By Francesca Gervasi, undergraduate, Loyola University Chicago
Emily Haskell Bright was born on July 29, 1856 in Sierra County, California, but was raised primarily in Evanston, Illinois. Her parents were George and Hannah Haskell, who worked in the education field, first in California and later in Wisconsin. She married Alfred H. Bright, a prominent Milwaukee lawyer, on September 15, 1887 and had four children: Elizabeth Haskell, George Noyes, Katharine Cruttenden, and Agnes Haskell. Bright’s husband was an avid supporter of the suffrage movement who used his political position to promote Emily’s career.
Bright’s interest in women’s rights was roused by her mother, who took her to see a speech by Susan B. Anthony as a young girl in Evanston. It was 1911 when Bright became active in the women’s suffrage movement in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she served as president of the Political Equality Club of Minneapolis as well as the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). Formed in 1881, the MWSA often worked in alliance with the Political Equality Club to pressure the state legislature to grant women the right to vote in all elections. Minnesota had previously granted women the vote on school board elections in 1875, but did not grant women full voting rights until the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920.
According to her friend, the Minnesota suffragist Clara Ueland, Bright was a fearless, clever, and fierce feminist. Another colleague noted that Bright was “always in the advance guard of thought and action. In 1912, Bright helped found the Woman’s Welfare League in St. Paul, which became influential on suffrage. Bright served one term as president of the MWSA in 1913, but declined another term as president in 1914 after the sudden death of one of her children.
After returning to the women’s rights movement, Bright was named vice-president of MWSA and honorary president of the Ramsey County Suffrage Association. She also became a member of the national advisory committee for the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1917. Formed the previous year, the NWP grew out of the Congressional Union (CU), a more militant group than the NAWSA. Originally, the party replaced the Congressional Union in states where women had already won the right to vote. In 1917, the two organizations merged and retained the name of the National Woman’s Party. In 1930, Bright’s name was placed on the honor roll of the National League of Women Voters (LWV) because of her contributions to the suffrage campaign and subsequent work with the LWV. Though Alfred Bright died suddenly on September 20, 1921 at the age of 70, he lived long enough to see his woman suffrage achieved. Emily Bright died shortly after her 1930 LWV honor.
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Horace Bushnell Hudson. "Courts and Lawyers." In A Half Century of Minneapolis (Minneapolis: Hudson Publishing, 1908), 145.
Barbara Stuhler. "From Motherhood to Community," in Gentle Warriors: Clara Ueland and the Minnesota Struggle for Woman Suffrage (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995), 68-69.
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