Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Emma Frances Kirby Fisk, 1852-1929
By Emily Bergquist, Undergraduate student
Harvard College, Cambridge, MA
Emma Frances Kirby was born in March 1852 in New York, New York to James Edgar Kirby and his second wife Lucinda (possibly Laviana) Jane Pettit. Around 1871 she married Charles William Fisk, an editor of the New York World. The couple lived in Brooklyn where they gave birth to a son, Arthur Aylner Fisk in 1872 and lived there until at least 1875. By 1900, they had moved to 67 Prospect St, East Orange, NJ where she lived for roughly 30 years. After the relocation, Emma Fisk was still very heavily involved in Brooklyn activities.
Emma Fisk was considered a "clubwoman." She was heavily involved in various social clubs in Brooklyn and East Orange, often selecting those with a civic or political focus. Her first recorded engagement was in 1890 when she became a member of the Brooklyn Women's Health Protective Association (BWHPA) which formed in March of that year. The BWHPA drew on female patriotism to increase activism in cleaning up the streets as part of a general Brooklyn beautification. The BWHPA was wildly successful in its efforts. In 1898, she was the Treasurer of the Brooklyn Association of Working Girls Societies, but it appears that her involvement was brief.
By 1900, the Fisks had moved to East Orange, New Jersey with Arthur and his wife, Helen (sometimes spelled Helene or Helen) H. Fisk. At some point between 1890 and 1901, Emma Fisk became heavily involved in the Brooklyn Women's Republican Union League (BWRUL), which was founded in 1896 with the mission, according to The New York Times, "to unite the women of Brooklyn in educational and social influence for the maintenance of the principles of the Republican Party." She held leadership positions on and off for about 20 years in the League. By the end of 1901, she was vice president of the League under the president Mrs. Kate M. Bostwick. In January 1901, she ran for president of the League against Mrs. Bostwick in a very divisive election that resulted in a tie and ultimately ended up on the agenda of the Second Municipal District Court. The outcome of this case is unclear, but by 1906 Fisk was president of the League. She was also listed as the president in 1910 and 1916 and presumably maintained consistent leadership.
Fisk's civic engagement greatly increased in the first decade and a half of the 1900s. By 1906, Fisk was the vice president of the Women's Republican Club of the State of New York, which oversaw local organizations like BWRUL. She was also the 1906 vice president of the Kings County Political Equality League which organized petitions for suffrage and investigations into discriminatory municipal practices. In 1908, she was also listed as auditor of the Brooklyn Women's Suffrage Association. By 1910, she had become Chair of the Civic Committee of the New York City Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1913, Fisk was still listed as a member of the Kings County Political Equality League, the Women's Republican Club of the State of New York, and the Brooklyn Women's Suffrage Association along with the Women's City Federation Forum (possibly the same thing as the New York City Federation of Women's Clubs).
She eventually began to turn her attention closer to her home of Orange, New Jersey (while still maintaining positions of power in Brooklyn circles). By 1908 she was the vice regent of the Orange Mountain chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The DAR is a genealogical society that requires direct relation to a "patriot of the American Revolution." Fisk's great grandfather on the Kirby side of the family tree, Stephen Kirby, served in the militia in the Revolutionary War. Fisk was listed as an active member in the DAR until at least 1913, but likely continued until her death. At some point between 1902 and 1910 she became the president of the Orange Political Study Club (OPSC), which was a women's group decided to civic engagement and the study of political texts and history founded by a Mrs. Sexton in 1898 under the New Jersey Women's Suffrage Association. On behalf of the OPSC she wrote to Asbury Park Mayor Thomas Frank Appleby in July 1910 to host an open air meeting on the night of July 12, 1910. It is unclear how Mayor Appleby reacted, but businessman James A. Bradley offered the use of his property on the corner of Heck Street and Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park for the event. Fisk gave a speech that evening along with a Mrs. Laddey. By April 1912, Fisk had either stepped down or been voted out as president of the OPSC and held the title of Chairman of Suffrage for the organization. In 1916, she was the treasurer for the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs, which included 179 Clubs and 17,000 members. She was an active member and leader in both the New Jersey and New York State Federations for many years.
Emma Frances Fisk passed away on January 3rd, 1929 at the age of 76 in the home of her son, Arthur in Bloomfield, NJ. She was buried in Cypress Hill Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Blackwell family. Papers of the Blackwell family, 1831-1981, Folder 565. Woman's Club of Orange, New Jersey: minutes, programs, etc. 1903-1917, n.d., http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/48569800 seq. 46-47, 52-53
Blackwell family. Papers of the Blackwell family, 1831-1981, Folder 570. Other associations in Cambridge and Orange, N.J. http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/48789721 seq. 35.
Bradley, James A. "Letter To The Editor Of The Press." Asbury Park Press, 11 July 1910.
Brooklyn Blue Book and Long Island Society Register: 1909. Brooklyn: Brooklyn Life Publishing, 1909.
"Cast Two Votes For Herself." New York Times, 4 Mar. 1901.
Census for the state of New York, for 1875. Microfilm. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.
Charity Organization Society of the City of New York, New York Charities Directory, 1898. New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1898.
Club Women of New York Company. Club Women of New York, 1906-1907. Ina Brevoort Roberts, New York: Club Women of New York, 1906.
Club Women of New York Company, Club Women of New York 1910-1911. Ina Brevoort Roberts, New York: Club Women of New York Company, 1910.
Club Women of New York Company, Club Women of New York 1913-1914. Ina Brevoort Roberts, New York: Club Women of New York Company, 1913.
Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine. "Work of the Chapters," December 1913.
New York State Federation of Women's Clubs. Year Book of the New York State Federation of Women's Clubs: 1916. Syracuse: Lyman Bros., 1916.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. "Chapter XXIX: New Jersey, Part I." In History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922.
"Mrs. Emma F. Fisk: Suffragist, Clubwoman and Widow of Editor Dies." New York Times 3 Jan. 1929:
National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution. Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage Books (152 Vols.) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com.
Scannell, John James. Scannell's New Jersey First Citizens and State Guide: Biographies of the Notable Living Men and Women of New Jersey with informing glimpses into the State's History, Affairs, Officialism and Institutions: Vol II 1919-1920. Paterson: J. J. Scannell, 1919.
Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970. Louisville, Kentucky: National Society of the Songs of the American Revolution. Microfilm, 508 rolls.
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1920. T625, 2076 rolls.
"Why They Demand A Vote: Prominent Women Eloquently Present Their Reasons." New York Times 17 April. 1984.
Winslow, Helen M., ed. Official Register and Directory of Women's Clubs in America. Shirley: Helen M. Winslow, 1916.