The History Museum in South Bend contributed to this report.
Maybe if Amanda Way had done something terrible, people would know about her. Or if the meeting she organized had turned violent, or if she’d been a man who started a revolution, maybe then she would be famous.
But what the 23-year-old Quaker schoolteacher did 169 years ago — on Oct. 15, 1851, in the little Indiana town of Dublin — was to start one of this country’s first statewide campaigns for women’s right to vote in America. And she is not famous.
Neither are Grace Julian Clarke, Helen Gougar, Marie Edwards or the many other Indiana women who dared to be suffragists.
They were church ladies, schoolteachers, librarians; some were wives and daughters of the wealthiest men in town; some were the first female doctors and lawyers in Indiana. They were unlikely rebels who risked what one southern Indiana newspaper reporter described as “certain ostracism based on horror of any progressive principle.”
They were not the militant suffragists who staged public protests and picketed at the White House. Hoosier suffragists practiced what was called “petticoat diplomacy.” They circulated petitions, set up booths at county fairs, made speeches on auto tours through small towns.
In Evansville and Fort Wayne, they invited the public to suffrage teas. In Indianapolis, they hired a hot air balloon and dropped pamphlets over the state capital. Several filed lawsuits claiming a right to vote, but they always lost in Indiana courts.
In 1854, they filed their first petition asking the Indiana State Legislature for voting rights — then repeated the appeal for 66 years while lawmakers turned a deaf ear. In the end, Indiana was the last state in the Midwest and the 26th state in the nation to ratify the 19th Amendment, on Jan. 26, 1920.
Gov. James Putnam Goodrich called it “an act of tardy justice.”
Much like today’s prolonged political wars over gun rights and reproductive rights, the suffrage movement was a state-by-state battle — because the U.S. Constitution gives states broad authority to set their own election laws.
So until women gained the federal right to vote, women in each state had to petition their all-male state legislators for voting rights. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the 2 million member National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, said Indiana was one of the five most difficult states for winning the franchise.
It’s a story not told in the history books and movies that famously portray national suffrage leaders and their dramatic victory in 1920 when Congress finally approved the 19th Amendment. But that historic victory would not have happened if not for the 150-year revolution by persistent and courageous women in hometowns in Indiana and across the nation.
What they achieved — without ever firing a shot — was the biggest expansion of democracy in America’s history.
America is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this August, and to mark the occasion, the USA TODAY Network is naming 10 American women from each state and the District of Columbia to recognize their contributions to their state or the nation as Women of the Century.
Each has a documented track record of outstanding accomplishment in fields such as art and literature, civil rights, education, entertainment, law, media, nonprofits and philanthropy, politics, science and medicine, and sports.
Indiana’s history of producing strong women made the selection difficult.
Two legendary suffragists not on the list are Marie Stuart Edwards of Peru, Ind., who helped found the national League of Women Voters, and Helen Gougar, a Lafayette lawyer who challenged injustices through the court system.
Others include Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who in 2014 became the first woman to be the state’s chief justice. And France A. Córdova, who in 2007 became Purdue University’s first female president.
Those included here come from various generations and across the spectrum of categories. But all are champions of the same pioneering spirit.
Elizabeth Fletcher Allen
Elizabeth Fletcher Allen was the first female African-American lawyer in South Bend, as well as Indiana. Born Elizabeth Fletcher in Chicago, on Sept. 16, 1905, she married J. Chester Allen in 1928 and moved to South Bend three years later.
She and her husband were prominent attorneys in the South Bend area. Like her husband, she was a civil rights lawyer, taking cases to help African-Americans who suffered social injustices and working with such groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Urban League to bring about positive social change.
The efforts of Elizabeth and J. Chester brought an end to the Engman Natatorium’s exclusion of African-Americans. They helped bring equity for African-Americans and women to war contracts in South Bend area industries during World War II. Their firm of Allen and Allen often took on pro-bono cases for those who could not afford lawyers of their caliber.
She died Dec. 28, 1994, at the age of 89.
Helen Beardsley founded the Elkhart Chapter of the Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana in April 1913. In 1920, she became the first president of the Indiana League of Women Voters. During her years as president (1920-1922), the state headquarters were in Elkhart, moving to Indianapolis in 1923.
Helen’s husband, Andrew Hubble Beardsley, was an influential businessman in Elkhart, who later became a state legislator. His platform included women’s suffrage, making him in large part responsible for the passage of suffrage legislation in Indiana. Mr. Beardsley’s passion for the topic can be attributed to Mrs. Beardsley’s knowledge and actions.
Helen Beardsley was known as a powerful speaker and influencer. Her rally cry to get other women to commit was: “Urge women in your city to apply and work for these positions and have your Leagues assist in every possible way.”
Albion Fellows Bacon
In 1909, it would be another 11 years before women gained the right to vote in Indiana. But Albion Fellows Bacon was waiting for the ballot. Her two daughters had contracted scarlet fever that was spreading from Evansville’s overcrowded and dilapidated tenements. Bacon began campaigning for housing reforms and other changes, and by the time of her death in 1933, she was responsible for more social legislation than anyone else in Indiana.
She was instrumental not just in housing reforms, but also in child labor laws and school attendance laws. She drafted the bill that created the Indiana Department of Probation and its juvenile probation department. Through her efforts, the Child Welfare Association was formed.
Bacon is considered Evansville’s “most famous and beloved woman.” In the Progressive Era, she helped establish many of the social service and health agencies that serve the city today. At heart, she was an artist and musician. She wrote hundreds of poems and at least 16 books, including an autobiography, “Beauty for Ashes,” that was used as a sociology text at Union Theological Seminary.
Eva Mozes Kor
The Mozes family was the only Jewish family in the tiny village of Portz, Romania, when it was occupied by the Nazis in 1934. Eva and her twin sister, Miriam, were 6. At age 10, they were packed into a cattle car and transported to the Auschwitz death camp.
There, they became human guinea pigs in genetic experiments under the direction of Dr. Josef Mengele. About 1,500 sets of twins — 3,000 children — were abused, and most died as a result of those experiments. Eva survived and became an international champion of human rights, peace and the power of forgiveness.
In 2007, Eva worked with state legislators to gain passage of an Indiana law requiring Holocaust education in secondary schools. She died in 2019 in Terre Haute, which had become her home and is where she established the nonprofit CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which continues her teachings.
Sallie Wyatt Stewart
Sallie Stewart was a young teacher in Evansville‘s elementary school for Black children in 1903 when the worst race riot in the city’s history left 12 of her neighbors dead and more than 25 wounded. The event profoundly affected her, propelling her into action to improve life in Evansville.
She organized the Evansville Federation of Colored Women’s Club and led its effort in 1918-1919 to establish the first day care center for children of Black working mothers. She served as first secretary of the local NAACP chapter in 1915 and was a founder of Evansville’s first Inter-Racial Commission. She founded a boarding house and recreation center for young Black women. During World War II, she organized the local Colored Women’s War Work Community that sold bonds and stamps to help support the war. She continued teaching for 50 years.
Her influence was felt on a national scale. Stewart was president of the Indiana Federation of Colored Women from 1921 to 1928, then president of the 200,000-member National Association of Colored Women, leading efforts to raise the standards of living for Black women and their families. She founded the National Association of Colored Girls in 1930, the same year she served as a delegate to the International Council of Women in Vienna, Austria, and was the first African-American to be elected president of the National Council of Women in the United States. She also was a founder and first secretary of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association.
Her husband, Logan Stewart, was the first Black Realtor in Evansville. The couple had no children.
Helen Murray Free
People around the world continue to benefit from the pioneering research by chemist Helen Murray Free, who in 1956 revolutionized many self-testing systems for diabetes and other diseases by developing the dip-and-read strips. Still in use today, the strips allow for testing to be more convenient and efficient, enabling doctors and patients to no longer have to rely on labs for results.
She was a student at the College of Wooster in her home state of Ohio when Pearl Harbor was bombed, men went to war and there were suddenly job openings for women in what had been male-dominated careers. She switched her major to chemistry and says it was the most exciting thing that ever happened to her.
Graduating with honors in 1945, she applied for an opening in the biochemistry research group led by Alfred Free at Miles Laboratories in Elkhart. Within two years, the couple were married and became lifelong research partners. They had six children.
She also taught at Indiana University South Bend. President Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2009.
Free retired in 1982 and now promotes science education through programs such as Kids & Chemistry and Expanding Your Horizons. She focuses on female and underprivileged students.
Daisy Riley Lloyd
Daisy Riley Lloyd in 1964 became the first African American woman to be elected to the Indiana Legislature, representing Indianapolis and Marion County in the House of Representatives. During her single term in office, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She used her public position to discuss her diagnosis to reduce the stigma associated with the disease.
Lloyd held a bachelor’s degree in economics and sociology from Howard University, a master’s degree in counseling from Butler University and a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Purdue University. While raising four children, she protested segregation at the Indiana State Fair. She was also a member of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.
After her term in the Legislature, she became involved in housing issues, eventually starting her own realty business and becoming active in the National Board of Realtors. She served on the Indianapolis Public Housing Authority and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. She also helped found the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association and the Center for Leadership Development.
Kathleen Flossie Bailey
Civil rights activist Kathleen Flossie Bailey led the successful campaign for adoption of Indiana’s anti-lynching law in 1931 and lobbied for a national anti-lynching law, as well as for school integration and fair treatment of African Americans in hospitals, movie theaters and other public spaces.
She was president of the NAACP chapter in Marion in 1930 when a mob broke into the Grant County jail there, dragged two African American men to the courthouse square and hanged them from a tree. The lynching occurred after she had tried to obtain police protection for the two men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. No one was ever punished for the crime.
She and her husband, Dr. Walter T. Bailey, moved to Indianapolis around 1940 after he suffered a stroke and closed his medical practice. Their home in Marion had served as Indiana headquarters for the NAACP for a time while she was state president. She was a recipient of the national NAACP’s Madam C. J. Walker Media Award.
Margaret Ray Ringenberg
Tom Brokaw devoted a chapter to Hoosier aviator Margaret Ringenberg in his book “The Greatest Generation.” “Margaret was one of my favorites,” he said in an interview after her death.
Ringenberg began her career in 1943 as a 20-year-old pilot with the legendary Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II.
Afterward, she began racing airplanes and was still at it in 2001, racing from London to Sydney at age 79. She logged more than 40,000 hours of flying time.
She picked up 150 trophies as she raced in Powder Puff Derbies, Air Race Classics, the Grand Prix and the Denver Mile High. As she grew older, she didn’t slow down. In 1994, at the age of 72, she completed the Round-the-World Air Race. She received the NAA Elder Statesman Aviation Award in 1999.
Her interest in aviation began at age 8 when she saw a barnstormer land in a field near her family’s farm outside Fort Wayne.
She told Brokaw she initially wanted to be a flight attendant but became curious about what would happen to the plane if the pilot couldn’t function. She went to a flight training school and flew her first solo flight at 19.
After the war, she married banker Morris Ringenberg, who died in 2003. Their two children flew with her in many races and were in the winner’s circle with her to receive trophies.
May Wright Sewall
May Wright Sewall was the best known of Indiana suffragists, leading the fight for women’s rights on a national and international level. As an educator, social reformer and peace advocate, she was considered one of the most influential Hoosiers in the world in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Her home was Indianapolis, where she founded organizations that continue to serve the community today — the Indianapolis Propylaeum, which promotes educational opportunities for women in the sciences and the arts; the Indianapolis Woman’s Club, the Art Association of Indianapolis (now the Indianapolis Museum of Art) and its affiliated art school, which is now the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI. She also started the Contemporary Club and the Fortnightly Club, still in existence. In 1882, she founded the Classical School for Girls, providing Midwestern girls the opportunity to get an Ivy League-level education.
But Sewall became most widely known for her work in the organized woman’s movement. An ardent suffragist, she worked tirelessly alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for a woman’s right to vote not just in the United States but also across the world. She was chairman of the executive committee of the 2 million member National Woman Suffrage Association for eight years, served as president of the National Council of Women of the United States from 1897 to 1899 and president of the International Council of Women from 1899 to 1904.
In 1915, toward the end of her life, she was among 60 delegates who joined Henry Ford’s Peace Ship, in an attempt to halt the war in Europe prior to World War I. She firmly believed that “once educated and armed with political rights, women could stop war, clean up Society and create a better world for humankind.”
Shortly before her death in 1920, Sewall shocked her friends by releasing a book detailing her belief in spiritualism and her communication beyond the grave with her deceased husband, Theodore Sewall.
She died two months before enactment of the 19th Amendment that granted women the voting rights she had worked so hard for.
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