Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ida Withers Harrison, 1851-1927

By Mary Hume, student, and Dr. Jennifer Walton-Hanley, faculty, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky

Ida Withers Harrison (b. 1851-d. 1927) was born in Mississippi, the daughter of Confederate General William Temple Withers and Martha Sharkey Withers. Her family moved to Lexington, Kentucky at the end of the Civil War. While living in Lexington, Ida met her husband, Albert M. Harrison, philanthropist, Democratic Party official, and city registrar. While Harrison is most remembered for her services as a Christian missionary, she was also a recognized philanthropist who ardently believed in women's education and women's rights, including suffrage. In one tribute, she was described as a woman who "gave herself unreservedly to the cause of humanity . . . in her reading, in her thinking, in her planning, in her waiting, and in her living."

Harrison was a gifted orator who was regularly invited to speak at various functions, such as the Hazel Green Academy commencement service. Multiple sources described her as "one of the most gifted and interesting women speakers in the State. . . ." In 1920 Harrison was listed as a member of the "oratorical heavy artillery" for the Speaker's Bureau of the Kentucky Democratic Campaign. Undoubtedly, Harrison put her arsenal of public speaking skills to good use in her work towards improving women's education and attaining women's suffrage.

Following passage of a bill in 1894 allowing women in second-class cities to vote and run in school board elections, Harrison and another suffragist, Mary E. Lucas, were appointed by Lexington Mayor Henry T. Duncan to serve on the School Board. Shortly after their school board appointments, Harrison and Lucas hosted a joint meeting of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA), the WCTU (Woman's Christian Temperance Union), and the Women's Club of Central Kentucky (WCCK) to nominate women to officially run as representatives of each school board district. Harrison was one of four women nominated and then awarded the position after the ticket was endorsed by the Citizens' Association--an all-male group. Harrison and her compatriots' nominations were accepted and endorsed by local judges, and the women were officially allowed to run for office. Yet, Harrison's fight was not quite finished. Neither the Republican nor Democratic Party establishments were willing to accept a Woman's Ticket. Though they had to run as Independents, the women triumphed in the November elections. Harrison went on to serve as Vice President of the Lexington school board for 2 ½ years.

While Harrison would be remembered for her efforts to give women more of a say in how their local schools operated, the cause to which she was most devoted was church work. She was an active member of the Disciples of Christ. She served as vice president of the National Christian Women's Board of Missions, she edited a page in the Christian Century, and she was appointed chairman of KERA's committee on church work in 1910.

Harrison was the recipient of a number of important awards. She was named honorary president for life of the Kentucky Federation of Women's Clubs. She became the first woman ever to receive an honorary Doctorate of Law from Transylvania University. She died in 1927 and is buried in the Lexington Cemetery.


"Withers, Ida Harrison, 1851-1927." Social Networks and Archival Context. 1877-1921. Accessed April 08, 2017.;

Debra Hull, "Education and Women in the Stone-Campbell Tradition." Education and Women in the Stone-Campbell Tradition, 4th ser., 16, no. 1 (January 1, 2008): 1-7. Accessed April 10, 2017.;

"Commencement at Morehead and Hazel Green," Mount Sterling Advocate, (June 10, 1902), 6; "Will Address Women Voters in the County," Mount Sterling Advocate, September 14, 1920, 1; "What's Doing in Politics?" Mount Sterling Advocate, September 14, 1920, 6;

John W. Leonard ed., Woman's Who's Who of the United States: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915 (New York: American Commonwealth Company, 1914), 367. LINK

Ida Husted Harper, et al. eds., History of Women Suffrage: 1900-1920 vol. VI 1900-1920 (New York: J. J. and Ives Company, 1922), 214-215. [LINK to KY statge report]

"Minutes of the Eighth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, December 10, 11, 12, 1895"; "Reports of the Twenty-First and Twenty-Second Annual Meetings of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, November 14, 15, 16, 1910 and October 25, 1911";

"Ida Withers Harrison,"

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