By Caitlyn Havican, undergraduate student, Central Connecticut State University
Edith Callahan was born on June 9, 1897 in Kentucky. She was raised Irish Catholic, and Catholicism remained a theme in her work for much of her life. Edith Callahan attended the Sisters of Mercy School in Louisville, Kentucky, and later the Comstock School of Music in New York with hopes of becoming a musician. She composed scores for her local church in Kentucky with this knowledge. Her father, Colonel P. H. Callahan, was a celebrated veteran of World War One. Edith travelled overseas to Europe during the war and lived there with her family for several years, where she learned fluent French and gained appreciation for European culture.
Edith later returned to Europe in 1919 to attend the Paris Peace Conference, an event for which she was enlisted to act as the staff representative of the Catholic Press Association. Edith’s other qualifications for this position included her membership in the United States Press Delegation, and her multicultural experiences and familiarity with European culture. While there, Edith wrote a series of letters describing her experiences which she would later turn into a book published by the Catholic Messenger Press. The letters are an ethnography of her experience overseas at the conference.
Callahan was also deeply associated with the National Woman’s Party. She picketed the White House in 1917, though there is no evidence that she was arrested. She acted as the party’s chairwoman for the Kentucky branch, and used this as a plug in which to protest. She was especially vocal about the issue of ratification of the federal woman’s suffrage amendment. At the time, in 1920, the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote, had been approved by Congress and was in the process of state ratification. The amendment needed the approval of 36 states to be ratified. Edith is cited to have spoken in Washington, D.C. in 1920 (in attendance with several other NWP members as well as others from the Kentucky branch of the Equal Rights Association). She stated that she had canvassed the Kentucky house and senate and predicted an outcome that the majority would vote to ratify.
In her later years, Edith Callahan was the co-owner of a small book store and gift shop in Louisville. A 1947 article from Louisville’s Courier Journal entitled “Ladies Who Do Things” describes Callahan and friend, Miss Evarta Speed, who supported themselves through the book store-turned-gift-shop. Callahan defied the traditional role of women as salespeople and cashiers, as she was rarely seen actually in the shop due to the more pressing obligations that came with running it. This came with the surge of housewives transforming cultivated hobbies into businesses for personal gain as opposed to accepting their roles at home. Edith Callahan died in March of 1983 at the age of 85 after living a full and colorful life as a NWP suffragist and advocate for peace.
Edith Callahan, Glimpses of the Peace Conference, (Louisville KY: Catholic Messenger Press. 1923).
“Women Urge Suffrage: Ask Kentucky Legislature to Ratify Federal Amendment” The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), January 6, 1920, p. 20.
“Rhode Island Votes Suffrage; Is No. 23” The Sun, January 07, 1924, 24.
“Ladies Who Do Things,” The [Louisville, KY] Courier-Journal, November 02, 1947.