By Kelly Marino
Postdoctoral fellow, Binghamton University
Suffragist, birth control advocate
Annie Gertrude Porritt (formerly Annie Webb) was born on May 5, 1861, in Manchester, England, and educated at Elmswood College. Annie immigrated to America during the 1880s and took a job at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, CT. She married Edward O. Porritt in 1891, a historian, journalist, and an American correspondent for British newspapers. The pair had four children: Philip, Longshaw, Mary, and Marjory. Interested in writing, travel, and learning, the Porritts lived abroad in England and South Africa. In 1903, the family returned to the United States and settled in Hartford.
Annie Porritt became a key player when the CWSA supported Alice Paul after NAWSA ejected Paul and her staff from that mainstream suffrage organization. Porritt, Katharine Hepburn, Emily Pierson and other Connecticut women then joined Paul in her efforts to win a federal woman suffrage amendment. Porritt often wrote for the NWP’s Suffragist journal and became one of those members who kept up a running correspondence with Alice Paul about strategy and tactics.
Annie’s writing gained her notice among state social and political activists. She contributed to newspapers, magazines, and even co-authored works with her husband. While living in Hartford, she utilized her skills to advocate moral and political reforms. She endorsed the anti-venereal disease campaign and completed secretarial duties for the Connecticut Society for Social Hygiene. Porritt was elected to the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association’s (CWSA) executive board and was appointed its secretary from 1910-1913. She acted as an editor for the National American Woman Suffrage Association Publishing Company and was a member of the Congressional Union’s Advisory Council. Porritt produced several pamphlets including: “Votes and Babies” (1912); “The Political Duties of Mothers” (1912); “Laws Affecting Women and Children in the Suffrage and Non-suffrage States” (1917). She helped to create a women’s rights handbook known as the “Blue Book” or Woman Suffrage: History, Arguments, and Results (1917). By early 1914, Porritt moved to support the more ‘militant’ National Woman’s Party and became its Connecticut press secretary.
After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Porritt remained active in the women’s movement. She held various positions in the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, including vice-president. Porritt’s post-suffrage work also led her to the American Birth Control League (ABCL). She held several ABCL executive offices, becoming the secretary and a member of the board of directors. Porritt helped found the organization’s Connecticut branch. After her husband died in 1922, Porritt served as managing editor of the Birth Control Review (BCR). She penned several articles on international reproductive rights and during the late 1920s, became chair of the BCR’s editorial board. She continued this job until her death. On August 20, 1932, Porritt died after a car accident in West Hartford.
The Annie Gertrude Webb Porritt Papers, 1898-1976, are in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Reports of Porritt’s activism are in Connecticut newspapers like the Hartford Courant, other publications like the Birth Control Review, and the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association Records (Connecticut State Library). Her suffrage work is documented in Carole Nichols, Votes and More for Women: Suffrage and After in Connecticut (New York: Institute for Research in History, 1983) and her birth control activism in David J. Garrow, Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe V. Wade (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). News of her death appears in the article: “Mrs. Annie Porritt Killed: Car Collides at West Hartford with Machine Operated by Boy,” New York Times, 21 August 1932.