Recognize the view?
Which Harvey County Church?
Did you recognize the dome of the 1st United Methodist Church, 801 N. Main, Newton?
Methodist Church pre-1915
by Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist
Kansas was a hotbed of reform movements during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. True or False?
Temperance, Prohibition, Populist, Progressive and Women’s Suffrage were ideas debated and discussed by Kansans including Mary Ellen Lease, Carry Nation, Laura Johns, and Clarina Nichols. William Allen White and other Kansas newspaper editors joined the fray. National leaders, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Anna Shaw and Frances Willard, visited the state. An editor of our 1892 newspaper declared: “What other state can get so many things into her ‘political pot’ and keep the cauldron boiling and spattering at such a furious rate.” But something was the same—the Republican Party controlled the Kansas legislature.
Not only did Ella Welsh fight for temperance, she also was a suffragist. Many members of the WCTU were also members of local suffrage associations.
In the late 19th century white males over 21 could vote. Suffragists had to convince men, as well as some women, they should be able to vote in Kansas state elections. Middle and upper class women, who dominated suffrage and temperance clubs, were to be at home protecting man’s domain, not out in the public sphere. But, these boisterous women were changing that image. They wanted it all. Sound familiar?
At the National Woman Suffrage Association Convention in Washington, D.C. in February, 1876, the following questions were discussed.
By 1912, when women in Kansas received the right to vote, the suffragists had been part of a cause that had been simmering in the state for 50 years. Twice in 1867 and 1894 equal suffrage amendments were defeated at the polls. The first Kansas legislature in 1861 had given women the right to vote in school district elections. This concession was in a large part was won by Clarina Nichols an early advocate of abolition, temperance, and women’s suffrage.
The Kansas Equal Suffrage Association was formed in 1884. In Newton, “…a large number of women…” met at the Presbyterian Church on Aug 28, 1887 to prepare for a state suffrage convention to be held in Newton in October.
That convention was the 4th annual meeting of the state suffrage organization. The delegates stayed in the homes of the local suffragists. Susan B. Anthony enjoyed the hospitality of Mrs. Lehman (Lehman Hardware) and the first woman mayor of the United States, Mrs. Susanna Madora Salter of Argonia, Kansas stayed with Mrs. Schell.
The daily newspapers, the Republican and the Kansan were thanked “for their kindly notices in the interests of our cause.” The push for woman’s suffrage was so strong in 1887 that the legislature felt compelled to give women the right to vote in municipal elections, the first state to do so.
The support of a local editor was quite important to the cause of suffrage. Some editors around the state were not so helpful to the women suffragists. In comparing the number of votes cast by women as compared to men the Secretary of the State Historical Society concluded …“a much less desire to vote, on the part of women, than existed last year..”
Obviously, women needed the support of men to get a constitutional amendment passed for suffrage. At the meeting on June 13, 1888 at the home of Mrs. Frank Evans both ladies and gentlemen were invited. At the Harvey County convention of the Equal Suffrage Association cordially invited “all friends and those interested in the movement.” I assume that would include men. In March, 1892, at another state convention held in Newton a storm blew up the last evening of the convention. The newspaper reported:
“Young maidens and matrons, even grandmothers, walked blocks facing the storm to attend the meeting this afternoon. (Methodist Church at 7th and Main). A few men too, showed interest enough to leave their comfortable homes to be present. The missionaries are fine ladies, well able to present their peculiar views, but we do not think they made many converts in this locality.”
From the Emporia Republican came this observation, it was not helpful.
“Annie Shaw complains that Kansas women are a drawback to the woman suffrage cause because they will not vote. That is a little rough on the cause, of course, but it is a charming compliment to the Kansas women.” (Annie Shaw was an officer in the National Woman Suffrage Association)
From the Evening Kansan came these words:
“Do women want to vote?…some registered under protest…they registered in order to defeat the woman-politicians. From this view…we do not believe that 200 out of the 779 women registered in this city are believers in, or advocates of, woman-suffrage as a question of principle.”
These statements show how much opposition existed in 1893/94.
The resolutions passed the Kansas House and Senate and were submitted to the voters. Women’s suffrage was voted down. It was difficult to move the organization forward after this defeat.
In 1910, Mrs. Catharine Hoffman, President of the Kansas Suffrage Association suggested trying again in 1912. So began a push that was even more organized and more focused. They were learning by previous mistakes and were asking politicians how to run a successful campaign. Ella Welsh became involved in this campaign, taking on a leadership role as she had for the WCTU.
The Topeka Daily Capitol received a news release that stated “Harvey county was organized by the women suffragists this afternoon…” (December 12, 1911). Mrs. Ella (D.S.) Welsh was elected president. She presented a program on suffrage to the teachers of Harvey County and asked them to approve a resolution that as a body the teachers association favored equal suffrage. “The resolution was adopted.”
A report from Mrs. John Mack in a special edition of the Topeka newspaper on October 27, 1912 told of the activities of the Harvey County Suffrage Association. Mrs. Noble Prentis met with club women and it was decided to have suffrage headquarters on Main street. Members were to poll the towns and the county. The results of the poll indicate a large number of voters favor the amendment. Mrs. Prentis also spoke to the student body and faculty of Bethel College, as well as, Newton High School students. “Colored people” listened to Mrs. Prentis at one of their churches and promised support. “Mrs. D.S. Welsh… has been at work all of the summer distributing literature and buttons at every large gathering.” Think of what these women would have accomplished with the use of the Internet and social media!
On election night (November 5, 1912) there was a party in Newton. “Forget your troubles when you enter the auditorium, and be prepared for any result that may be announced.” This time woman’s suffrage for the state of Kansas was secured. Kansas was the 8th state to ratify an equal suffrage amendment. The count showed 175,246 votes for and 159,197 against. A suffrage tea was held at the home of Mrs. Gaston Boyd for supporters and non-supporters of the Kansas equal suffrage amendment.
But, work was not done. Barely adopted in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.
I recently read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. A passage caught my attention. The book is about the first marriage of Ernest Hemingway to Hadley Richardson. Hadley is afraid she is not a “modern woman,” a term describing the younger woman emerging in the 1920s. She says:
“It was ironic to think that nearly all the women I knew now were the direct benefactors of the suffragette work my mother did decades ago, right in our own parlor, while I curled up with a book and tried to be invisible.”
So ladies, when you vote this November, 2018, remind yourselves of all the women before you like, Ella Welsh, who fought for your suffrage.
by Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist
Our next two posts are from guest blogger, Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist, and feature Ella Rose McCray Welsh (Mrs. D.S. Welsh). This fabulous Harvey County woman worked to create a better community in the late 19th, early 20th century.
Recently, a researcher was in the HCHM Archives asking about the local reaction to woman’s suffrage in Kansas. It had finally passed in 1912. What did women think? Might her Newton grandmother have been excited about the prospects of voting in Kansas state elections?
Using newspapers.com through the Kansas Historical Society, I found “Mrs. D.S. Welsh” (Ella) with over a thousand “hits” in Newton newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her community passions were temperance and suffrage. Those reforms were “joined at the hip” in Kansas.
Statewide prohibition existed in Kansas from 1881 to 1948, longer than any other state. General on-premises liquor sales were prohibited until 1987. As of April 2017, Kansas had still not ratified the 21st Amendment which ended nationwide prohibition. So in tackling this subject I first had to run “head-on” into the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union).
The organization was founded in 1873/74 in Ohio. One of the more effective national leaders was Frances E. Willard. As an educator, temperance reformer and woman’s suffragist, she served as President of the WCTU from 1879 to 1898. It was she who helped connect the WCTU to women’s suffrage by believing women could better control liquor by getting the right to vote. Willard was more moderate than Carry Nation, who in 1901 at the Hotel Carey in Wichita used an ax to destroy the bar. She was arrested. “Mrs. Nation Was Subjected to Many Indignities While in Sedgwick Co. Jail” was the headline in the Evening Kansan-Republican May 13, 1901. Mrs. D.S. Welsh received a letter from Wichita WCTU members that this in fact was correct. After getting out of jail, Mrs. Nation went on to Topeka to do her bidding against the liquor establishment. Two months of her tactics brought a mixture of opinions about whether her violent approach worked to further the goals of the WCTU.
However, an ad in the Newton Kansan of 1883 would make you wonder if Newton had a liquor problem. Did G. W. Rogers really mean his Billiard Hall was Temperate or was he being facetious? Lemonade? Perhaps Mrs. Rogers was sympathetic to the ideas of the WCTU.
When the WCTU was begun in Newton in 1891, Ella Welsh was chosen as the first President. Her home would become a “revolving door” for those twice a month meetings.
In 1893, at a local WCTU union meeting, it was announced that a discussion on “Equal Suffrage” would take place. This statement clearly connects the two reforms of temperance and women’s suffrage. During the Seventh District Union convention in Newton that same year “Mrs. D.S. Welsh as president of the Newton Union” welcomed the convention in a very hearty and cordial manner, making all feel at home
In 1895, some members of the local WCTU petitioned the Newton Mayor and Councilmen. Mrs. D.S. Welsh (Ella) signed the petitions along with 38 others. The politicians were asked to close businesses on Sunday and to enforce Prohibition. The women knew the sale of liquor was taking place and law enforcement was lax. There was an attempt by a councilman to get the Marshal on the witness stand. But that failed and subsequently the matters were dropped. But the ladies had done something.
The WCTU was well-organized. National, state, county and city unions carried on their work. Conventions were held at all levels. At an 1899 Kansas state convention held in Newton’s Ragsdale Opera House, the WCTU statement of belief was carried in the newspaper.
The son of Mr. and Mrs. D.S. Welsh was introduced to the convention. The “little tot named by the seventh district three years ago” was Willard Welsh. He was named for the President of the WCTU, Frances Willard!
In December of 1899, the WCTU confronted the county attorney, John J. Hildreth with evidence against certain liquor establishments in Newton. Mr. Hildreth apparently felt his authority was being usurped by the organization saying “I will control the office and all prosecutions.” He pointed out to the women that he represented all the people, who without naming them directly, included the liquor establishment.
Ella was active in WCTU projects between 1891 and 1923. In 1901, she received the honor of being designated chairman of the committee on resolutions for the upcoming WCTU state convention in Ottawa. In 1908, the local chapter helped with fundraising for the YMCA. Ella was there. She also received a life membership into the WCTU for “earnest and efficient work.”
In 1910, the WCTU responded to an unfounded report circulating around town that the group was supporting certain local candidates for office. Ella wrote the denial for the newspaper.
As acting President at the meeting in 1912 it was announced that during 1911 the “North Seventh District, to which Newton belongs, was distinguished for the largest gain in membership, the best report on Sabbath observance, the largest individual union and the union having the most honorary members.”
In May/June 1914, the WCTU made a big push to campaign against Newton’s pool halls by getting residents to sign petitions that would then be presented to the City Commissioners. They determined that pool halls were a prime location for drinking liquor. According to the “Compiled Ordinances of the City of Newton of 1903” drinking establishments were against the law. However, in the 1914 Newton City Directory eight pool halls were listed. (Note: the (c) indicates “colored.”)
Ella was in charge of organizing this effort with the help of the Ministerial Alliance—a city-wide group of clergymen. Their minutes for May 4, 1914 state “Mrs. Welsh by invitation spoke of plans of the WCTU in securing signatures to petition on proposed pool hall legislation.”
She appointed members to canvass all parts of the city. On June 17, the women along with the Ministerial Alliance, presented their petitions. But they were lacking 242 signatures of qualified voters (remember at this time women could vote in local elections). Also, the proposed ordinance did not have a title. Therefore, the proposal went no further than the City Clerk and was not presented to the City Commission!
In 1915 another Kansas State WCTU Convention was held in Newton. Delegates were housed in local members’ homes. Out-of-town delegates found Newton hospitable.
1923 was about the last time Ella is mentioned in the same breath as the WCTU. Along with county attorney J. Sidney Nye, they talked of how the WCTU supported violators of the local liquor laws—alcoholics.
Ella fought most of her adult life for liquor abstinence, as well as the social and philanthropic goals of the WCTU. She showed leadership and organizational skills and could speak in front of large groups. The WCTU was a powerful force started by women who saw alcohol as a menace to home life and the family. During Newton’s cowboy era, saloons dominated our social scene. Even though prohibition existed locally and statewide, it was never fully enforced.
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919 made Prohibition the law of the land. It was the “crowning achievement of the Temperance movement.” However, in 1933, it was repealed. Ella died in 1934 at the home of her daughter Ruth in Glendale, California.
The WCTU is still an active temperance organization. It has a website. Even though membership is just 1,000 worldwide it still advocates for issues affecting women.