Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Harriet A. Eager, 1851-?
By Adrian Horton, undergraduate student, Harvard University
Harriet A. Eager was born in January 1851 in Oswego, New York to an American mother and a British-Canadian father. According to census records, she married Henry Burr Eager, who was sixteen years her senior, in 1878. The couple first resided in Brookline, MA, according to an 1880 census. They later resided in nearby Newton, MA, which is the hometown given for Mrs. Eager in later newspaper accounts of her suffrage activities. The couple had one child, likely named Moses. It is unclear when Mrs. Eager died, but it was after Henry Eager, as census data from 1930 lists her as widowed.
Mrs. Eager was active in the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA), and had several articles published in support of the suffrage movement. Although one article of hers, a piece in The Congregationalist that advocated for rigorous childhood education through church communities, was published in 1898, most of her work on behalf of women's suffrage appears in the late 1910s. In 1906, she served as a delegate from Massachusetts at the annual National American Woman Suffrage Association conference in Washington, D.C. A New York Times article reports that Harriet A. Eager spoke to Congress on behalf of Massachusetts women, proclaiming that women required the right to vote to fight pressing moral concerns, such as the "circulation of objectionable literature." At her meeting with the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage, the article reports, she decried how women were "almost helpless because of their lack of political influence."
Mrs. Eager, an accomplished public speaker, delivered several marked addresses to the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association during this time. In 1907, the Boston Daily Globe reported that she denounced, in a MWSA meeting, the Pilgrim Association for not including any women in their dedication of a monument at Provincetown. She was a featured speaker in program meeting notes from 1907, along with Henry B. Blackwell. She was also a member of the Honor Legion, a prominent benefit society begun in Boston by Dr. Darius Wilson. The final mention of her activities on behalf of women's suffrage appears in 1909, when the Boston Daily Globe published an article of hers about a charming suffragist in Cape Cod who combatted stereotypes of the demeaning, anti-feminine "Suffragette." The woman's logical and reasoned approach to engaging men on the topic of suffrage, wrote Eager, won them over. "The woman showed in this practical way to the men to whom she spoke the position women are in," she wrote, "and that it was not just and fair that she or any woman should be obliged to seek favors of men." Eager, recognizing the negative impact of the "Suffragette" reputation, ends the article on a reassuring note to male readers: "A 'suffragette' has been at work on Cape Cod and the state has not trembled, neither has the woman who played the part become one whit less feminine. She looks and acts as before the experience."
Eager, Harriet A. "A Suffragette at the Barnstable Fair." Boston Daily Globe , Sep 13, 1908.
Eager, Harriet A. "The Child and the Church." Congregationalist 83, no. 9 (Mar 03, 1898): 311.
"Governor Will Receive." Boston Daily Globe , Feb 04, 1909.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. The History of Women's Suffrage, Volume 6. New York: J. J. Little & Ives Company, 1920. p. 272.
"Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association Administrative Records" (January 1, 1902 - February 28, 1911), Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA, http://congressional.proquest.com/histvault?q=002690-027-0185.
"Notes from the Churches." Zion's Herald, 54, no. 46 (Nov 15, 1877): 365..
"Reports from Branches." Boston Daily Globe, May 18, 1907.
"Suffragists Meet.: Criticism of the Pilgrim Association." Boston Daily Globe, Oct 25, 1907.
The Handbook of the National Woman Suffrage Association and Proceeding of the Annual Convention, 1893. Digitized by the University of Michigan, May 24, 2006.
The Manhattan: An Illustrated Literary Magazine for the People. New York: John W. Orr, 1883.
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: U.S. Citizen Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Key West, Florida; NAI Number: 2790482; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85
"Women Suffragists Talk to Legislators." New York Times. February 16, 1906.
Year: 1910; Census Place: Newton Ward 7, Middlesex, Massachusetts; Roll: T624_603; Page: 22A; Enumeration District: 0978; FHL microfilm: 1374616.
Harriet A. Eager
[Note: I am fairly confident in the Ancestry.com records, but not *positive* that this is the correct Harriet A. Eager. However, enough adds up that I don't think it's a stretch]
-According to Ancestry.com, she was born in January 1851 in Oswego, New York to a British-Canadian father and mother from New York City.
-Married Henry Burr Eager, a bookkeeper (1910 census) who was 16 years her senior, in 1878. By 1880, they were living in Brookline, MA, where Mrs. Eager worked as a teacher.
-According to a 1910 census, they had one child, likely named Moses
-The couple resided in Newton, MA
November 1877: "Miss Harriet A. Eager" spoke at the Allston M.E. Church and received a rave review in the Boston Daily Globe. The newspaper reports that she attended the Boston University school of oratory, but does not list a graduation date. I'm a little confused with this find because of the "Miss" title—shouldn't Eager be her married name? But the age and location fit, and most of the material I can find on Harriet A. Eager report her giving speeches or talks.
1907: At a meeting for the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, Harriet A. Eager publicly criticized the Pilgrim Association, which had just dedicated a memorial at Provincetown, for not including women on their board.
She was a member of the Legion of Honor, a benefit society begun in Boston by Dr. Darius Wilson.
Listed as a supporter of the Goodwill Neighborhood House.
Harriet A. Eager was a delegate for Massachusetts at the NAWSA convention in 1906.
New York Times article: Harriet Eager appears as someone who supported suffrage to leverage influence in social concerns, such as the "circulation of objectionable literature in Massachusetts." This seems to tie into Mrs. Eager's strong roots in the church (I think Methodist).
Pieces written by Harriet A. Eager:
-In "The Child and the Church" (Congregationalist Magazine, March 3, 1898), Harriet Eager advocates for emphasis on childhood education, and for the church's role in developing "stalwart, vigorous souls." She also supports adapting teaching models from religious educations or Sunday schools to public school classrooms, so that children can develop better morals and not just excellent recitation skills. (Note: she is, pointedly though not heavy-handedly, touting education for both male and female children).
-"A Suffragette at the Barnstable Fair" (Boston Globe, February 1909). Harriet Eager wrote a profile of a suffragist campaigning in Cape Cod in order to combat negative stereotypes of the movement. The woman she describes engages many men to make the case for women's suffrage, and all but five agree with her. For the opponents, the women's sharp wit proves their points groundless. The article ends by reassuring readers that 1) the overtures of the suffragist were peaceful, rational, calm, and non-disruptive 2) the suffragist continued to get along with men and be as "feminine" as before 3) the people of Cape Cod are for women's suffrage and thus only the lawmakers are out of touch.