By Kelly Marino
Postdoctoral fellow, Binghamton University
Stenographer, suffrage organizer
Catherine M. Flanagan, from Hartford, Connecticut, was born in 1889 to Irish immigrants, John J. and Bridget E. Flanagan. Her father participated in the Irish freedom movement and entered the United States as a political exile. The second oldest child in her family, Flanagan helped to care for her six siblings and later, her widowed mother. She worked as a stenographer, which made her attractive to Hartford suffragists engaged in a press campaign. In the 1910 census she lived at home and was recorded as a bookkeeper. During the 1910s, the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA) appointed Flanagan as its secretary. The 1920 census in Hartford recorded her as an organizer for a suffrage society.
At 28 years old, Flanagan made headlines because of her militant woman suffrage organizing. During the summer of 1917, she requested a personal vacation from the CWSA to travel to Washington, D.C., and join in the National Woman's Party (NWP) protests in the nation's capital. Flanagan spent approximately two weeks on the White House picket lines before her arrest on August 17. She faced charges of obstructing traffic and unlawful assembly. Refusing to pay the fine of $10, Flanagan opted to serve 30 days at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. During her stay, she urged politicians to take action in response to female prisoners’ poor treatment.
Connecticut suffragists debated how to respond to Flanagan's arrest. Some CWSA leaders argued she could use her personal vacation any way she wanted. The incident spurred many state activists to switch to NWP membership. Other campaigners criticized Flanagan, an active CWSA executive member, for her behavior. Disputes over Flanagan's DC activities were a turning point in the Connecticut movement. Following Flanagan’s arrest tensions deepened between the state’s “militant” and “non-militant” campaigners. The Connecticut NWP was created. Upon release from the Occoquan Workhouse, Flanagan resigned from the CWSA and officially joined the NWP. She became a state and national organizer. Locally celebrated for her actions, Flanagan carried the Connecticut ratification document endorsing the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to the State Department in late 1920.
Shortly after these events, Catherine married William H. Leary in Utah in October 1921. The couple had a son Peter born in Salt Lake City in November 1922. Catherine died there in August 1927 from a hemorrhage caused by an ectopic pregnancy.
Little information exists about Flanagan’s personal life. Newspapers such as the Bridgeport Herald, Hartford Courant, Hartford Daily Times, Meriden Morning Record, and The Suffragist detail her equal franchise activism. Flanagan appears in the Records of the National Woman’s Party (Library of Congress) and the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association Records (Connecticut State Library). She is featured in two articles titled: "Hartford Irishwoman was Heroine of Suffrage Drive" and "Flanagan Described her 1917 'Vacation' in Bridgeport Newspaper," in The Shanachie newspaper, Connecticut Irish-American Historical Society, Winter 2006. Other significant mentions of Flanagan are included in: Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920); Carole Nichols, Votes and More for Women: Suffrage and After in Connecticut (New York: Institute for Research in History, 1983); and Kelly Marino, "Making a Scene for Suffrage in Connecticut: Emily Pierson and Educational Theatrics, 1910-1917," Connecticut History 52 (Fall 2013).
1910 and 1920 censuses of Hartford, CT for listings of Catherine residing with her mother Bridget and sisters.
State of Utah: marriage certificate, William H. Leary and Catherine Flanagan, October 28, 1921; birth certificate for Peter Leary, 2 November 1922; death certificate, Catherine Flanagan Leary, August 5, 1927.