By Amina Manguera and Maryam Mashayekhi, undergraduates, University of Maryland
For another sketch for Elizabeth Forbes, click here.
Mrs. T.W. Forbes was born Elizabeth Hamilton Chew on April 17, 1882 in Chicago, Illinois to J.H. Chew and Alice Chew. Her father, J.H. Chew, was native to Maryland. Forbes was born and raised in the Chicago area. In 1906, following her marriage to Theodore Weems Forbes, Forbes moved to Baltimore, Maryland with her husband. Theodore was the president of Weems Steamboat Company. In addition to their Baltimore residence, the family maintained a farm in Harford County. She and Theodore had four sons: John, Theodore, David, and Richard.
Beginning in 1917, Forbes became active in the women's suffrage movement. Forbes was a member of the Just Government League of Maryland, an organization independent of the National Woman's Party (NWP) which championed women's suffrage by carrying out locally-based initiatives (e.g. they published a periodical by the name of Maryland Suffrage News, participated in local marches, wrote editorial response in local papers like The Baltimore Sun, etc.).
Beginning on New Year's Day 1919, an increasing number of watchfire marches were taking place in response to the Congressional vote on the "Anthony Amendment," the amendment for women's right to vote, that was set to take place on February 10. On February 9, 1919, Forbes and 38 other women were arrested at a massive watchfire demonstration in Washington, D.C. and she was sentenced to five days in the District Jail. At this march, suffragists like Forbes "burned the President in effigy," a choice which later sparked controversy both within the NWP and larger suffrage movement; banners proclaimed Wilson as deceiving the world "when he appears as the prophet of democracy." The women sentenced to prison after this event began a hunger strike before their February 13 release. This event reflects the tension the year prior to the passage of the 19th amendment. The following day, February 10th, the Anthony Amendment was voted upon and failed by only one vote.
Forbes continued her commitment to the NWP well after the passage of the 19th Amendment. In 1935, Forbes was sent to the Belmont House to mediate with Party leaders on behalf of Edith Houghton Hooker, the creator of Maryland Suffrage News and one of the main organizers of the Just Government League. Hooker was at odds with the NWP after she had disregarded their objections to many of her publications. At this meeting, the NWP leadership complied with Paul's instructions to communicate with Forbes her final decisions about this conflict.
Following this interaction at the Belmont House on behalf of Houghton, Forbes became more involved with NWP initiatives. In June 1945 during the preparation for the Party's biennial convention, the Party's Executive Council created a Nominations Committee with Forbes selected as chairman.
Continuing the work of the movement, Forbes was part of the efforts that got the Equal Rights Amendment introduced and helped fight for it for decades. Forbes worked closely with Alice Paul and the NWP until a disagreement arose. Paul was stepping down from her position as the leader of the NWP and Anita Pollitzer was nominated for the position and a few members, including Forbes, did not agree with the decision. Ethel Murrell and supporters, including Forbes, broke off of the NWP in 1951 and created the American Women's Council. The American Women's Council continued to fight for the ERA.
Passionate about her work, Forbes fought for the ERA until her death on June 28, 1971. She is buried at the Trinity Episcopal Church Cemetery in Long Green, Baltimore County, Maryland.
Just Gov’t League of MD history
A timeline of the suffrage movement, including the day Forbes was arrested
The National Woman's Party Microfilm Reference Guide: The information on Forbes's involvement with the ERA was found in this book
Census Information, regarding Forbes’ family before and after marriage (Both links)
Forbes's and her husband's grave, gave her birth and death dates