A Woman to be Celebrated: Edna Gellhorn

Edna Fischel Gellhorn (1878-1970) worked as an active member of the Women’s Central Committee on Food Conservation, Consumer’s Milk Commission, Smoke Elimination Committee, American Association of University Women, United Nations Association, the National Municipal League, St. Louis Urban League, the St. Louis Board of Children’s Guardians, City Government Institute of St. Louis, and Greater St. Louis Citizen’s Committee for Nuclear Information. She also founded and served as first vice president of the National League of Women Voters. below: “Missouri League News” feature of Mrs. Gellhorn, cover 1930.  (Papers of Edna Gellhorn)

Gellorn_MissouriLeaugeNews_Cover_1930Graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1900, she was active in the women’s suffrage movement, and was a friendly acquaintance of Eleanor Roosevelt. She fought to enact the Missouri minimum wage law, better educational facilities, eliminate child labor, and improve election laws. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat elected her as Woman of Achievement at 79 years of age. Image: Flyer for Minimum Wage meeting, 1946 (Papers of Edna Gellhorn)


At age 85, in 1963, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interviewed her about her work in the suffrage movement. When questioned about what woman have accomplished politically beyond acquiring the ability to vote, Mrs. Gellhorn responded:

“If we’d never done anything of particular notice in politics- and of course, we have- the thing that was important was that the woman should have the right to vote, the right as people… We weren’t second class citizens; we simply weren’t citizens at all… I don’t like to draw the line between what a man can do and what a woman can do… Maybe some women haven’t [taken citizenship seriously], but neither have some men. It’s regrettable that there is apathy… It’s to be noted that there are fewer women in our national legislature that there are, for example, in West Germany’s. Let’s admit that not enough women have chosen to run for public office. But they’re doing a splendid job when they are taking office.”


Women like Edna have changed the playing field for women across generations. I am in constant amazement at all of the incredible women history books leave unmentioned, but that just gives me more incentive to fill in the gaps.  Image above: Edna Gellhorn (Mrs. George Gellhorn) in 1944.

Learn more about Edna and other influential woman from Missouri here: http://missouriwomen.org/category/women/edna-gellhorn/
The Edna Gellhorn Papers are available to researchers at University Archives. A Finding Aid including an inventory of contents is online: http://archon.wulib.wustl.edu/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=195

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.