Born this day in 1820: Caroline Seymour Severance (1820–1914), social reformer, suffragist, women’s club pioneer
Caroline Severance was born Caroline Seymour in Canandaigua, New York. She was educated at various female seminaries and taught briefly at a boarding school for girls. In 1840 she married Theodoric Cordenio Severance. The couple moved to Cleveland and had five children.
The influence of her reform-minded husband and his family kick-started Severance on a career of reform work lasting seven decades. Severance was at the center of many reforms, including abolitionism, women’s rights, temperance, dietary reform, and religious liberalism. Literary figures were also welcomed in the Severance home. Severance was active in women’s rights conventions and was president of the first convention of the Ohio Women’s Rights Association (1853).
She was deeply impressed by the traveling lecturers from New England, so when her husband was offered a job in Boston, the family jumped at the chance to relocate. Severance surrounded herself with the city’s leading literary figures and reformists. She became a lecturer on behalf of the mounting abolition movement and was a close friend of William Lloyd Garrison.
Severance was involved in a wide range of reform activities. In 1862 she joined the board of directors of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. In 1867 she cofounded the American Equal Rights Association with Susan B. Anthony, and the following year she helped found the Free Religious Association. She also founded that year what one of the earliest women’s club in the nation, the New England Women’s Club. In 1869 she helped found the American Woman Suffrage Association.
In 1875 Severance and her husband moved to California, where she continued her tireless reform efforts. She organized women’s clubs and presided over the Los Angeles County Woman Suffrage League for several years, giving it a much-needed shot in the arm. She was a driving force in California’s kindergarten movement and the establishment of juvenile courts. She promoted Christian socialism, Progressivism, and anti-imperialism. She was also a pacifist. In 1911, after California passage state suffrage for women, Severance, at age 91, became the first woman in California to register to vote.
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