By Carole Sargent, Georgetown University
Washington, DC activist Minnie Brooke relished her role as a rabble rouser who felt comfortable speaking directly to crowds from street corners about suffrage. Although she was subject to opposition and even violence, at times she seems to have been exhilarated by the fray, excitedly reporting "a most wonderful riot," when she and others were attacked in Chicago for wearing the colors of the National Woman's Party. She wrote, "Women with black faces, hair pulled awry, noses turned down and up, flag and signs torn in shreds" (Zahniser and Fry 249).
Born in Roanoke Island, North Carolina, Minnehaha "Minnie" Etheridge was educated at Trinity College, now Duke University. Between 1892 and 1894 she was listed in the Official Register of the United States as a clerk for the Department of the Interior as an appointee from Dare County, North Carolina. She married florist Wentworth C. Brooke in the 1890s; some sources say 1896, but regional directories put them at the same address as early as 1894, though it is possible (albeit unlikely) that they cohabited. The couple first lived in Washington, DC, and then in Chevy Chase, Maryland. They later moved to Takoma Park, where she remained after his death. Although the Brookes had no children, Minnie Brooke inspired many young girls through her volunteer work in 1915 with the Girl Scouts as Captain of a patrol in Capitol Heights, when scouting in the USA was then only three years old.
Her life's focus was on women's suffrage, but she grounded herself in business, variously serving as superintendent of dining at the Cosmos Club, proprietor of the Brook (sic) Farm Inn at her home (aka Mrs. Brooke's Tea Room or the Brooke Tea House), owner of a well-known postcard and souvenir store called The Brooke Shop, and co-owner with her husband of W. C. and M. E. Brooke and Company Souvenirs. She became famous for her postcards, publishing hundreds of German-made images between 1907 and 1913 featuring scenes from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia that comprise a unique historical record. On the suffrage side she hosted lectures featuring famous feminists such as Alice Paul, with whom she worked closely, and also meetings of the Chevy Chase Woman's Club, and luncheons at the Women's Democratic Club of Montgomery County.
Brooke joined the suffrage movement in Washington from its very first street meetings. Although earlier involvement is possible, her first activity may have been 1908, when the National American Woman Suffrage Association held events in Washington celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. She helped organize the first suffrage parade in Washington, DC on March 3, 1913. Afterward, she became well-known for lecturing weekly on Saturday nights about the right to vote, standing before the statue of Benjamin Franklin on Pennsylvania Avenue that served as a central meeting place.
She helped Alice Paul and others organize the launching of the National Woman's Party in Chicago in 1916. She was in charge of street meetings that were conducted continuously in all parts of Chicago both day and night. She encouraged street vendors who hawked the publication The Suffragist to speak directly to passersby, just as she was known for doing in Washington and as an NWP organizer elsewhere around the country, particularly in her native South. Suffragists working on the streets endured repeated harassment. Linda Ford reports that Brooke herself was violently attacked in Chicago by two men who pushed her in front of a car.
After the death of her husband, Mrs. Brooke continued work for the National Woman's Party. She died on February 9, 1938.
Biography by Carole Sargent working with researcher Jemm Excelle Dela Cruz.
Zahniser, J. D. and Amelia R. Fry. Alice Paul: Claiming Power. (New York: Oxford University Press, June 2014), page 249.
Ford, Linda. Iron-Jawed Angels: the suffrage militancy of the National Woman's Party, 1912-1920. (University Press of America, 1991), page 73, documents the violence she suffered in Chicago.
Washburn, Wilcomb. The Cosmos Club of Washington: A Centennial History, 1878-1978 (Privately published, 1978), page 141, documents her management of the Club.
Alice Paul Institute (letters): http://www.alicepaul.org/
Photo of Minnie Brooke speaking in Chicago: http://nationalwomansparty.org/introducing-a-new-womans-world-the-national-womans-party-convention-in-chicago/
Tribute at Chevy Chase History: http://www.chevychasehistory.org/chevychase/tribute-minnie-e-brooke
Three tributes from postcard collectors: http://glenecho-cabinjohn.com/meb/meb_intro.html