Monday, January 20, 2014

Powelton’s Suffragettes

     Poweltonians were a generally civic-minded group and were always involved in various social and political organizations. The women’s suffrage movement was no exception. Several Powelton women were prominent in the suffrage movement both locally in Pennsylvania and nationally. The story of the suffrage movement in Philadelphia was chronicled by Caroline Katzenstein (1876-1968) who was herself a key organizer of the movement. When passage of the 19th amendment was imminent, she resigned her position and became an agent for Equitable Life Insurance Co. In the 1920s, she moved to an apartment at 3411 Powelton Ave. where she lived until at least the 1950s. Her history of the suffrage movement in Philadelphia (Lifting the Curtain) includes information about the involvement of several Powelton residents. (See “Caroline Kateznstein and Woman's Suffrage.”)

Caroline Katzenstein, c1914 (Temple Univ. Archives)
     The most senior of Powelton’s suffragists (the term they preferred to “suffragettes”) was Charlotte L. (Woodward) Peirce (1830-c1923). In 1848, she was 18 year-old girl living in central New York State when she attended the Seneca Falls Convention. She is often identified as a teacher at the time of the Convention. Apparently she had taught school when she was 15. However, in the summer of 1848, she helped earn money for her family by sewing gloves at home for a local glove factory. She later moved to Philadelphia and in 1857 and married Quaker dentist, Cyrus Newlin Peirce (later Dean of the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery). In 1869, she was named vice president of the new Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association. The Peirces moved to Powelton in 1892 and into their new home at 3316 Powelton Ave. in 1895. She remained active in suffrage politics throughout her life. She was the only signer of the Seneca Falls Declaration who lived long enough to vote under the 19th amendment, although it appears that her health prevented her from voting.  She is the subject of a children's reader, "Meeting Mrs. Pierce," which gives an introduction to women's suffrage.    She was also a founder and long-time treasurer of the New Century Club and a founder of The Spring Garden Unitarian Society.

Charlotte L. Peirce and Caroline Katzenstein (Lifting the Curtain)

     Charlotte Peirce must have influenced many Powelton women, but Powelton women had been involved in women’s issues since at least 1876. (See “Advancement of Women, 1876.”) Several women became active in reform politics through the New Century Club. The Club addressed problems facing working women and their children. Miss Mary A. Burnham (1852-?; 3401 Powelton Ave.) was an active member. Katzenstein calls Burnham “one of the State’s most prominent Suffragists” and notes her knowledge of “political affairs.” In addition, “she was Pennsylvania’s outstanding financial supporter of the national suffrage movement.” As a daughter of George Burnham, a senior member of the partnership that owned Baldwin Locomotive Works, she was in a position to offer both financial and material support. In 1907, she gave $2,500 to the Susan B. Anthony memorial fund which was designed to meet the expenses of woman suffrage work for the next five years. In 1915 during the campaign to amend Pennsylvania’s constitution, she loaned the Equal Franchise Society a driver and automobile (termed the “Burnham Winner”) for three months. It was freshly painted in the movement’s colors with a purple body and yellow wheels. The “Burnham Winner” led of a string of 150 automobiles that were part of a pre-election parade up Broad St. During the election of 1916, Mary Burnham was the third largest donor to the National Woman’s Party. Her contribution of $2,300 was enough to buy about six Ford Model Ts.

The "Burnham Winner" (Evening Ledger, July 29, 1914)

      Katzenstein relates an amusing story about Mary Burnham. As part of relations for the Equal Franchise League, Katzenstein organized a campaign to plaster posters throughout the city. To get press coverage, she asked three “older and socially prominent members” to join a “Poster Brigade.” Miss Burnham (and possibly fellow Poweltonian Mary Grice) made a brave effort to plaster a poster to a brick wall. Dressed in their long, black dresses they must have made a spectacle as Katzenstein notes they were not used to this kind of work.

     Another member of the Burnham household also active in suffrage activities was Mrs. Katherine G. Halligan (1862-1928), a trained nurse. She was probably hired to assist George Burnham, but remained in the household long after his death. Katzenstein credits her with designing a moveable speaker’s platform, among other contributions.

      Mary Burnham’s support of the suffrage movement was not her only foray into the politics of women in society. In 1912-’13 she was one of four women on the Mayor’s 22-member “Vice Commission.” The Commission investigated conditions in the Tenderloin district. It based its findings on the reports of an expert team hired to carry out what we would call an ethnographic survey of the area. The Commission’s findings were almost revolutionary. The traditional view held that men’s needs for gratification were lamentable, but understandable while condemnation; enforcement (to the extent there was any) was aimed at the women. The Commission soundly rejected this view. They also noted the large number of homes of “respectable” people living in the so-called “segregated district” and the large number of young children surrounded by the prevalent vice. Two other Poweltonians were members: Theodore J. Lewis (212 N. 34th St. and 3405 Powelton Ave.) who was vice-chair (and Mary Burnham’s brother-in-law), and Joseph W. Cochran (3302 Baring St.) who was the minister of the Northminster Presbyterian Church (35th & Baring).

      Another prominent suffragist was Mary (Mrs. Edwin C.) Grice who was a founder of the New Jersey National Congress of Women. She became vice president of the National Congress of Women which was led by Hannah Schoff (3418 Baring St.). (See “Hannah Schoff - The "Mother" of the Nation's Organized Mothers” and “Hannah Schoff In Her Own Words.”) She was also active in the New Century Club. The Grices moved to Powelton (first 3308, then 3318 Arch St.) from N.J. about 1907. In 1914, Mary Grice headed a delegation of 20 Pennsylvania women to Washington where they met with legislators to push the House of Representatives to consider a suffrage amendment. The delegation included Mary Burnham and Maria Chase (Mrs. Thomas) Scattergood (3515 Powelton Ave.). Becoming active in the suffrage movement put Grice at odds with Schoff who believed that a woman’s influence should be through motherhood. However, many of the local units of the NCW did support suffrage, including the New Jersey chapter.

Mrs. Edwin C. Grice

     Grice and Schoff differed over another important topic: organizing parents’ involvement in schools. Schoff turned the National Congress of Women into what became the PTA. Grice, on the other hand, was a leading organizer, and first president, of Philadelphia’s Home and School Association. She served as president from 1907 to 1919 and was a leading critic of the Board of Education. Philadelphia still has a Home and School Association rather than a PTA. Grice was also a prominent member of the Woman’s Peace Party of Pennsylvania, a leader of the Church Woman’s Housing Committee, and in 1918 served on the governor’s Old Age Pension Commission. Her husband, Edwin C, Grice was a leading founder of the Ethical Society.

     These differences between neighbors remind us that Powelton’s suffragists were bold proponents of a new vision of women’s role in society.  As with any new social movement, there are differences of opinion on the best way to proceed and these were all strong women with strongly held opinions.

(Note: Charlotte Woodward Peirce’s name is almost universally spelled incorrectly as “Pierce.” The spelling used here comes from her signature and other documents. Her date of death is generally given as 1921 or “c1921.” There is no notice of her death in the Philadelphia Inquirer through the end of 1922. Her name is still listed in Boyd’s Directory for 1923 which was generally complied the previous fall. She was not listed in the 1924 Directory. It appears likely that she died in 1923. Her age at the time of the Convention is often given as 18 or 19. The 1900 census lists here date of birth as January, 1830. )

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