Biographical Sketch of Sarah Jane Campbell

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Sarah "Jane" Campbell, 1844-1928

By Susanna Engbers, independent historian

Sarah "Jane" Campbell was a speaker, suffrage activist, historian, and newspaper columnist who contributed articles to various Philadelphia newspapers. Campbell lived much of her life at 413 School House Lane in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Campbell's contributions to woman suffrage are perhaps her most important legacy. Along with her sister, Marianne, Campbell founded and edited Women's Progress in Literature, Science, Art, Education, and Politics, a monthly journal that included arguments for women's equality and essays on women's cultural and social achievements, among other items. In addition, she founded the Philadelphia Woman Suffrage Association in 1892 and served as its president for twenty years. She was also active in the national suffrage campaign through membership on the executive committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In The History of Woman Suffrage, Ida Husted Harper says that Campbell "was responsible in a great degree for the enthusiasm and spirit which sustained the pioneers."

Part of what makes Campbell unusual as a suffrage pioneer was her Catholicism, given that most of the prominent suffrage advocates were Protestant. In 1894, Campbell became an officer of the American Catholic Historical Society and served on its Historical Research Committee. One of Campbell's tasks was to compile and present materials for a Catholic version of American history to go alongside the "traditional" English Protestant one. It was a particularly significant task around 1892, when the country celebrated the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus's arrival in America. In her retelling of Catholic American history, Campbell created an image of a church that had empowered, rather than confined, its women.

Her activities in both the suffrage and church communities led her to become a bridge between the two groups, each of whom benefitted from the others' support. NAWSA president Anna Howard Show wrote Campbell numerous letters, one of which thanked Campbell for the "information you gave me in regard to the attitude of so many of the clergy of your church on [suffrage]." This kind of information was included in leaflets, which Campbell organized and helped to distribute at Catholic gatherings. One such leaflet, entitled "Some Catholic Opinions," contained arguments from five clergy in support of woman suffrage. Shaw noted how important that kind of evidence would be in the continued struggle for suffrage.

Sources:

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds the Jane Campbell Papers, a collection of forty-one boxes including scrapbooks on varied topics from suffrage to botany to Pennsylvania history to poetry and more. In addition, the collection includes many of Campbell's own writings, such as drafts of speeches and articles.

Ida Husted Harper, et al., ed., The History of Woman Suffrage, vol 6 (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), 550 [LINK].

Kathleen Sprows Cummings, New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholicism in the Progressive Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 56.

Anna Howard Shaw to Jane Campbell, Jan. 7, 1915, Jane Campbell Papers (Collection 3203), Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA).

back to top