Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Rebecca Mitchell, 1834-1908
By Molly Draben
Undergraduate student, Idaho State University
Rebecca Mitchell was born on January 23, 1834, in Illinois. Not much is known about her early life or parents, but when she moved to Idaho in the 1880's she became incredibly influential in building communities and fighting for women's suffrage across the state. She was a deeply religious woman whose work in ministry, education, and temperance helped shape society and politics in Bonneville County and the state of Idaho as a whole.
In June 1882, after completing her training at the Baptist Missionary Training School in Chicago, Rebecca Mitchell moved from her home in Illinois to southeastern Idaho. She landed in the small town of Eagle Rock (the community soon changed its name to Idaho Falls) which at the time had no schoolhouse or church, but an abundance of saloons. It only took a few months of hard work for Mitchell to set up a Baptist church in an abandoned saloon and hold a Sunday service. This was the first Baptist church in southeastern Idaho. Mitchell taught reading, writing, and arithmetic to some of the town's children during the week in her newly-opened school. On Sundays, she was able to also teach Sunday school and soon became the head of a strong Baptist following in Idaho Falls.
In 1894, Rebecca Mitchell expanded her ministry work by starting the Idaho Falls chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Movement (WCTU). Throughout the next few years, Mitchell would become heavily involved in the state's WCTU chapter and travel around the west influencing other activists to establish local chapters. She soon became the president of the Idaho chapter. In an 1895 publication on temperance advocates, Rebecca Mitchell is said to have been the fourth president of the Idaho WCTU. In the publication, Mitchell was described as "working in a difficult field with unflinching self-sacrifice."
Throughout her time with the WCTU, Rebecca Mitchell traveled around the west and often popped up in very diverse areas. In 1894 she submitted a quote that was published in the National WCTU annual meeting publication. Her statement was that "The work is an important one and may do much good. Any moral or Christian temperance work is very difficult in a new state. We need help and sympathy." In that publication, Mitchell won acclaim for increasing the amount of literature dispersed and for boosting public sentiment for the temperance cause. In 1899 Rebecca Mitchell attended the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota. There she was awarded a lifetime member award.
Rebecca Mitchell was not only influential in Idaho Falls and the WCTU, but also in the Idaho state legislature in Boise. In 1897 she was elected chaplain of the Idaho state legislature. She was the first ever woman elected to this position in the nation. A July 4, 1897 Chicago Tribune headline proclaimed that Mitchell was the "First of Her Sex for the Post: Mrs. Rebecca Brown Mitchell Chaplain of The Idaho State legislature." While in the state legislature, Mitchell helped pass the bill creating the state amendment for women's suffrage in Idaho, which passed in 1896.
On September 30, 1908, Rebecca Mitchell passed away in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The National WCTU chapter mourned her death. The Chicago Tribune article mentioned that "no more popular man or woman could be found in the state of Idaho." Rebecca Mitchell was an astoundingly influential woman who in her short time in Idaho was able to leave a lasting legacy of morality and righteousness.
Chapin, Clara C. Thumb Nail Sketches of White Ribbon Women, p. 33. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1895.
"First of Her Sex for the Post: Mrs. Rebecca Brown Mitchell Chaplain of The Idaho State legislature," Chicago Tribune, July 4, 1897, p. 16. http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1897/07/04/page/16/article/first-of-her-sex-for-the-post.
National Woman's Christian Temperance Movement Annual Meeting Minutes. November, 1889 (Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publication Association, 1889), p. 33. [LINK]
National Woman's Christian Temperance Movement Annual Meeting Minutes, November, 1894 (Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publication Association, Illinois 1894), p. 312. [LINK]