Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Frances Ellen Burr, 1831-1923
By Meliha Muskic and Katelyn Jackie, undergraduate students, Central Connecticut State University
Born June 4, 1831, Frances Ellen Burr was one of the very first champions of organized feminist activity within Connecticut. In October of 1853 at the age of 22, Burr, who had previously never given the topic of women's suffrage much thought, decided to attend the Women's Rights Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Shortly thereafter, in one of the most recognized efforts within the suffragist movement, Burr petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly to formally discuss an 1867 bill to give women the right to vote. Although her attempt to present the issue of women's suffrage to the state's House of Representatives seemed successful at first, it ultimately failed when the bill was voted down 111 to 93. The outcome, although discouraging, only continued to motivate Connecticut suffragists to press successive legislatures to consider bills, prepare petitions, and speak at hearings. In October of 1869, the state's first suffrage convention was held and attended by the movement's most influential people-including Isabella Beecher Hooker--marking the birth of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA) for which Burr spent 41 years as a recording secretary. Recalling her isolation in the early suffrage efforts, Burr wrote a letter to Susan B. Anthony in 1885, stating that "she was feeling alone here in those days."
In her capacity as recording secretary of the CWSA, Burr worked to win the vote for women, first in school and local elections and then on a state and national levels. Growing impatient, Burr, who was surprised to find that women weren't actually forbidden, but that men were simply permitted by law to vote, requested that the state legislature remove the word "male" from the seventh section of the act that entitled all male citizens to vote, "thus placing the rights of women of this district, as declared by the highest judicial tribunal, under the protection of the legislative power." In 1885, Burr went on to co-organize the Hartford Equal Rights Club with Emily P. Collins. Acting as the secretary and treasurer of the small, but earnest organization, Burr encouraged membership from those interested in and outside of Connecticut, of all classes and beliefs. A member of the club stated: "We receive more of our life and enthusiasm from Frances Ellen Burr than all other members combined; indeed, the chief part of the work rests on her shoulders."
As a writer, speaker, reporter, stenographer, journalist, and activist; Frances Ellen Burr has done more to popularize the question of women's suffrage than anyone else in the state of Connecticut. She died peacefully in her home in Hartford, Connecticut on February 9, 1923, at the age of 92, but not before she was able to see her dream realized in August of 1920 when women across the nation were granted the right to vote.
Letter of Frances Ellen Burr to Susan B. Anthony, September 17, 1885, in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper, eds., History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 3. Rochester, NY, 1887. 334-38.
Carole Nichols, Votes and More for Women: Suffrage and After in Connecticut (New York: Routledge, 1983).
Ida Husted Harper, ed. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 6 (New York, NY, 1922), 68-85.
Connecticut State Library staff. "Woman Suffrage Association, Connecticut, 1869-1921." Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association records. 2008. Accessed April 30, 2017. https://ctstatelibrary.org/RG101.html.
Frances Ellen Burr, sketch of January 1874 National Woman Suffrage Convention.in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. (Rochester, NY, 1881), 538-40.