Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Nancy Musselman Schoonmaker, 1873-1965
By Noel Cortes
Undergraduate Student, Central Connecticut State University
Nancy Musselman was born on October 30, 1873, in Georgetown, Kentucky. She was the daughter of James and Penelope Musselman. Her father was a renowned writer on American wine, and Nancy eventually was a published author. She wrote several works, including poetry, essays, dramas, and literature on travel and wine. Nancy's books included The Eternal Fires (1910) and We Testify (1941). In 1904 she married Edwin Davies Schoonmaker, a writer and lecturer at Transylvania University, and they had one son, Frank M. Schoonmaker.
Nancy was most known however for her suffrage work across the United States. After graduating from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in 1902, Nancy pursued post-graduate work at the University of Chicago, Harvard and the Sorbonne, in Paris. Nancy opened the first Department of Citizenship in Connecticut after women were granted suffrage. In 1919, Schoonmaker took the lead in fundraising for the League of Women Voters in Connecticut and also gave a series of lectures on Citizenship in Rhode Island. In Wisconsin, Schoonmaker gave 6 lectures on “Citizenship for Women.” In Maine she was the principal instructor in a “School for Citizenship” held in August 1920, the very month that the 19th Amendment was ratified.
In 1921, Nancy Schoonmaker went to Geneva to represent 4.5 million women of the National League of Women Voters and the General Federation of Women's Clubs. In the U.S., Nancy toured the country for the Democratic National Committee in support of the 1920 election campaign and the League of Nations. Chosen to run for Congress by the Democratic party in the 27th District of New York in 1937, Nancy lost the election against her Republican opponent, Lewis K. Rockefeller, but continued to serve on the Democratic State Committee until 1940. She suffered another loss in the same year, when her husband died. Nancy continued her lively interest in local, national, and international politics however, and attended local meetings of the League of Women Voters.
Nancy died on October 27, 1965, in the Westchester division of New York Hospital following a short-term illness. Her legacy lives on, however, through her work in suffrage, U.S. politics, and international women's rights.
Information regarding Nancy Musselman Schoonmaker's life can be found in the New York Times. Her Congressional race was covered in "Mrs. Schoonmaker in Congress Race," New York Times, 30 July 1937. Her death was reported in "Mrs. Nancy Schoonmaker Dies, Upstate Democratic Leader, 91" New York Times, 28 October 1965. There are references to Schoonmaker’s work in multiple states in 1919-1920 in Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage (1922).