Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
 
Biography of Emma Wold, 1874-1950
 

By Dana Glasscock, undergraduate, University of Oregon
Faculty mentor: Ellen Herman

Emma Wold was born in 1874 in Norway, the first of six children of Ivor and Gurine Wold. The family emigrated to the United States in 1880. The fifth child, Cora, was born in Nebraska, in 1882, and Clara in California in 1885, during a year-long Congregational mission. The family migrated to Eugene, OR in 1893 and by 1900 Gurine was widowed caring for six children. Emma, Cora, and Clara all became active supporters of woman suffrage.

Emma Wold worked as a high school teacher in Junction City and Eugene after graduating from the University of Oregon in 1894, and earning an M.A. in 1897. Wold also earned degrees from the Western College of Oxford, Ohio, and studied in the Washington College of Law. She worked as a lawyer and educator across the country during her lifetime.

In the years after her graduation from the University of Oregon, Wold taught high school in Eugene and Portland for fifteen years. As she became more committed to the suffrage goal, she took on leadership roles in the College Equal Suffrage League and the Oregon Equal Suffrage Association, particularly in the 1912 campaign that won woman suffrage. She also served as president of the Oregon Alumni Association in Portland. Wold was also a member of activist groups advocating for women's opportunities, the advancement of higher education in the state, and other causes she believed would aid the Pacific Northwest region.

Wold's involvement with the National Woman's Party (NWP) developed gradually. She joined the NWP in 1916 and participated in speaking tours of the Pacific Northwest to discuss the suffrage movement, served as treasurer of the Women's West Club, and in 1917 wrote to President Wilson calling for treating the White House picketers as political prisoners. Emma does not seem to have joined the White House picketing in person, but supported its protests as president of the Oregon NWP branch in 1918. That same year she became a Democratic candidate for the Oregon state legislature and campaigned for former Oregon governor Oswald West, a Democrat (and woman suffrage supporter) running for the U.S. Senate. The NWP, remaining consistent with its policy of opposing all Democrats for their failure to enact the 19th Amendment, worked to defeat West (and Emma Wold).

In May 1920 Emma moved to Washington, D.C. to work as the NWP Headquarters Secretary, Alice Paul's right-hand person. In the fall of 1920 Wold corresponded with Anna Clemmons, a North Carolina Black woman who was denied in her effort to register for the upcoming election because her literacy did not "suit" the white registrar. While Wold indicated that the NWP was calling for federal control of registration and elections, in fact the Party did not follow through vigorously to support Congressional action. At the same time, Alice Paul refused to place Black activist Mary Talbert on the speakers' list for the upcoming NWP conference in February 1921 despite entreaties from Florence Kelley, Mary White Ovington, and Hattie Q. Brown.

After her work with the suffrage movement and the NWP, Emma went on to be active in lobbying, organizing, and publishing on a range of political issues. Her work included campaigns for international disarmament, including collaborating with the NWP to hold events and fundraisers for women's rights and humanitarian causes, including sending a ship full of supplies to Russia for women and children in need after the Russian Revolution, and continuing to work to ensure women's rights as equal citizens through publications and speaking in government forums.

In a 1931 publication, Wold described the work she and others did in order to remove barriers to U.S. women retaining their citizenship in cases when they married foreigners. The efforts were designed to eliminate the automatic loss of citizenship that accompanied women's marriage to foreign nationals and ensure that women as well as men were able to remain US citizens after marriage unless they specifically acted to renounce or remove that citizenship. Wold participated in this process as technical advisor, as appointed by President Hoover, for the nationality discussions at the Conference on International Law held at The Hague in 1930. She also argued that no risk of miscegenation was inherent to revising the citizenship laws because there were already state laws in place that prohibited white women from marrying men of other races, especially those of Asiatic descent. This effort resulted in legislation that protected white women's citizenship regardless of their marriages, removing the majority of loopholes and exceptions that had previously existed, at the cost of racial equality.

Federal censuses in 1930 and 1940 noted Wold's residence in DC and record her employment as a lawyer in private practice. Wold's efforts in her career allowed her to cross gender boundaries and achieve in ways that would last beyond her lifetime. She never married, spent her later years residing in New York, and died on July 21, 1950.

Sources:

Kathryn Kish Sklar and Jill Dias, "How Did the National Woman's Party Address the Issue of Enfranchisement of Black Women, 1919-1924?" Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, (1997). Accessible online at subscribing academic libraries.

Holmes, Edith Knight. "Women Organizations Show Great Growth in Year 1913," The Sunday Oregonian (Portland), December 25, 1913.

"Expense Accounts Filed: Candidates in Recent Election Submit Statements," The Sunday Oregonian, November 17, 1918.

Cott, Nancy F. "Feminist Politics in the 1920s: The National Women's Party." Journal of American History 711 (June 1984): 43-68.

Wold, Emma. "Women and Nationality: Towards Equality in Citizenship Laws," Pacific Affairs 4:6 (June 1931): 511-15.

Nicolosi, Ann Marie, "'We Do Not Want Our Girls to Marry Foreigners': Gender, Race, and American Citizenship." NWSA Journal, 13: 3 (Autumn 2001): 1-21.

"Miss Emma Wold, Aided Law Studies, Advisor to Hague Conference on International Code in '30 Dies--Suffrage Leader." New York Times, July 22, 1950.

Bachman, S.L., Priscilla Wold Longfield, and Beverly Warren-Leigh, "Claiming 'What We Must Have': How the Wold Sisters Helped Win Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment," Oregon Historical Quarterly, 122:2 (Summer 2021), 104-27.

Federal Manuscript Censuses, 1900, 1910, 1930, and 1940, Oregon, District of Columbia. Social Security Death Index, Cora Wold, 1967. Eugene, OR city directory, 1907. Accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.

Kimberly Jensen, "'Neither Head Nor Tail to the Campaign': Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912," Oregon Historical Quarterly, 108:3 (2007), 350-83.

back to top