Votes for Women: Edna Gellhorn and the Social Networks of American Suffragettes

Edna Fischel Gellhorn, St. Louis native, was a tireless campaigner for women’s rights and female suffrage. The letters displayed here give a sense of the way Gellhorn became a leader in the suffragist networks which spread across the U.S. in the opening decades of the twentieth century.

Gellhorn was the first vice-president of the National League of Woman Voters; here she exchanges a telegram with Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA).Catt references NAWSA’s national convention in Chicago, during which the NLWV was to be formally recognized.

Telegram, Edna Gellhorn to Carrie Chapman Catt, 8 January 1920. Edna Gellhorn Collection, Series 4, Box 12, folder 6.

Telegram, Edna Gellhorn to Carrie Chapman Catt, 12 January 1920. Edna Gellhorn Collection, Series 4, Box 12, folder 6.

“Will transfer invitation to Mrs. Miller see no objection to using young girls in Chicago will put Mrs. Morssissons name with yours Glory Be

Carrie Chapman Catt.

A few days earlier, Gellhorn telegrammed W.L. Bale in the Missouri State Senate to exhort him to press for women’s rights,  not only to vote for delegates for the Republican National Convention, but to be elected as delegates in their own right.

 

Telegram, Edna Gellhorn to W.L. Bale, 8 January 1920. Edna Gellhorn Collection, Series 4, Box 12, folder 6.

Telegram, Edna Gellhorn to W.L. Bale, 8 January 1920. Edna Gellhorn Collection, Series 4, Box 12, folder 6.

“Count on you to get right for women to vote for Delegates to State Convention and to be elected as delegates.”

On a more personal level, Mrs. Gellhorn was also a notable philanthropist and community organizer. Eleanor Roosevelt, a life-long friend of the Gellhorn family, cites a “Mrs. Miller” in her letter, a woman disfigured and impoverished by a long struggle with malignant facial tumors. Gellhorn intervened in the situation, providing support for the woman’s family.  (click here for full transcription)

Letter, Eleanor Roosevelt to Edna Gellhorn, 17 December 1940. Edna Gellhorn Collection, Series 4, Box 12, folder 25.

Letter, Eleanor Roosevelt to Edna Gellhorn, 17 December 1940. Edna Gellhorn Collection, Series 4, Box 12, folder 25.

“You are so wonderful in your generous cooperation always,” First Lady Roosevelt wrote Gellhorn, “and in this case I must have a small part.”

More about Edna Fischel Gellhorn

Gellhorn’s civic service was carried on by her daughter, Martha Gellhorn. Martha, or “Marty” to friends and family, became a world renowned war correspondent and was the only woman to land on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. She was also briefly married to Ernest Hemingway. The Gellhorn family legacy lives on in the form of the Edna Fischel Gellhorn Professorship of Public Affairs at Washington University.

Gellorn_MissouriLeaugeNews_Cover_1930

 Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day.


This post is part of an occasional series, “Special Delivery – Letters from the WUSTL Archives and Special Collections.”

For more information about the letters and documents displayed here, or in general about Special Collections please contact us.

 

 

About the author

Lisa Lillie is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis.