By Caitlin Williamson and Haley Zahn, undergraduates, Saint Anselm College
Beatrice Carlin was born on September 6, 1890 in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother was Esther Lipitz, and her father was Ben Zion (Bernard) Cohen. At the age of 19, Beatrice married Samuel Castleton on June 14, 1909 in their hometown of Brooklyn, New York. In 1890, their daughter, Sylvia Castleton, was born. Although Samuel was a librarian in New York for their early married life, both Beatrice and her family moved to Atlanta sometime in the early 1910s. There, Beatrice attended Atlanta Law School, and in 1916, Samuel set up a law firm, “Foster, Stockbridge, & Castleton.” Beatrice was approved to practice law on July 16, 1917, in the presence of her husband and partner in law, and was one of the first women in Georgia approved to practice law.
In Georgia, Beatrice was also the chairwoman of the state’s chapter of the National Woman’s Party, probably beginning in 1916 or 1917. Though the work was important, it was often frustrating, as she noted in a June 25, 1917 letter to Grace Needham that she had been “hoping little by little to win some of these women over…. I am afraid this little plan has been knocked in the head for some time to come, and I can only make enemies by persisting now.” After several years at the helm of Georgia’s NWP, Beatrice stepped down from the position, though the reason remains unclear. She left the position sometime between May and October 1918, and in October 1918 she was approved to practice law in the District of Columbia in front of the Supreme Court. However, this did not stop Beatrice from travelling to New York in 1919 and participating in the protest outside of the Metropolitan Opera House on March 4 where President Woodrow Wilson was making a speech. A long line of women stood outside the Opera House to join in on the protest, including Beatrice, who held a sign, “MR. PRESIDENT, HOW LONG MUST WOMEN WAIT FOR LIBERTY?” Six women were arrested, including Castleton, for disorderly conduct. After half an hour, the women were released without an explanation.
After this, much of Beatrice’s life remains unclear. From March to July 1920, Beatrice traveled to Cuba, although her purpose is unknown. On June 13, 1922 Beatrice and her daughter Sylvia departed from Liverpool, England and arrived in New York. Throughout this time, Samuel was one of the lawyers defending Eugene Debs in his much-famed case for treason, due to his affiliation with the Socialist party. Samuel himself was a socialist. A limited number of sources hint that Beatrice was divorced from Samuel and remarried to a man named Bert Stillwell (or Stilwell), although there is little information about her divorce or remarriage. Her son-in-law, Nathaniel Weyl, a prominent member of the Communist party himself, claimed that Beatrice was a fervent participant in the Communist party, and was one of the founding members of the Communist Party of America. Beatrice’s death date is unknown.
Beatrice Castleton’s birthdate and place of birth can be found on the 1910 Census, along with her parents’ birthdates, accessed through ancestry.com. Passport renewal forms and passenger lists of various travels can also be found on ancestry.com. Information about Beatrice’s law degree and subsequent work as a lawyer can be accessed in The Clearfield Progress, February 23, 1921 and The Atlanta Constitution, February 26, 1921 on ancestry.com, and in The Atlanta Constitution, July 17, and 20,1917, both of which can be accessed on newspapers.com. Information about the protest at the Metropolitan Opera house can be found within the Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection, accessed at https://lewissuffragecollection.omeka.net/. See also, “Suffragists Say Police Hit Them,” New York Times, March 6, 1919. The quote about her suffrage activity in Georgia can be found in the papers of the National Woman’s Party, and is not available online. It was quoted in Mary Walton, A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot. Evidence of her work as the chairwoman of the NWP in Georgia can be found in the letterhead of various documents from the NWP, including a flyer issued on May 18, 1918, accessed through The Suffragist. Information about Beatrice’s later life and political affiliations can be found in Nathaniel Weyl, “Notes and Documents: Encounters with Communism, 1932-1940,” American Communist History, 2:1 (2003), 81-94, as well as on ancestry.com in a family tree with Bert Stillwell.