By Richard Albee and Molly McGraw, undergraduates, Illinois Wesleyan University
Lilla Day Monroe was a well-known women's activist in the state of Kansas. She was originally born in Pulaski County, Indiana in 1858 and then later settled in Wakeeney, Kansas with her family in 1884. She was married to Lee Monroe, an attorney for Indiana, and they had four children together. Once she settled in Kansas, Lilla started working at her husband's law office as a clerk. There she became interested in law and decided to take the bar. She was admitted and was allowed to practice in the District Court and in the Kansas Supreme Court a year later. However, practicing law wasn't the only thing that Lilla Day Monroe was interested in.
As a journalist, she began working on a grand project to publish accounts of women reminiscing about the journey of their settlement in Kansas. She started writing articles about these women's stories and putting them in The Kansas Woman's Journal. Lilla received an overwhelming amount of over 800 submitted reminiscences. Unfortunately, before completing her project, she died in 1929. Lilla's daughter, Lenore Monroe Stratton, continued putting together the accounts to create a book but never finished. Eventually, Lilla's granddaughter, Joanna Stratton, completed the project and published the book, Pioneer Women in 1981. She later donated the reminiscences to the Kansas Historical Society where you can still find them today.
Lilla became interested in women's suffrage around the 1910s. Monroe was a journalist and editor of The Club Women and The Kansas Woman's Journal. While her life as a journalist was her primary means of political activism, Lilla Day Monroe also advocated for women's rights through other means. She was a known public figure and would give public lectures advocating women's rights. Her voice was heard and known within the state of Kansas. For example, her call for more female lawyers was cited in the Women Lawyers' Journal. Monroe was regularly seen in the political scene of Kansas as a member of multiple women's rights groups. Monroe was an active member of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association (KESA), an organization which actively advocated for legislators to pass laws regarding women's rights, and was also the president of the association for several years. One administrative action Monroe made as president of KESA was a move to withdraw KESA from its national counterpart, since women in Kansas "know more of their practical needs than the women of the Far East." In addition, Monroe was a member and led the lobbying council of the Good Government of Topeka Club for twenty-six years.
The breadth of Monroe's political involvement for women's rights reaches well beyond the scope of her profession as a journalist. While Monroe was a prominent women's rights activist in the state of Kansas, Monroe's legacy resides in the hundreds of women's pioneer stories she received and published. Lilla Monroe became Kansas state chairman of her state’s chapter of the Congressional Union, later the National Woman’s Party (NWP). Her occasional and enthusiastic correspondence with Alice Paul and others is included in the NWP Papers. Inez Irwin recounts an assertive effort by Monroe and others to lobby President Wilson when he visited Topeka during the 1916 presidential campaign. Monroe remained in the NWP into the 1920s, in the early days of the push for the Equal Rights Amendment.
The citation of Monroe's call for more female lawyers can be found in Reba Swain, "Wills," Women Lawyers Journal, December, 1922. A short biography of Lilla is available at: http://www.kshs.org/archives/40163 Additionally, a photograph of Lilla can be found in an online database of the Kansas Historical Society, available at: http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/208045. This database also includes reference to her participation in the K.E.S.A. convention in J.D. MacFarland, "The Annual K.E.S.A. Convention," The Club Member, December 1907. J.D. Zahniser & Amelia R. Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power (New York: Oxford, 2014/2019), pp. 194, 234; Inez Haynes Irwin. The Story of the Woman's Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921), p. 151. Manuscripts of the published women's pioneer stories can be found indexed and listed at the Kansas Historical society are available at: http://www.kshs.org/p/lilla-day-monroe-collection-of-pioneer-stories/14090. Additional references to Lilla Day Monroe may be found elsewhere in the Kansas Historical Society's database, accessible via http://www.kshs.org/.
See also Joanna L. Stratton, Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981).