By Whitney Hammond and Alexis LaBrie, undergraduates, Saint Anselm College
Bliss (Hinds) Finley was born on September 27, 1881, in Washington D.C. She was the only child of Clara Bliss Finley and Jerome Jasper Hinds, also known as J. J. Hinds. Her father was a sergeant in the Union Army and later became a contractor. Finley’s mother, Clara, was the daughter of Willard Bliss, a prominent doctor in Washington, D.C., who aided President James A. Garfield after the assassination attempt in 1881. When Bliss Hinds was about three years old her father abandoned her and her mother Clara, forcing her mother to file for divorce. Clara went on to become an important figure as well. She was the first woman to receive a graduate degree from Columbian College (now known as George Washington University) in 1887. She was then known as Dr. Clara Bliss Hinds and made many contributions to women and medicine through pamphlets and articles that she published. Clara also founded the Business Women’s Club of Washington, D.C. along with other prominent women in 1894. Also in 1894 Bliss Hinds’s mother married Henry Jennings Finley who was a lawyer in Washington, D.C. It was at this time that Bliss’s surname was changed from Hinds to Finley and her contact with her biological father and original surname were removed from most records.
In the early 1900s the name Bliss Finley was often found in the society pages hosting events for elite members of society in Washington, D.C. The Evening Star recounted Finley’s holiday parties and how she would spend her time around Christmas. This changed after Finley joined the suffrage movement. Rather than hosting typical social gatherings, Finley became deeply involved in organizing suffrage gatherings and helped raise money for the cause.
Finley was a well-educated woman; she first attended Mrs. Somers’ School and then went on to attend the Pratt Institute in 1911-1912. Once she left school, Finley became focused on suffrage, fair wages for workers, and the end of child labor. On March 3, 1913 Finley walked in the first national suffrage parade and was given the title of Chairwoman of the Wage Earners in her section of the parade. Finley later recounted in testimony how men attacked women during the parade and that police did nothing to protect them. Finley said she had struggled to protect the women from the brutality of the men. These statements about the lack of police protection made it on to the front pages of newspapers like the San Francisco Call and a Connecticut paper, The Day. She was very vocal about how the police failed to protect the suffrage marchers during the parades. The events, though, did not deter Finley. By January 1914 she became part of the Business Women’s Equal Suffrage League and sought to organize a commission of working women to speak to President Wilson about the challenges they faced.
Finley donated money to the National Woman’s Party (NWP), then the Congressional Union, on several occasions, ranging from one to ten dollars, in an effort to secure passage for a federal suffrage amendment. In 1915 Finley was officially added to the National Woman’s Party member list. Through 1916 and into 1917 she contributed to the Party as a full-time member by helping with events and other activities. Whether it was Western suffragists coming East to talk about suffrage in the West or holiday parties at the Cameron House, NWP’s headquarters, Finley volunteered her time by providing refreshments, decorating, or taking notes. In March 1917 Finley helped organize a four-day National Convention to discuss the National Woman’s Party’s next moves after war was declared and President Wilson won a second term. Finley remained one of the National Organizers for the NWP and also served as the Office Manager for The Suffragist from March to December 1917.
After the 19th Amendment was passed little is known about what Finley did with the rest of her life. From 1913 to 1915 she was living in Washington, D.C. at 1805 Phelps Place with her family. An interesting fact was that in 1919 Finley loaned Chinese costumes consisting of two skirts, a coat, and an embroidered Mandarin dress to the Smithsonian Museum. In the 1920s she and her family were boarders at a house on Biltmore Street in Washington, D.C. In the 1930s Finley was living in Rockville, Maryland as a boarder in a house with other women. Finley never married and lived primarily with other women throughout her life. She passed away in February 1970 and was laid to rest in Rockville, Maryland with her mother, stepfather, and uncle.
The marriage record of Clara Bliss and J.J. Hinds can be found in “District of Columbia Marriages, 1830-1921,” FamilySearch, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FWMZ-GJS. Information about J. J. Hinds can be found on Findagrave, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Hinds&GSfn=Jerome&GSby=1838&GSbyrel=in&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=10335563&df=all&. Information about Willard Bliss can be found in the article “Medical Bungling most likely killed Garfield” in The Baltimore Sun, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-10-15/news/bs-md-backstory-garfield-continued-20111015_1_garfield-surgery-baltimore-potomac-railroad. Some of the accomplishments of Clara Bliss Hinds can be found in "The Development of Babies." Milwaukee Sentinel [Milwaukee, Wisconsin] 3 July 1887: 4. A photo of Mrs. Clara Bliss Finley can be found at 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Photograph of Mrs. Clara Bliss Finley, Organizer, Business Woman's Club, Washington, D.C. In The History of the Woman’s Club Movement in America, by Mrs. J. C. Croly. (New York: H.G. Allen & Company, 1898). p. 345 and "Woman's World and Work." Daily Picayune [New Orleans, Louisiana] 19 Oct. 1890: n.p. Notes about Clara Bliss Hinds can be found in Gloria Moldow, Women Doctors in Gilded-Age Washington. (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 29, 57, 79, 91, 143. More information about the Bliss family can be found in the census records from 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940.
Bliss Finley’s activities in society can be found in “The World of Society Section” Evening Star Washington D.C. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1902-12-16/ed-1/seq-5.pdf She attended the Pratt Institute for a year and that can be found in Annual Report, College Settlements Association, 1908. Online at https://books.google.com/books?id=qgFAAQAAMAAJ&q=Miss.+Bliss+Finley&dq=Miss.+Bliss+Finley&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjg9_emhMvLAhXFbj4KHeCNCkY4ChDoAQg9MAM Her involvement in the Suffrage Parade on March 3 is documented in the San Francisco Call at http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SFC19130111&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN--------1 The testimony Bliss gave after the parade can be found in the United States Congress, Senate Committee on the District of Columbia. (1913). Suffrage Parade: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on the District of Columbia United States Senate, Sixty-third Congress, special session of the Senate, under S. Res. 499, of March 4, 1913, directing said committee to investigate the conduct of the District police and Police department of the District of Columbia in connection with the woman’s suffrage parade on March 3, 1913 (Washington: Govt. Print. Office) at https://books.google.com/books?id=-YsEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA463&lpg=PA463&dq=Miss.+Bliss+Finley&source=bl&ots=uUrpcCNsZR&sig=3ljO6VqYLUo0mkmqwy0N5DHBMDg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiRqePE-rPLAhWB2D4KHWfQBI4Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=Miss.%20Bliss%20Finley&f=false
Quotes she gave to the papers about police actions on March 15, 1913 can be found in “One Suffragette Little Troubled,” The Day, March 15 1913 at https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1915&dat=19130315&id=EPsgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=c3UFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1593,1461124&hl=en and “Met Wrong Parader,” Boston Evening Transcript, March 15 1913 at https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2249&dat=19130315&id=2ro-AAAAIBAJ&sjid=DVoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5737,2915204&hl=en. Bliss Finley was part of the wage earners section and that can be found in Janet Beer, Anne-Marie Ford, and Katherine Joslin, eds., American Feminism: Key Source Documents, 1848-1920 (London: Routledge, 2003) at https://books.google.com/books?id=I2BJygCeSLQC&pg=PA378&lpg=PA378&dq=Miss.+Bliss+Finley&source=bl&ots=k8D-YVXfeA&sig=-8sNAvZPBXx53SOTOZKdsFG-woQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiRqePE-rPLAhWB2D4KHWfQBI4Q6AEIMDAF#v=onepage&q=Miss.%20Bliss%20Finley&f=false. Bliss Finley’s involvement in the National Woman’s Party is documented throughout The Suffragist. “Women Workers’ Deputation to the President.” The Suffragist, 2:4 (January 1914) “Campaigners from the West Swoop Down on the Capital.” The Suffragist. Vol. 4: 47 (November 1916); “Brilliant Meeting at Cameron House,” The Suffragist, 4:49 (December 1916) “Plans of the District Branch.” The Suffragist, 4:52 (December 1916.); “Credits,” he Suffragist, 5: 58 (1917); “Growth of the Congressional Union.” The Suffragist, 5:58 (1917); “The National Conventions on March First” The Suffragist. 5 (March 1917); “Circulation of Suffragist.” The Suffragist, 5:64 (April 1917); “National Woman’s Party.” The Suffragist, 5:71 (1917). For her financial contributions see, “Contribution toward $50,000 Fund for Securing the Passage of a Federal Suffrage Amendment.” The Suffragist, 2:20 (May 1914); “Treasurer’s Report,” The Suffragist, 5:55 (January 1917); “Financial Report.” The Suffragist, 5:77 (July 1917). For the 1908 home of Bliss Finley at 1805 Phelps Place in Washington D.C., see Zillow.com, http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1805-Phelps-Pl-NW-Washington-DC-20008/461268_zpid/ Finley’s donation to the Smithsonian can be found in Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 1919 at https://books.google.com/books?id=wjZAAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA141&lpg=PA141&dq=Miss.+Bliss+Finley&source=bl&ots=X1Rbr7jui4&sig=dQuFnZWAM0joHQFqOnHXtQfFwRY&hl=en &sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiRqePE-rPLAhWB2D4KHWfQBI4Q6AEIMzAG#v=onepage&q=Miss.%20Bliss%20Finley&f=false