Celebrating the suffrage centennial: Three Ohio women you should know

Left to right, Harriett Taylor Upton, Florence Allen and Hallie Quinn Brown. Photos provided by the Ohio History Connection.

The 19th Amendment was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, and all women across the United States won the right to vote. Over the last year, I’ve had the great privilege to work with a lot of individuals and organizations on planning for the suffrage centennial. Through this work I’ve been encouraging partners around the state to identify women in their community that worked on suffrage or used their voice or leadership to make a change. 

While many are familiar with some of the big names in the suffrage movement like Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony, my hope for the anniversary is to name Ohio women so that young Ohioans can see the power of their own voice to make change.

I’d like to tell you about three women.

Harriett Taylor Upton

Harriett Taylor Upton.

Harriet Taylor was born Dec. 17, 1853, in Ravenna, Ohio, the daughter of Ezra Taylor, an Ohio judge. In 1861 the Taylor family moved to Warren, Ohio.

In 1880, Upton’s father was elected to Congress as a Republican, succeeding President James Garfield in the position. She went to Washington DC with her father where she met leaders in the suffrage movement like Susan B. Anthony.

Back in Ohio, Upton became a key organizer and the first president of the Suffrage Association of Warren.

In 1894, Upton was elected as the treasurer of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the leading national woman suffrage organization. She brought the headquarters of that organization, home to Warren from 1903 to 1910.

After seeing the 19th Amendment pass, Upton was elected Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Republican National Committee. She attempted a run for Congress in 1924, but was not successful. Her only electoral success was being the first woman elected to the Warren Board of Elections.

During the Great Depression, Upton and her husband lost all of their wealth. Upton spent her last days in California, in poverty. Harriet Taylor Upton died in Pasadena, California, on Nov. 2, 1945. She was 91 years old at the time of her death.

The Harriet Taylor Upton House in Warren is a National Historic Landmark. It was almost lost when a group of local activists saved it from the wrecking ball. They were also able to work with a lawyer in California to have her cremains reinterred at her home in Warren, in a place of honor instead of a pauper’s grave.

Florence Allen

Florence Allen.

Florence Allen was a remarkable woman. She attended Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University), graduating with honors in 1904. After graduation, Allen traveled to Germany to further her music studies. Unfortunately, a nerve injury kept her from pursuing a career in music, and she returned to the United States in 1906.

Between 1906 and 1909, Allen utilized her musical training as a music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. At the same time, she pursued a graduate degree in political science and constitutional law at Western Reserve. She received her master’s degree in 1908, and in the following year, she moved to New York City to work for the New York League for the Protection of Immigrants. She also earned a law degree from the New York University School of Law in 1913.

Back in Cleveland, Allen joined the Ohio bar and established her own law practice because she couldn’t find a law firm to hire her, despite her education and experience. In 1920, with women voting for the first time because of passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, Allen was elected judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

In 1922, Allen won a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. She was the first woman to serve on a supreme court in any state.

In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her to the Sixth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. Once again, Allen was the first woman judge in a federal court. She eventually became chief judge of the court, serving until her retirement in 1959.

Throughout her life, Allen challenged traditional assumptions about women’s roles and acted as a role model for women who wanted to pursue legal careers. Her contributions to numerous women’s organizations and improvements in women’s status throughout the 20th century have been recognized through dozens of honorary degrees and induction into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame.

Hallie Quinn Brown

Hallie Quinn Brown

Hallie Quinn Brown was born on March 10, 1850 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of former slaves. Her family migrated to Canada and to the United States in 1870, settling in Wilberforce, Ohio. Brown attended Wilberforce College and received a degree in 1873. Brown taught at Allen University served as Dean of the University. Brown also served as Dean of Women at Tuskegee Institute before returning to Ohio where she taught in the Dayton public schools.

Brown had since childhood held an interest in public speaking. In 1895 Hallie Q. Brown addressed an audience at the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Conference in London. In 1899, while serving as one of the United States representatives, she spoke before the International Congress of Women meeting in London. Brown also spoke before Queen Victoria.

Brown was involved in the women’s suffrage campaign which led her to help organize the Colored Women’s League in Washington, D.C., one of the organizations that allied in 1896 to become the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). During her last year as president of the NACW, she spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Hallie Q. Brown published several significant books. In 1926, her book, “Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction,” was published. It documented the biographies of leading African American women of the era. Hallie Quinn Brown died in Wilberforce in 1949.

The anniversary of the 19th amendment is an opportunity to say the names of women who worked to make a difference for all of us. We can look back to 1848, at the beginning of the movement at Seneca Falls in New York at the Women’s Rights Convention and Declaration of Sentiments, but we can also look beyond 1920 and celebrate women today who are breaking barriers.

I am also honored to be serving on the Ohio Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. I encourage you all to check out the events posted online, which will come to serve as a clearinghouse for suffrage centennial activities around the state. I appreciate the opportunity to highlight these women, but there are so many other names to say and appreciate over the next year of commemoration.

Megan Wood
Megan Wood is the director of cultural resources at the Ohio History Connection. The Cultural Resources Division is responsible for the Ohio History Connection’s system of 58 historic sites, 1.8 million collection items, and all exhibitions across the sites. Megan obtained a B.A. in Public History from Western Michigan University and a M.A. in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. Most of her career has focused on education and learning in museums. She has worked on programs and projects including National History Day in Ohio, 1950s: Building the American Dream exhibit at the Ohio History Center, and the recent expansion of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Megan is an active member of the American Association for State and Local History and the American Alliance of Museums.