Biographical Sketch of Nellie Main Barnes


Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Nellie Main Barnes


[Nellie Barnes and Nellie Main Barnes are the same person. We have two sketches for this suffrage activist.]


By Tim King and Hannah Simeon
Undergraduates, Illinois Wesleyan University

The birthplace and date of Nellie W. Barnes are unknown, although she married Charles W. Barnes sometime before picketing with the National Woman's Party (NWP) in Washington, D.C. in November of 1917. Nellie Barnes's maiden name was Main.

On November 9, 1917 Main and other members of the NWP arrived in Washington, D.C. and joined with picketers from other suffrage groups to protest directly in front of the gates at the White House. Allegedly, Barnes was holding a banner that had the colors gold, white, and purple - the colors of the National Woman's Party. Barnes had not been picketing for five minutes before a police officer approached her and declared that he must arrest her because she was obstructing the sidewalk. When the officer asked if he could take her banner before escorting her to a nearby police carriage, Barnes insisted on carrying the banner with her until she got to the carriage. Upon hearing of the arrest of his wife through the local newspaper (The Indianapolis Star) in the following days, Charles Barnes was said to have had "no comment and 'manifested no surprise.'"

However, Barnes and the other picketers were arrested but not actually jailed for "obstructing the sidewalk", and she joined around thirty other women for continued picketing the next day. Barnes had also received a letter from her husband while she was away in which he said: "While I was not shocked at the news [referring to her previous arrest] I had hoped it would be otherwise... I hope and pray that all of you good and noble women will so conduct yourselves that our good President may see that you are not there for any sinister purpose..." Despite his words, during the second day, a skirmish broke out because some of those who disagreed with Barnes and the other suffragists attempted to break up their protest. The Indianapolis Star depicts the skirmish by saying that "While the crowd as a whole was decidedly hostile to the suffragists, several men, who were stirred by the attacks on the women, became their defenders and several fist fights between men resulted." At this point Barnes and the picketers were arrested and formally jailed and Barnes was charged with "obstructing traffic" and sentenced to 30 days in jail. However, Barnes and the other NWP members and picketers were released on November 27th, 1917, although the reasons for their release were unspecified. The women, including Barnes, were only told that "their sentences ... had been commuted to expire immediately." These findings of an early release from jail are consistent with previous findings which state that Nellie (Main) Barnes served sixteen days in jail in Washington D.C. for picketing. Unfortunately, there is no information of Mrs. Barnes's return from Washington, or any other events of her life as they relate to the suffrage movement that could be found.


Jim Lindgren. "Taking the Risk: Fighting for Women's Rights on the Home Front During World War I," Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History: A Publication of the Indiana Historical Society, vol. 24, no 3, 2012, 40-47.

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