Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Dorothy Frooks, 1897-1997
By Liat Rubin, undergraduate student
Harvard College, Cambridge, MA
Dorothy Frooks was born near Saugerties, New York, USA on February 12, 1897. She grew up on a 400 acre Hudson Valley Farm with nine siblings. Her parents, Reginald Frooks and Rosita Siberz, were relatively wealthy. Dorothy Frooks married her husband, Jay Philippe Vanderbilt, on April 15, 1986 in Arlington, Virginia. At the time of their marriage, he was 34 and she was 90. Frooks died on April 13, 1997 in Manhattan, and her husband survives her today.
Dorothy Frooks had a national reputation as the "infant prodigy" or "baby orator." After recognizing her oratory skills and potential within the suffrage movement, her mother's suffragist friends recruited Frooks to the cause. Frooks made her first street-corner speech advocating for women's suffrage at age eleven.
Frooks began her law career as a student at The Hamilton Law School in Chicago. She received her LL.B. in 1918 and her LL.M. from New York University in 1919. Upon graduation, Frooks was admitted to the New York State Bar and began serving as an attorney for the Salvation Army immediately after. A dedicated and vocal advocate, Frooks became known as the "first full-time lawyer for the Salvation army." In the 1920s, Frooks also conceived the idea of the Small Claims Court and lobbied extensively until Mayor La Guardia eventually signed it into New York law.
In 1921, Frooks and six other women established the National Association of Women Lawyers, and Frooks served as the first president. She was also a member of the American Bar Association, Inter-American Bar Association, and World Peace Through Law.
Frooks was a veteran of both World War I (Navy) and World War II (Army- Judge Advocate's Office). She served as Chief Yeoman in the Navy during World War I and successfully recruited an estimated 30,000 men. President Wilson awarded her a medal for her recruitment efforts, and solidified her status as the highest ranking woman in the navy. Following her involvement with the military, she served as the National Commander of the Women World War Veterans and worked with the Veterans of World War I.
Frooks was also a publisher and a published author of both fiction and non-fiction. She wrote a column called "My Day" in the New York World which lasted until 1932. The column was later authored by Eleanor Roosevelt, and this transfer of authorship is speculated as the start to their public feud. In 1952, Frooks founded and published her own monthly newspaper, The Murray Hill News.
Frooks's published works include All in Love (1932), Love's Law (1928), The American Heart (1919), The Olympic Torch (1946), Over the Heads of Congress (1935), Are You a Happy American? (1970), Lady Lawyer (autobiography), and a pamphlet called Labor Courts Outlaw Strikes (1984).
Although she was a practicing lawyer for most of her life, Frooks disapproved of women in the workforce. In 1922 she stated that "Women should be in the home, have adorable husbands, and be the only wife." She was also a staunch opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment and fought against its passage in 1975.
Towards the end of her life, Frooks made her acting debut as a "witness" in Warren Beatty's 1981 film, "Reds."
Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011.
Ancestry.com. Virginia, Marriage Records, 1936-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Bain News Service, Publisher. Dorothy D. Frooks standing at flag-draped dais. [no Date Recorded on Caption Card] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ggb2004004759/.
ROBERT, McG T.,Jr., "Dorothy Frooks, Lawyer and Suffragist, Dies." New York Times, Apr 19 1997: 48.
Chiarella, John T. "Dorothy Frooks (1896-1997) - Find A Grave Memorial." Dorothy Frooks (1896-1997) - Find A Grave Memorial. N.p., 21 Feb. 2000. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
Dorothy Frooks Papers, Finding Guide. Manuscripts and Archives Division. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. http://archives.nypl.org/mss/1091
Frooks, Dorothy. Lady Lawyer. 1st ed., New York, R. Speller, 1975.
"MISS FROOKS ATTENDS." The Billboard, Sep 21 1918: 49. ProQuest. 4 Mar. 2017.
Dorothy Frooks: Project Reflection
While researching my suffragist, Dorothy Frooks, I was surprised at the large amount of inconsistent information published on her life. Frooks was relatively famous in the 1900s and, unlike many suffragists, even has her own Wikipedia page. Her popularity led me to assume I could find accurate sources more easily than I actually could when I began my formal research. The most striking and immediate inconsistency in my research process was surrounding Frooks's birthdate. The Library of Congress, Frooks's headstone, and The US Social Security Death Index all had different birth dates listed for Frooks, ranging between 1896-1899. After consulting with a Schlesinger librarian, I decided to record the birth date used by the US Social Security Death Index.
Aside from my difficulty determining Frooks's birthdate, my research process went relatively smoothly. Before beginning my research, I read Schlesinger's Suffrage Research Guide but was unable to find Dorothy Frooks in the collections listed on the title guide page. I decided to conduct preliminary searches on Google, Google Scholar, Hollis, and other databases. I eventually gathered foundational information on both Frooks's life and where I would be most likely to find information on her. I then visited Schlesinger Library and took notes on Lady Lawyer, Frooks's autobiography, which I used to create a broader timeline of her life. I then worked with a Schlesinger librarian to discover more sources from the New York Public Library and the Ancestry database, eventually collecting information I had been unable to gather from her autobiography.
I was also careful to be skeptical of information included in Frooks's autobiography, which was often hyperbolic and potentially inaccurate. When I did use information from her autobiography, I was sure to cross-reference it with information from my more objective sources. I also found it difficult to combine all of the information I had compiled on Dorothy Frooks's life into a coherent narrative. Condensing the information into my biography called my attention to the decision-making process that goes into creating biographical works. It made me realize that information is often selectively communicated and that one source often does not share the complete story.