Article by Adrienne Burke, AICP, Esq.
Women’s Suffrage in Florida
Grace Wilbur Trout drives suffragists through downtown Chicago (Wikipedia)
As the election draws upon us, we recognize 2020 as the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, allowing and protecting women’s right to vote. We remember the early efforts of Ella McWilliams Chamberlain of Tampa who, in the early 1890s, organized at least 100 Florida women into the National American Woman Suffrage Association. After she moved, suffrage wasn’t a movement in the state again until 1912 when women in Jacksonville formed the Equal Franchise League.
Other local groups in Lake Helen and Orlando soon followed. The Florida Equal Suffrage Association was formed in 1913, and included female leaders from Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville. The Association advocated throughout the second decade of the 20th century to advocate for women’s right to vote. Some municipalities in Florida did grant women the right to vote during this time, but it was not until the 19th Amendment that women in Florida finally received the right. Florida was not one of the 36 states ratifying the amendment in order to assure passage, and did not officially ratify the amendment until May 13, 1969. Women often organized in their homes, relied on donated office space from local businesses, and held community rallies. These sites associated with Florida women’s suffrage, including the Jacksonville locations highlighted below, are worthy of more exploration and preservation.
*Resource: They Dared to Dream: Florida Women Who Shaped History by Doris Weatherford *
The Empire Point subdivision was constructed around the Marabanong mansion shown above. Built in 1876 by Thomas Basnett, the name is a New Zealand Maori Indian word for “Paradise.” Basnett’s wife, Eliza Wilbur, was an internationally known scientist from New York. She was the first woman to lecture science students at Harvard University. While living at the Marabanong, she invented a large astronomical telescope, which was occasionally used by neighborhood boys to spy on houses across the river in Fairfield.
In 1914, the house was sold to Eliza’s cousin, Grace Wilbur Trout. Trout was a nationally prominent figure in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Trout strong-armed the Governor of Illinois into granting universal suffrage for women in that state and paved the way for the passage of the 19th amendment, giving all women the right to vote. In Jacksonville, Trout became the first president of the Planning and Advisory Board and president of the Jacksonville Garden Club.
St. James Building
On June 15, 1912, a group of 30 women organized the Florida Equal Franchise League in the home of Elizabeth B. Anderson. At the time, Herbert and Elizabeth Anderson resided at 224 Market Street. Their daughter, Frances B. Anderson, became recording secretary of the Florida State Equal Suffrage Association. During this meeting, Katherine Livingston Eagan was elected to serve as the organization’s first president.
After Eagan moved from Jacksonville, Mrs. Roselle C. Cooley became the organization’s next president. During this time, the Florida Equal Franchise League’s offices were located on the third floor of the St. James Building. Completed in 1912 for the Cohen Brothers department store, the St. James Building was designed by noted local architect Henry John Klutho and is considered to be one of the most distinctive buildings in the city.
The ground floor periphery included specialty retail shops with a massive department store in the center of the first floor and the entire second. The top floors were leased as office space to entities like the Florida Equal Franchise League.
Eartha White (center, first row) with delegates at the State Meeting of the City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs of Jacksonville on May 16, 1915. Often excluded from white clubs and clubs created by black men, despite being instrumental in the development of the city, black women created their own clubs to combat stereotypes defining them as devoid of morality and incapable of upholding family responsibilities.
In 1920, Eartha White led voter registration drives to register black women to vote. In an effort to intimidate black voters, the Ku Klux Klan staged election day parades. Nevertheless, Eartha White and other activists encouraged thousands of black voters, both women and men, to show up at the polls. Despite the increased participation, official campaign results erased all but a few black votes. It was estimated by White that between 3,000 and 4,000 black voters were denied their right to vote. Although there were plans to present their cases to the United States Congress, when the time came, White told NAACP officials that many of her claimants were afraid and refused to speak in public.
Taken in 1925 in front of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, Margaret Murray Washington (center) of Tuskegee, AL. Washington was known as great anti-lynching activist. She was credited for co-founding the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. Thanks to the University of North Florida Special Collections and University Archives for the historic images.
Next page: More women’s suffrage sites in Jacksonville