Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Dr. Luema Green Johnson, 1853-1918
By Connie Briennecourt, undergraduate, University of California, Berkeley
Dr. Luema Green-Johnson, alternatively spelled Luanna or Luana, was born in May of 1853 in New York to Charles William Green and Paulina Molyneaux. Luema was the second of seven children; she was preceded by Laetta, then followed by Lennon, Wilbur Fisk, Charles, Margaret, and Melville C. Johnson. In 1855, her family moved to Shandaken, New York where she would live for five years until the age of seven. Luema and her family then, in 1860, moved to Illinois.
Illinois was where Luema met her husband, John Lawrence Johnson. Luema and John were married on November 16, 1875 in La Salle. They had three children: Jennie F. W. (b. 1876), Charles S. (b. 1878), and Annie S. (b. 1881). Jennie and Charles were both born in Illinois, and Annie was born in New York.
After her children were born, Dr. Johnson spent several years in Iowa working with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. This work served as a precursor to her participation in the suffrage movement, and was her introduction to an environment of political activism by and for women. Her time in Iowa was spent alone; her husband and son were working as merchants in Washington, and her two daughters were studying in Chicago. After a decline in her health, Dr. Johnson moved to Tacoma, Washington in December of 1898 to be with her husband and son.
Luema took a two-month break from advocacy upon arriving in Washington in order to recover from her sickness. After her recovery, Johnson began her participation in a two-year legal course which opened her eyes to the unjust legal barriers women faced. Infuriated, she "vowed that the remainder of [her] life should be spent in helping to make the great wrongs under which she labors right . . ." This epiphany propelled Luema into organizing, and eventually running, Washington's Equal Suffrage Association. When Luema joined the association, the group was bankrupt. It had next to no members, and its leadership wanted to step down right before the state suffrage conference of 1900. Johnson, along with a core group of new, dues-paying members, attended the conference in the place of the old leadership. After this, Luema's unofficial group assumed formal leadership of the organization, and Luema was appointed state treasurer and organizer. In order to save the association, Johnson went to adjacent counties and helped personally establish small, local, dues-paying suffrage clubs. In doing this, Luema was able to substantially boost membership and help stabilize the organization's finances. She played a pivotal role in pulling the association back from the brink of collapse, and was then there to reinforce it. Had she not gone town to town to speak directly with women, the association would have likely collapsed. Luema continued working for the association and assumed more responsibilities. In 1902, Luema was elected president of Washington's Equal Suffrage Association, a position she would hold until 1904.
Her leadership and membership were contentious, though. In 1904 a criticism of her activism was published by George E. Bowen that claimed Luema tended to make broad, strongly opinionated statements on policy preferences without actively working to pursue said preferences. In this particular criticism, Johnson made a statement about how a child should never be taken from its mother, but then made no progressive steps to prevent this from happening in the real world.
Luema's husband John died between 1900 and 1910. In order to support herself, she began working as an osteopath in Tacoma –a position accessible to Luema, as osteopaths were not required to attend formal medical school. She worked this job for the rest of her life, all the while persisting in her suffrage efforts. Dr. Johnson passed away in Tacoma on October 6, 1918 after an illustrious career of service for the advancement of American women's rights.
Anthony, Susan B. and Harper, Ida H. The History of Woman Suffrage Trilogy Part 2. New York: J. J. Little & Ives Company. p. 673.
Bowen, George E. "Motherhood and the Home" in Lucifer, the light-bearer. p 34, accessed at http://www.everydaylife.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/LuciferJanuary1904June1907/0.
"Business Directory," Tacoma Times, January 18, 1909, accessed on April 3, 2017, at https://www.newspapers.com/image/68056267/?terms=luema%2Bjohnson.
Green-Johnson, Luema. "From the Pacific Coast," The Woman's Standard, 14:6 (1901): p. 2
"In the Editor's Mail," Tacoma Times, January 28, 1911, accessed on April 2, 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/image/47610232/?terms=luema%2Bjohnson.
Leonard, John William. Woman's Who's Who of America. Detroit: The American Commonwealth Company, 1914. p. 435.
"Luema Green." Ancestry Library. Accessed April 3, 2017. https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/family-tree/person/tree/37160330/person/400015142175/facts.