Born this day in 1853: Harriet Taylor Upton (1853–1945), suffragist and political operative
Harriet Taylor Upton is quickly becoming one of femilogue’s favorite suffragists. Early in her life she embodied some of the contradictions that can prevent people from recognizing the need for political change. Upton, born Harriet Taylor, grew up in a happy, comfortable household, and this comfort gave her, I suppose, rose-colored glasses. She met the leading suffragists of the day and admired especially Susan B. Anthony. Still, she opposed suffrage. She saw inherent in the quest for suffrage the idea that men treat women unfairly, and this notion she felt contradicted her own happy experience. In fact, however, it did not. In high school, for example, she was barred from chemistry lab because she was a girl (a ban which, as a lover of science, she defied). And after high school, her father (who, ironically, supported suffrage) forbade her from attending college. Here, more contradictions abound. Her father, though denying her college, respected her intellect. He, a prominent lawyer, judge, and politician, always allowed her to attend his speeches and other events. She traveled with him on his judicial circuit and received an ad hoc education that, along with political contacts, served her later activism.
In the late 1880s, Upton decided to write an article opposing suffrage. As she researched her article, the facts themselves convinced her to embrace suffrage. After that eureka moment, she became a tireless champion of the cause. In 1890 she joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association, serving as treasurer, working on various committees, raising money, editing suffrage publications, and dealing directly with Congress. She was also active in Ohio’s state suffrage association and served as its president for nearly two decades. Somehow she also managed to have a career writing for children and writing books of history. In fact, she often complained publicly that women have been omitted from our nation’s official history.
After the passage of the 20th Amendment Upton threw her energy into the Republican party. Specifially, she used her contacts and her influence to secure women political positions.
In a 1922 article in Ladies’ Home Journal, Upton talked about the inclusion of women in political decisions, particularly at the local and state levels. She descried how women in political machines were “hired girls” who “must cook what ever political menu their employers order them to prepare.” She also warned against regarding women as monolithic:
There never will be a women’s bloc, because women are not led by persons; they are led by ideals. They do not want to quarrel with men; they do not want to differ from men on lines of sex distinction. They do not shout for a woman because she is a woman; nor do they shout for a woman because they like her; but they shout for a person, man or woman, who stands for their ideals. Women will not vote as women alone, because they are the daughters of their fathers as well as of their mothers. The feminine does not run down in a line by itself. In fact, men and women are much alike in many things. The mother side which bore and mothered the young, and the father side which protects in a different way, are both inherent in each human being. Women will use women’s organizations merely to strengthen themselves in their specialized activities.
—Harriet Taylor Upton
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