By Marjorie-Sarah Atkinson
Undergraduate student, Simmons College
Louise Sykes (née Louise Lassell Ryckman, b. 1868; died, in or after 1940) was born on March 9, 1868 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in 1890. On August 22, 1900, she married Frederick Henry Sykes, (b. 1863) of Queensville, Ontario, The couple had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood: Fredericka Edmonda Sykes (died at age four from diphtheria), Frederick Ryckman Sykes (born January 28, 1905 and died April 28, 1931), James Thornton Sykes (born June 5, 1906), and Christopher Baird Sykes (born December 22, 1912). Her husband, an author and educator, became the inaugural president of the Connecticut College for Women in 1913. Frederick advocated educating women for professions like social work and home economics. But he also established a student award “for the best speech on any social or political topic of present interest.” This was named the Louise Ryckman Sykes Prize, presumably in reflection of his wife’s interests. The College dismissed Frederick, in a cloud of controversy about business inefficiency, in 1917. The family relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Frederick’s death later that same year left Louise the sole caretaker of their three remaining children; she was executrix of his will.
An active suffragist, Louise Sykes published an editorial in the New York Times on February 14, 1915. She served as a State officer for the Massachusetts branch of the National Woman’s Party in 1918. She voiced some of the more conservative arguments for suffrage; at the Branch meeting in Boston’s Kingsley Hall, she stated that “men as usual were concerning themselves with democratizing every class and group of men, and now that even criminals were democratized there remained only women and idiots still beyond the pale.” On February 14, 1919, upon President Woodrow Wilson’s return to Boston from European council tables, she took part in the suffrage demonstration awaiting his arrival. The purpose of the protest was to urge the president to secure the last necessary Senate votes for what would become the 19th Amendment. She set a copy of President Wilson’s speech aflame on Boston Common, accompanied by fellow suffragist Elsie Hill. She also attended the trial of another fellow protestor, Mrs. Cerise Carman Jack, as a potential witness to testify on Jack’s behalf on April 23, 1919.
The last public record of her is from 1940, when she was noted in the Cambridge, Massachusetts federal census as the 72-year-old head of household living with her youngest son, 27-year-old Christopher B. Sykes. There seems to be no official record of her death, leaving those circumstances unknown.
“Suffragists Leaving Headquarters for Protest Meeting on Boston Common during President’s Visit.” 8 Mar. 1919. The Gerritsen Collection – Women’s History Online, 1543-1945. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.
“Commonwealth versus Jack.” Suffragist 7:18 (May 10, 1919): 8.
“Connecticut College Notes.” Day [New London] 7 June 1916: 7. Print.
“FREDERICK R. SYKES IS FOUND DEAD IN NEW YORK,” Daily Boston Globe, 29 Apr. 1931: 19.
“Guardianship Cases,” Cambridge Chronicle, 1 Dec. 1917: 10 at http://cambridge.dlconsulting.com
Marthers, Paul P. Eighth Sister No More: The Origins and Evolution of Connecticut College. (New York: Peter Lang, 2010).
“Massachusetts Branch Holds Annual Conference,” Suffragist 6:14 (April 20, 1918): 7.
“New York Alumni.” University of Toronto Monthly 4.1 (1903): 306. Print.
1940 United States Federal Census for Louise Ryckman Sykes. Ancestry. Ancestry.com, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. http://interactive.ancestry.com
“Reminding the President When He Landed in Boston,” Suffragist 7:9 (1 Mar. 1919): 6.
Stevens, Doris. “Boston Militants Welcome the President,” Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 319-25.
Sykes, Louise Ryckman. “VOTING IN FEMININE WAY. Men Will Be Doing So if They Follow.” Editorial. New York Times, 14 Feb. 1915: n. pag.
U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 for Louise Ryckman Sykes. Ancestry. Ancestry.com, n.d.
“Wills Filed,” Cambridge Chronicle, 10 Nov. 1917: 10. At http://cambridge.dlconsulting.com