Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Bertha Louise Fearey, 1865-1918
By Olivia Lee, undergraduate student
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Corresponding Secretary, Orange Political Study Club
Bertha Louise Kittel was born in 1865. In 1896, she married Frederick Tysoe Fearey (1848-1920) at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Las Vegas. Frederick Tysoe Fearey invented the continuous rail joint and was the president of the Continuous Rail Joint Company, endeavors that "brought him a fortune." Bertha and Frederick Fearey had children Marie Louise Fearey (born 1900), Geraldine Kittel Fearey (born 1904), and Louise Kittel Fearey, who died as an infant in 1897. Bertha L. Fearey died on January 8th, 1918 in the Hotel del Coronado, near San Diego, California, just two years before women obtained the right to vote.
Bertha L. Fearey lived in East Orange, New Jersey and was listed as a club woman in a directory of women's clubs of the New York vicinity. She advocated for women's suffrage as the Corresponding Secretary for the Orange Political Study Club. Her work was important in increasing women's participation in the suffrage movement as well as garnering men's support.
In 1901, The Orange Political Study Club became the first suffrage group to join the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs, which set a precedent for increased interconnectivity of women's groups on state and national levels. The minutes of the March 1903 National American Woman Suffrage Association 35th Annual Convention reported Bertha L. Fearey, the corresponding secretary, writing to influential state members to understand their views on suffrage, and that "the returns were most gratifying." In November 1903, as depicted by the Boston Woman's Journal, Fearey hosted in her "beautiful home" a gathering of over 200 people, including prominent members of women's groups and literary clubs. Following the meeting, the article described "the fields here in New Jersey" as "ripe for the harvest" and predicted increasing support for women's suffrage. In December 1903, at a New Jersey Annual meeting, the Boston Woman's Journal detailed Fearey presenting a report of her sending letters to women, inviting them to be club members, and to men, asking their opinion on women's suffrage. In 1910, the Boston Woman's Journal reported again on Fearey as a hostess, this time with regard to a joint meeting at her home between the Orange Political Study Club and Essex County Woman Suffrage Association. The article stated that a Local Woman Suffrage League for Newark was underway.
Fearey and her colleagues received both support and criticism. A 1903 article in the New York Times reported Massachusetts Senator George Hoar admonishing the Orange Political Study Club for petitioning the Supreme Court, despite his supporting women's suffrage in theory. The article described the women's actions as "promiscuous public petitions," but excused "their unfamiliarity with judicial usage" as "a natural fruit of inexperience." Ultimately, the article concluded there to be "a lot of interesting work for women in this country" and suggested "the ladies of Orange" become involved in the workforce, these duties being "the correlatives of the right to vote" and assured that "the women themselves ought not to flinch if they have any faith in their sex."
Ancestry.com. California, Death Index, 1905-1939 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.
Anonymous : Club Women of New York; Club Women of New York (1910/1911) pg. 131-368.
"Club Notes." Progress, June 1909. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
Hussey, Mary D. "New Jersey Annual Meeting." Woman's Journal, 19 Dec. 1903, p. 406.
Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
Las Vegas daily optic. (Las Vegas, N.M.), 29 Sept. 1896. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
"Marriage Announcement 2." New York Times (1857-1922); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 06 Oct 1896: 5.
Mills, Harriet May. "State Correspondence." Woman's Journal, 14 Nov. 1903, p. 368.
Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
New-York tribune. (New York [N.Y.]), 23 Jan. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
"Obituary 1 - No Title." New York Times (1857-1922); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 12 Nov 1897: 7.
"One Way to Purify." New York Times (1857-1922); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 18 Dec 1903: 8.
"Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society." Google Books. New Jersey Historical Society, 1920, 05 Nov. 2008.
"Proceedings of the Thirty-fifth Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Held at New Orleans, La., March 19th to 25th, Inclusive, 1903." Google Books. The Association, 1903, 09 July 2007.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920. Vol. 5. Fowler & Wells, 1922.
"State Correspondence." Woman's Journal, 21 May 1910, p. 83. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
Year: 1910; Census Place: East Orange Ward 2, Essex, New Jersey; Roll: T624_883; Page: 20B; Enumeration District: 0164; FHL microfilm: 1374896
Reflection and Checklist
I found this process very challenging at first, because I could not find a large amount of information on my suffragist. I began by searching her name in Google Books, and working off of a knowledge of the relevant time period and that she was from New Jersey, I identified her in the context of being a corresponding secretary. I did not fully understand what this meant until I put together other pieces of the puzzle. Next, I visited the Schlesinger library, and the librarians were helpful in showing me research guides that might be useful and pointing me toward Ancestry.com, where I could find census, birth, and death information. I used the census to determine basic facts about my suffragist, which I would later confirm with other sources, such as her approximate birth year—this was difficult because no one source provided the same information, and none were exact, where she lived, her maiden name, and her spouse's name. Finding her husband's name proved extremely helpful, as there was a significant amount written about him, and she was often referenced using his name.
Having a slightly more refined understanding of my suffragist, I next turned to the Gerritsen Collection and the Women: Transnational Network. These databases helped me gather information about my suffragist's association with clubs, and specifically with the Orange Political Study Club, which was at the crux of her work as a suffragist. I found documents detailing this organization's meetings and gatherings, and her role in facilitating them. I then looked back at the original Google Books I had found and understood that her role as a corresponding secretary was tied to this organization. Additional historical information in the books made much more sense in light of knowing her position in relation to the events detailed.
I then went to the online catalog Hollis, where I filled in additional information about her life, all of which made more sense the more I was able to work off of other learned information. Hollis provided a wealth of old newspapers, and I found these exciting to read, as well as informative, as they provided important details about my suffragist's work and personal life. The Library of Congress website also had many digitized newspapers, and here I found what I consider of the most intriguing pieces of my research - my suffragist's dying in the Hotel del Coronado in California (confirmed by death records). I found this surprising because she seemed to have her life based in New Jersey, and cross-country travel at the time was timely and costly, so I would not have expected her to have made a trip to California. Also, I could not find any writing, even in relation to her husband, about why she or they were in California, or how she died. This still remains a mystery and I hope to uncover it one day.
This research process was quite demanding, and also exciting. I really enjoyed the investigative aspect of the project, and found myself feeling very invested in uncovering the history of my suffragist. I wish there had been more information about her available, but I hope to have done justice to her work with existing records.