneath hot, hating eyes,
When, hard against a wall, he fought and won?
The spirit still outwits the lagging flesh:
Cross but one lane, and you shall find again
That righteousness is older still than lust;
Strict loveliness of living find afresh,
Sound women, too, and reasonable men,
That not yet all the gentlefolk are dust.

Of this poem, Brown wrote:

“She sent it to us shortly before the inception of the illness that culminated, after a few weeks, in her death. . . . Whether it has appeared elsewhere in the meantime we do not know, but fancy it has not; the fact that she wanted it finally to reach the direct attention of our readers, many of whom were her warm friends, touched us very deeply and intensified the feeling of gratitude and honor that she had chosen these columns to the first appearance of a number of her later poems.

“That feeling was very keen, indeed, when we called upon her – it was Thanksgiving Day – shortly after she had been taken to the Church Home And Infirmary, where as Henry L. Megan pointed out in his fine memorial tribute in The Evening Sun, another great poet, Edgar Allan Poe, died.

“She was looking so pitifully pale and exhausted that it was not necessary to be told that the visit must be very short, but suffering and weak as she was her courage was superb, since her spirit knew no vanquishing. . . .

“Never was there a soul more impervious to the mercenary and otherwise debasing influences of modern times; never was there one that looked facts more valiantly in the face and took its stand once for all on its own high ground of idealism and faith in the fundamental decency and dignity of man.

“She saw loveliness wherever she turned and wrought the materials of her impressions into verse that often gleamed pure gold… She never was tempted even to change her own lyrics style, anymore than she was impelled to condone the license, to say nothing of the licentiousness, that so many contemporary poets and their readers indulged in complacently.

“She did not hesitate to express her opinion on such matters very freely and emphatically in conversation, but the only time, to our knowledge, she ever made it the subject of the poem was when she wrote ‘To an Indecent Novelist.’ Read the sonnet again, study it carefully, if you would find the dominant influence that shaped her moral outlook and kept the stream of her inspiration as a poet unsullied.”

New finds

The EN344 Book, Edition, Archive class’s research on the WLCB is kicking into high gear, which means new discoveries are in the offing.

For one: a couple weeks ago while rooting around in the Maryland Historical Society catalog looking for other things, I happened across a listing which ended up being a notebook containing meeting minutes from spring 1895-spring 1899– a notebook that had been deemed lost.

First pages of newly discovered volume containing WLCB minutes from 1896-1899. MD Historical Society MS 1181.

I’m guessing that this notebook got misplaced because it was quite a bit larger than the other minutes books. It probably got stuck on a shelf above or below the other materials, which is why it got catalogued under a different call number than all the other notebooks.

This means that we have historical/documentary evidence for 3 more years than we originally thought– a significant addition to the 17-18 years of meeting minutes that we have already transcribed. Cynthia (thank god for Cynthia!) is in the process of transcribing them now.

Even more significant, perhaps, is another discovery I made on the same day: an 1895 bibliography of works published by members of the Club.

I had gone to MDHS to look for the different versions of the WLCB Constitution, just to see if and how it had changed over the years. As noted in the Club history on the WLCB archive site, the Club was nearly torn apart in the early years of its existence over proposed amendments to the Constitution that would have made the Club more than literary in nature–which is to say, engaged in philanthropy and social reform. The outcome of that debate was not to change the Constitution in any significant way, and I just needed to compare the different versions to make sure that was indeed the case.

So I wasn’t really expecting to find anything. Mostly, I was going with the expectation of not finding anything interesting.

But as is so often the case when doing research in the archive, I found exactly what I wasn’t looking for. One of the versions of the Constitution I was examining was an entire pamphlet, beautifully printed on thick, creamy paper, which appeared to have been printed in honor of the Club’s 5th Anniversary. It included the Constitution, the names of all current members, the entire list of programs from 1894-1895 and 1895-1896 seasons, and … a bunch of pages that were still uncut.

Of course I had to get them cut. And when I opened them I was shocked– and thrilled– to discover that the last 12 or so pages of the pamphlet were a detailed listing of all of the Club members’ writings to that date. A gold mine!

First 2 pages of 1895 bibliography of WLCB member writings, MDHS, PAM 842


If only we had known about this bibliography two years ago, when the five students who worked with me in the summer of 2017 were in the archive transcribing documents. If only we had known about it last spring, when my Aperio seminar students were searching through catalogs and databases and online archives looking for Club member publications. If only I had had the bibliography when planning for my current semester’s class, where students are editing the works located by last year’s class. If only.

That was my initial thought. But then, I thought, maybe it was best this way. Because we may have stopped with this list, rather than finding so many of the other publications that emerged from the Club after 1895.

Of course, my first question was, did we find all the pre-1895 publications and writers? I went through the list with some trepidation, afraid that I would discover lots of writers and publications that we hadn’t located, and thus tanking the entire book project we’d been working so hard on for the past 2 years.

Luckily– or perhaps, a testament to the thoroughness of last year’s students– we only missed a few. One is Sallie Webster Dorsey, sister of Club founder Hester Dorsey Richardson and fellow member Mary Dorsey (who published under the name Marion V. Dorsey). Another is Lily G. Early, daughter of founding member Maud Graham Early (one of the “Miss Early”s referred to in Club minutes).  I am in the process of tracking down the publications listed for these writers.

And I was able to confirm that Elizabeth M. Reese (Mrs. Percy M. Reese) did, indeed, publish; we were unable to confirm this last spring and had cut her from the anthology, but now we can add her back in. And the list reveals additional publications by other Club members. One of the most tantalizing is a Civil War memoir by Lucy Randolph Cautley, for whom we thus far had only been able to locate one published poem. Her memoir “A Child’s Recollection of the War” was apparently published in the Philadelphia Times–an interesting fact because Cautley was a Southern sympathizer. Unfortunately, there is no date listed for the publication of the memoir, and the Philadelphia Times is only available on microfilm … which is being sent from the Pennsylvania State Library, 5 reels at a time. Finding this work will be a summer 2019 project for yours truly.

We also now know of additional novels by Elizabeth T. Graham, poems by Elizabeth Latimer, and more works by Katharine Pearson Woods (yes, there were members of the WLCB not named Elizabeth). And today I was able to locate two stories by Louise Clarkson Whitelock  that we previously didn’t know about, published in Godey’s Magazine and Harper’s, both well-known and well-respected national magazines of the day. (These stories were published under her maiden name, incidentally: “L. Clarkson”; by 1895 she appears to have married her husband, politician George Whitelock, because her 1895 story collection A Mad Madonna is published under her married name.)

These discoveries, to be sure, will continue! I hope to share things that this year’s class of students are discovering in upcoming weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll be giving my first public talk about the WLCB at the Maryland Historical Society on April 16!