Biographical Sketch of Clarissa A. Moffitt

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Clarissa A. Moffitt, 1870-1960

By Christina Larocco, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Moffitt, Clarissa A. (1870-1960), was born in Pittsburgh, PA, the daughter of James W. and Clarissa H. Moffitt (nee Taylor). Her father was an immigrant from Ireland, and her mother was a native of Allegheny, PA. Clarissa H. Moffitt was one of the first presidents and most prominent members of the Wilkinsburg (PA) Women's Christian Temperance Union, which she also helped organize, and a descendant of John Morton, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Clarissa A. Moffitt graduated from Wilkinsburg High School in 1887, going on to distinguish herself as an educator and activist. Dedicated to the rights of women, children, and teachers, she served as executive secretary of the western branch of the Pennsylvania Child Labor Association and as an officer for a local branch of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. In 1904, while serving as the first president of the Pittsburgh Teachers Association, she was involved in a successful fight against the state Teachers Salary Board, which was attempting to tie teacher salaries--already, according to Moffitt, nearly stagnant for thirty years--to performance without revealing how performance was being measured. She and other activists gathered some 70,000 signatures of area residents in favor of raising teacher pay, and Moffitt later wrote proudly that "every grade teacher receives from 30 to 50 per cent more salary than she would have . . . prior to September, 1904." She was also involved in the fight for teacher pensions, paid sick leave, and other benefits, and for professional and educational standards within the public schools. Moffitt left teaching for several years, devoting herself solely to the suffrage cause. Within this movement, she distinguished herself as secretary of the Speakers Bureau for the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association. An accomplished speaker herself, she proved skilled at researching the economic, demographic, and political characteristics of each county so she could determine the best speaker to send to, and the best kind of event to organize in, each location. In 1915 alone, she sent a total of sixty-four speakers to fifty-six counties. Moffitt returned to the Pittsburgh public schools in 1921, where she remained until her retirement in 1939, at the age of sixty-eight. She died in Oakmont, PA, at the age of eighty-nine.

SOURCES:

Information about her can be found in Clarissa A. Moffitt, "The Pittsburgh Teachers' Association," The Journal of Education 75 (1912): 65-66; "Educational News," The Journal of Education 90 (1919): 54-55; Ida Husted Harper, ed., "Pennsylvania," chapter XXXVII in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York, NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), pp. 550-564 [LINK]; The Nugget: Official Publication, Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, Golden Jubilee, 1887-1937, ed. James A. Dean and George M. Kurth (Wilkinsburg, PA, 1937); William H. Issell, "Teachers and Educational Reform during the Progressive Era: A Case Study of the Pittsburgh Teachers Association," History of Education Quarterly 7 1967): 220-33; L. E. Preston, "Speakers for Women's Rights in Pennsylvania," The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 54 (1971): 245-63; and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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