Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Harriet Louise Keeler, ca.1846-1921
By Nithya Raya, undergraduate and Katherine Marino, faculty sponsor
The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
President, Woman Suffrage Party of Cuyahoga County
Harriet Louise Keeler was born ca. 1846 in South Kortright, New York, to Burr and Elizabeth A. Keeler, the youngest of seven children. She graduated from Delhi Academy in Delhi, New York and began teaching at age fourteen in a district school in Cherry Valley, New York. In 1866 she entered Oberlin College where she graduated with a BA in 1870, making her one of the first 150 women college graduates of the country.
She then moved to Cleveland where she dedicated over four decades, 1870 to 1913, to the Cleveland Public School system. After teaching and serving as principal she became superintendent of primary instruction and in 1912 the first female superintendent of the Cleveland Public Schools. During this time, she received an honorary Master's degree from Oberlin in 1900 and an honorary LLD from Western Reserve University in 1913. An expert in botany, language, and literature, Keller was an accomplished and well-known author, publishing seven nature guides between 1894 and 1921, such as Our Native Trees (1900) and Our Northern Shrubs (1903). She was also actively involved in various garden and women's clubs around the community, such as Garden Club and Women's City Club. In 1901 she became an elected officer of the Cleveland Consumers' League of which suffragist Belle Sherwin was president.
Keeler's engagement in suffrage started through her club activities but really flourished through her executive position within the Cuyahoga County Suffrage Association starting in 1913. Under her leadership, she converted the association into the Woman Suffrage Party of Cuyahoga County. As the newly minted "Suffrage Party," their purpose was to gain votes for women through an initiative petition, later known as the state referendum, planned for the following year, 1914. While this suffrage party centered in Cleveland, there were other groups just like this one representing other counties in Ohio, all working together under the umbrella of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. Through ward meetings, parades, outdoor suffrage speeches, and canvassing for their petition, the group gained 4,000 members in Cuyahoga County during their first year. As its president Keeler sought to train women as suffrage speakers. In 1914, the Ohio referendum for women's suffrage was defeated, although Keeler would see the passage of the national suffrage amendment six years later.
After suffrage, Keeler continued to share her botanical knowledge through additional books she wrote, like The Life of Adelia A. Field Johnson (Cleveland: Korner & Wood Co., 1912). The final book that she wrote was Our Northern Autumn (New York: Scribner, 1920).
Keeler died on February 12, 1921 at the age of 74, and is buried in the Westwood Cemetery in Oberlin, Ohio. In 1923, the Women's City Club of Cleveland established the 300-acre Harriet L. Keeler Memorial Woods in honor of her contributions to the Cleveland community. The Brecksville Reservation of Cleveland Metroparks dedicated a simple stone monument to her.
Short biographies of Harriet Louise Keeler are available in The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 1997) as well as Thea Becker's Legendary Locals of Cleveland (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2012). Her club involvements are described in William Rose's Cleveland: The Making of a City (Kent: The Kent State University Press, 1990). An article, "Ask Party Delay Ohio Vote," published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer (November 1, 1913:1)highlights Keeler's involvement in the suffrage movement. An appreciation was written in The Civic Club Bulletin (Philadelphia: Civic Club of Philadelphia, 1915) that describes her passion for botany. Important dates and events in Harriet Keeler's life are explained in a piece written by Richard Raponi for the Cleveland Historical Society. ("Harriet Keeler, Cleveland Historical Society found at https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/669#,WEc7OaIrIyl.)