By Laura Koch
Undergraduate student, Simmons College
Born around 1891 in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, Ruth Small was among the twenty-two women arrested at the 1919 suffrage protest in Boston. She was an only child, the daughter of prominent Boston banker A.W. Small. She was the niece of one of Boston’s first female doctors, Laura Porter. The Small family seems to have been relatively well off, as evidenced by the writings of fellow suffragist Rebecca Hourwich Reyher. Reyher recalls an argument in which she tried to make Small see her family’s affluence, reminding her, “Ruth, your family is remodeling a lovely farmhouse in Sudbury. Your mother and father have a car, Aunty Max has one, and you have one.”
Ruth studied abroad for several years, though she did not attend college. In her early twenties she volunteered at the Boston office of the National Woman’s Party (NWP), of which she later became office manager. There she met suffragist Rebecca Hourwich Reyher, and the two became close friends, maintaining a regular correspondence for the rest of their lives.
In August of 1918, Small and Hourwich went on an automobile tour for the NWP, stopping in several Massachusetts towns to raise awareness for the suffrage campaign. Small was the driver for the trip, traveling in her “gayly decorated car,” which she called “Victory.” In the fall of the same year, Small was involved in NWP campaigning for the 1918 Senate race. She and a number of other women traveled to New Jersey and New Hampshire in an effort to gain votes for Democratic candidates who were pro-suffrage.
In 1919, a group of NWP suffragists staged a demonstration in Boston to meet President Woodrow Wilson upon his return from Europe. Ruth Small is credited as being one of the creators of a banner carried for Wilson’s arrival. When the police arrived to arrest the women, Small was charged with "loitering more than seven minutes” and was one of a number of suffragists who participated in a hunger strike during their eight-day sentences in the Boston jail. She and two others refused to pay the five dollar fine and were forcibly released before their fellow prisoners when an unidentified man known only as E.H. Howe paid the fine for them. According to the Boston Globe, Ruth Small and Betty Connolly “walked out with an officer at either side. Their packages were handed them. Miss Small refused to carry hers and an officer brought it out for her.” Later, Small was among those who returned to the jail demanding to speak to the sheriff about their involuntary release.
In 1930, Small married Charles R. Capon, with whom she had two children. Little is known about her role in the Woman’s Party during the intervening years, except that she was offered some kind of leadership position. Small and her husband adopted their first child, Charlotte, sometime in the 1930s and also had a son named Charles. Small died in 1945 and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of the Woman's Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921).
Rebecca Hourwich Reyher, The Search and Struggle for Equality and Independence (Suffragists Oral History Project). (Berkeley: University of California, Bancroft Library, 1977).
Ruth J. Capon, 1930 Census Record, Sudbury, Massachusetts.
“Suffragettes on Hunger Strike: Sixteen Jailed After Refusal to Pay $5,” Boston Daily Globe, 26 Feb. 1919: 1.
"Women Jailed in Boston: Sixteen Women Sent to Prison for Protesting Against Disfranchisement,” The Suffragist 7:10 (October 1919): 4-5.