Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ruth Harl, 1888-1967
By Lanita Johnson and Erin Harrington, MA students, Eastern Illinois University
Member and Lobbyist, Illinois Equal Suffrage Association; Contributor, Woman's Journal; Veteran, World War I; artist
Ruth Harl was born on September 13, 1888, in Council Bluffs, Iowa to Charles M. Harl, a lawyer, and Charlotte M "Lottie" Oblinger. Harl's stepmother, Hattie T. Slead Harl, was herself a lawyer and schoolboard member in Council Bluffs. Ruth studied music at Northwestern University and afterwards remained in Chicago, where she participated in the suffrage movement. Harl served as an ambulance driver during World War I, and lived in France through the 1939. She returned to Chicago in 1940, and died in New Hampshire in 1967.
After graduating Northwestern University, Harl lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Eleanor and August C. King, in Chicago, and became an active member of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association. In 1911, she joined a suffrage train from Chicago to Springfield, with speaking stops along the way, and also served as a lobbyist for suffrage in Springfield. After returning in Chicago that fall, Harl organized a number of women to become "newsies" selling Lucy Stone's Woman's Journal. On November 10, 1911, the Chicago Tribune wrote, under the headline "Miss Ruth Harl and Five Aids find Chicagoans Backward" that "Miss Harl, after placing five other women at different corners in the loop, stationed herself at State and Madison streets. She sold papers from 5 to 7 o'clock at night, but the innovation did not take with the Chicago business public in the spirit that she had expected." In 1912, Harl again took to the road, this time joining an automobile tour to Wisconsin to connect with suffrage activists there. She offered her services as a chauffeur and cornet player.
The work of Harl and her fellow suffragists bore fruit: the Illinois General Assembly granted women partial suffrage, and in the spring of 1914 Harl was eligible to vote in her first election. At the time, she was sick with tuberculosis, and had been sent to Florida to recover. Despite her illness, she boarded a train and road several thousand miles to vote in Chicago. In an article about her journey that she submitted to The Woman's Journal, Harl addressed the anti-suffrage activists who doubted women's sincere desire for the ballot by asking, "Does not that look as though one woman, at least, appreciates the ballot?"
When World War I broke out, Harl quickly joined the war effort. She joined the American Fund for French Wounded in 1915, and in March 1916 left for France to serve as an ambulance driver. Her interest in and dedication to woman's suffrage continued even in Europe; the December 23, 1916 edition of The Woman's Journal includes a special report from Harl on the connection between women's work during wartime, and the vote. On July 20, 1917, an Iowa newspaper keeping tabs on "the Council Bluffs girl" reported that Harl had been promoted to corporal. Her work in the war won her seven medals, including the French Croix de Guerre. Though she returned to the United States in 1919, on June 10, 1920 she set sail for Serbia to do relief work with the Red Cross.
Through the 1930s, several American papers mention Harl in their reports of the French art scene. Harl, who likely authored the 1915 fiction book Lord Strathmore's Ruby, pursued landscape painting during her years in France. The last article placing Harl in France was in 1939; she appears on the 1940 census as a resident of Chicago, living again with her brother-in-law and listing her occupation as an artist specializing in landscape and still-life paintings. In 1967, Harl passed away in New Hampshire, where she had possibly been living with a niece.
Chicago Tribune February 5, 1911; November 10, 1911; November 3, 1911, October 27, 1912
Cresco Plain Dealer, July 20, 1917
Evening-Times Republican June 9, 1920
Harper, Ida Husted. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6. (1922), p. 149. [LINK]
United States Census, 1910, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MK8V-LFF
United States Passport Applications, http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=us%2fpass%2fus-passport-applications%2f007570079%2f007570079-00500&parentid=us%2fus_passport_applications%2f007570079%2f00500%2f001270233&highlights=%22%22
Washington Post, May 26, 1935
Woman's Journal, June 6, 1914; December 23, 1916