By Maddie Bro, undergraduate, The University of Iowa
Mrs. W.E. Hardy was one of the most prominent figures in the Nebraska women’s suffrage movement. Known for holding many leadership positions in state and national-level women’s suffrage organizations, Hardy gained support from Nebraska female and male suffragists, including her husband William E. Hardy, in leading grassroots campaigns around the state. Her political organizing skills and connections to national suffrage organizations were key in helping Nebraska women win limited voting rights in 1917.
Hardy was born Gertrude Hardenberg Laws in Wisconsin, probably in 1871. Gertrude Laws obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska in 1890. She was among the first alumnae of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority at the University of Nebraska, after being one of the four students first selected for membership. After graduating, she remained in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Gertrude Laws wed William E. Hardy, who was approximately seven years her senior, in January 1895. William Hardy was the president of a Lincoln furniture store and also involved in public advocacy. In 1894, for example, he traveled to Minnesota as a member of a prison reform association. The couple lived on Calvert Place in Lincoln and shared a residence with three other people: Helen L. Avery, 43, Hardy’s sister; Fred Walther, 30, no known familial relation; and Frances Jregerson, 20, no known familial relation. The U.S. Census indicates Hardy’s mother, Josephine L. Law, also lived in the household. The census taker did not specify an occupation for Gertrude Hardy.
That Hardy apparently did not have a paid occupation may have helped her devote so much time to advocating for women’s enfranchisement in Nebraska. She was a member of several state and national organizations, holding leadership roles in each. Hardy served as the first vice president, treasurer, and Finance Committee member of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association. Hardy gained national presence as part of two organizations. She served as the Nebraska representative on the Advisory Council of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. Hardy later was the Nebraska state chairman on the National Committee of the National Woman’s Party.
Hardy was involved in other service-based organizations. She served as sub-chairman of the Nebraska State Red Cross Association. Hardy and her husband were also charter members at All Souls Church, an associate of the American Unitarian Association. Hardy reportedly attended Lincoln’s first charity ball wearing a white silk top with fluffy sleeves.
The longest suffrage campaigns in Nebraska were financed by Hardy’s husband and two other Nebraska men, J. L. Kennedy and James Richardson of Omaha. Hardy herself participated in the suffrage automobile tours that were planned with the help of a Mrs. F.M. Hall of Lancaster County. The suffragists drove 20,000 miles to visit 500 locations, which contained one-half of Nebraska’s population. William Hardy raised $50,000 for that campaign. He encouraged other counties in Nebraska to follow his lead.
Hardy also was active in challenging anti-suffragists in court. As women began to win the right to vote, the Anti-Suffrage Association circulated a petition in opposition of women’s enfranchisement. The petition acquired over 30,000 signatures but was suspected of fraud and deception. Hardy was one of the nineteen suffragists who appeared in court as plaintiffs. Her portrait can be found in the National Woman’s Party Papers at the Library of Congress.
While the year and location of Hardy’s death are unknown, the suffragist’s leadership left a lasting impact on political organizing and women’s enfranchisement in the state of Nebraska.
United States Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626.
American Association of University Women (AAUW). "List of Members." The Journal of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae 4.1 (1911): 92.
The Courier (Lincoln, NE), 21 March 1903, p. 6, 22 Nov. 1894. p. 5; 24 June 1894, accessed online at "Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers."
United States Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.
“The People Who Wouldn’t Give Up,” The Woman Citizen: The Woman's National Political Weekly. 3 (Feb. 8, 1919), pp. 756-57.
Edmonston [photographer], Washington, D.C. “Mrs. W. E. Hardy of Lincoln, Nebraska, is one of the prominent members of the Advisory Council of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. Mrs. Hardy is Treasurer of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association, and was one of the most prominent leaders in the recent state campaign for suffrage in Nebraska.” [Ca. 1913-1915] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000393.
Wilson, Justina Leavitt. Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Jubilee Convention, 1869-1919, Held at St. Louis, Mo., March 24-29, 1919. New York City: Association, 1919, p. 280.
Sawyer, Andrew J., ed. Lincoln: The Capital City and Lancaster County, Nebraska 1 (1916): 259.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Mathilda Joslyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage. 1900-1920 (New York: Arno, 1969), 6: 373, 376.
"Gertrude Laws Hardy,” biographical sketch on the website of the Nebraskana Society, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/resources/OLLibrary/Nebraskana/pages/nbka0127.htm.