Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, 1864?-1940
By Claire Rowe, undergraduate, Joanna Kilbane Myers, undergraduate and Katherine Marion, faculty sponsor
The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
President, Ohio Woman Suffrage Association
Pauline Steinem was an important leader in the suffrage movement in Toledo, Ohio, and in the country. Pauline Perlmutter was born on August 4, 1864(?), in Radiezwo, Poland, then part of Russia. She grew up in Munich, Germany, attended the State Normal School of Bavaria, and received a teacher's diploma from the teacher's seminary in Memmington, Bavaria. She married Joseph Steinem, a prominent liquor dealer, in 1884. After the birth of their first son, Edgar, they moved to Toledo, Ohio in the United States in 1887 and had three more sons, Jessie, Clarence, and Leo.
Having grown up within the Jewish faith, Steinem carried the importance of this faith with her throughout her life. She helped form the Council of Jewish Women in 1899 and served as its president. The council helped support social legislative reform, service and peace.
Steinem was a leader in Toledo's educational system and in 1903 spearheaded the committee that created a vacation school program, a place for children to go and learn during summer, which soon enrolled 350 students. In 1904 she became the first woman on the Toledo Board of Education, becoming the first woman to be elected to public office in Toledo and one of the first to be elected to any office in Ohio. Steinem held this position until 1909. Steinem advocated for more women on school boards nationally at the 1906 National American Suffrage Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. Steinem was appointed as a Toledo Public Library trustee from 1910-1914, and she helped secure the Ohio Juvenile Court Law. Along with her passion for education, she believed strongly in theosophy, the belief in the equality of all, which motivated her school reform and suffragist activism.
Through her work on the school board, Steinem gained experience in canvassing, registering voters and public speaking, all of which were crucial in her fight for suffrage. In 1906, Steinem traveled to Washington D.C. with other suffragists to testify in Congress for the addition of a suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This effort was ultimately unsuccessful but galvanized her interest in the suffrage movement.
In 1908 she became the president of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association (OWSA), the state organization connected to the National American Woman Suffrage Association that promoted state and local legislative reform. She held that position until 1911. As OWSA president she encouraged Ohio suffragists to campaign for delegates who supported the women's suffrage movement at the 1911 Constitutional Convention. She was also influential in the 1912 Ohio suffrage referendum and spoke about the importance of women's representation in politics at an amendment hearing. The referendum failed, and in 1913 Steinem joined thousands of suffragists in the Women's Suffrage Parade in Washington D.C., the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.
After the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, she spent the next twenty years working unpaid public jobs and passed away in Toledo on January 5, 1940. She was survived by three sons Edgar, Jessie and Leo Steinem. Her son, Leo Steinem, was the father of the prominent feminist Gloria Steinem. When asked about her grandmother, Gloria Steinem writes, "I was five or six when my grandmother became ill and died . . . Only much later…did I learn that she got elected [to the school board] by organizing women to go to the polls in large groups--otherwise, men and boys kept them away from the polls by what we would now call sexual harassment." Gloria Steinem noted the importance of "uncovering a neglected past" of Pauline Steinem's life, noting, "if we can't see it, we can't be it."
Sources list conflicting dates (1863-1866) for Steinem's birth in Germany. The year 1864 appears to be the most agreed upon date (U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current, www.ancestry.com ) A biographical sketch of Pauline Steinem's education is included in The Jewish Women's Archive Encyclopedia written by granddaughter Gloria Steinem at https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/steinem-pauline-perlmutter . Steinem's letter to the College Women's Assembly on April 4, 1914, was found in MSS 1025 Franklin County Woman Suffrage Association at the Ohio History Connection (formerly The Ohio Historical Society) in Columbus, Ohio. Steinem's dedication and belief of theosophy was found in her public statement in 1914 "Why I Am A Suffragist," found in Jacob R. Marcus' The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History (New York, NY : KTAV, 1981). Janice K. Schemenauer describes Steinem's work in the Toledo education system in "New Ideas in Education: Toledo and the Urban School, 1870-1930," Northwest Ohio Quarterly 69:2 (1997) 71-95. The 1920 and 1940 United States Federal Census details birth, immigration, marriage, and death dates and family information on www.ancestry.com. Gloria Steinem's email on October 3, 2016 to Joanna Kilbane Myers outlines Steinem's involvement in Congress and the Washington, D.C. 1913 Suffrage Parade, her dedication to her Jewish faith, and personal sentiments about Pauline Steinem. Ida Husted Harper's The History of Women's Suffrage, Vol. 6 (New York: J. J. Little and Ives Co., 1922) details Steinem's testimony in Congress. Steinem's role in the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association is highlighted at https://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Ohio_Woman_Suffrage_Association Steinem's participation in and details about the 1913 Women's Suffrage Parade are included in the White House webpage at). https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/03/03/this-day-history-1919-womens-suffrage-parade
Information about Steinem's involvement with Ohio's suffrage movement and the Council of Jewish Women was found in Regina Eileen Rausch, "Let Ohio Women Vote: The Years to Victory, 1900-1920" (PhD Dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1984). Information detailing Steinem's involvement in Toledo's education reform as well as its relation to the suffrage movement was found in Chapters 3 and 4 of Buckeye Women: The History of Ohio's Daughters written by Stephane Elise Booth (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2001). Elizabeth J. Hauser describes Steinem's election to the school board in "Women Did Vote and Were Elected to the School Boards of Ohio," The Daily Oklahoman, January 16, 1910. Information about her life after suffrage, and other clarifying details were provided by Elaine S. Anderson's monograph "Pauline Steinem, Dynamic Immigrant," prepared for the Women in Ohio History Conference in Columbus, Ohio in 1975.