By Matthew Petersen, Undergraduate, Loyola University Chicago
Frances Winifred Pepper was born on February 23, 1893 to Thomas and Sarah Pepper in Washington, D.C., the oldest of three children. Pepper graduated from Western High School in Washington, D.C., a public school, in June 1912 along with her sister Margaret. Throughout World War I, Pepper worked as a stenographer for the United States Department of the Navy. In 1919, she sailed to Brest in northwestern France to work as a secretary to the National War Work Council on behalf of the American Expeditionary Forces at the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).
Outside of her career with the federal government, Pepper worked with the Congressional Union (later the National Woman’s Party). She volunteered between 1914 and 1919 as an assistant circulation manager of The Suffragist, the CU/NWP’s weekly D.C.-based newspaper. The CU/NWP used The Suffragist to advance the advocacy of a federal amendment to secure women’s suffrage. Pepper’s contributions to the newspaper assisted the growth in its distribution across the United States. Pepper regularly attended meetings of the CU in Washington, D.C., often selling weekly copies of The Suffragist with Mrs. W.T. Burch and others. In November 1916 she attended a meeting in which leaders of the CU determined to call upon the United States Congress to review the proposed Susan B. Anthony Amendment—the federal amendment to make women’s suffrage the law of the land.
On January 10, 1917 Miss Frances Pepper and eleven others from the NWP first picketed the White House. Police officers were summoned to protect against any law violations. Alice Paul, leader of the NWP, told the picketers to protest peacefully to stay within the law. By the time NWP pickets and other protests ended in 1919, thousands of women had participated and more than 150 had been jailed. The Susan B. Anthony Amendment passed Congress on June 4, 1919 and was ratified on August 18, 1920 as the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote in the United States.
Frances W. Pepper died on February 20, 1988, just a few days shy of her 95th birthday. She never married and had no children. Though she held small positions within the women’s suffrage movement of the early twentieth century, her contributions helped intensify the crusade for gender equality.
1930 United States census, District of Columbia; p. 4, family 23, dwelling 18, lines 67-70; April 3, 1930; National Archives Microfilm T-626, Roll 294.
“Graduation is near,” [Washington] Evening Star, June 13, 1912, 8.
“She’s ‘going over’ for the ‘Y’,” Washington Times, April 4, 1919, 1.
United States Passport application of Frances W. Pepper, March 3, 1919 (issued March 21, 1919), District of Columbia, pp. 47-50. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
“Credits,” The Suffragist. 5:58 (1917), 8.
“Campaigners from the West swoop down on the capital;” The Suffragist. 4: 47 (1916), 7
“Suffragettes lay siege to White House and post Silent Sentinels,” The Daily Capital Journal, Jan. 10, 1917, 1.
Social Security Death Index, entry for Frances W. Pepper, 509-60-0542; derived from U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database.