Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Florence Lukens Piersol, 1865-1940
By Allison Traweek, lecturer, University of Pennsylvania
Florence Lukens Piersol was born on November 6, 1865, in Philadelphia to Linford and Anna Mary Piersol. Little is known about her parents or early life, but she graduated from Friends' Central School in 1882 and earned a degree in music from the University of Pennsylvania in 1898. She was married to Dr. William Reeder in 1886, and they had four children: David K., William T., Anne, and Ruth. Piersol was widowed in 1893. In 1898 she was married again, to Dr. George A. Piersol, a well-known anatomist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania; they had one son, John Marshall Piersol. Dr. Piersol died in 1924. At some point after 1940, Piersol moved with her unmarried daughters to Asheville, North Carolina, where she died on November 12, 1951, at the age of eighty-six. She was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Piersol was involved in several society causes such as the Ethical Society and the Philomusian Society in the 1890s and early 1900s, but her active involvement with suffrage began around 1911, when she was selected as a delegate to the biennial General Federation of Women's Clubs meeting in 1912. That same year, she became vice president of the State Federation of Philadelphia Women. She stayed in that position until 1915. She was also Philadelphia County chairman of the Woman's Suffrage Party from 1912 to 1916 and was director of the National Woman Suffrage Association for many years. She gave a number of talks on suffrage in the 1910s, including at the 1913 suffrage conference in Pittsburgh. An exchange of letters to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1915, precipitated by an article in the Pittsburgh Press, tantalizingly attributes to Piersol the quote, "Pennsylvania laws are so discriminating against married women that, if women knew the laws, many of them would not contemplate matrimony." However, the letters suggest confusion or disagreement over the source of the quote, and ultimately it is impossible to verify the quote at all, let alone firmly associate it with Piersol.
Piersol became increasingly active in and after 1915: that year saw her attending the conference of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Party in Harrisburg; serving as president of the Woman Suffrage Party; and participating in a "Votes for Women" event at a Phillies doubleheader, in which the suffragists sat in boxes in their colors, waved banners with slogans, and gave speeches. In 1917 she became secretary of the Women's Philadelphia County Committee on National Defense, Pennsylvania division, and gave a talk in Harrisburg as the suffragists were pushing for a vote for an amendment to the state constitution to grant women the vote. In this speech, she said,
These elements [the legislature] have all the cards, all the weapons, in their own hands and they will direct the game. All that women ask is that the elements be watched. Nothing can balk anything the elements mentioned desire, even though they may seek to make it seem otherwise. Watch them all, but do not expect that the chivalrous (?) statesmen (?) [sic] will grant anything to women voluntarily.
After the passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Piersol held various posts with the League of Women Voters and gave various talks advising women about their new right. She also participated in the Jubilee in Philadelphia in September of 1920, at which she made this speech to the mayor:
It has fallen to me, Mr. Mayor, to speak for the women of Philadelphia, as we meet at this hallowed shrine of Liberty to celebrate the completion of democracy and the dawn of an era of justice. To speak for those who all their lives have dreamed of this day. For those, born in the old order, with no vision of the new. For those with whitened hair who accept the new privilege, though short the years to use it. For those in infancy and for those yet unborn whose enfranchisement is as assured as that of their brothers. For those, born in other lands, but naturalized in this. For all—whatever be their creed or color. We, the women of this municipality, consecrate ourselves to the new task before us and pledge ourselves to share with the men the responsibilities of the electorate in the government of the United States, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and of our beloved Philadelphia.
She largely falls out of the public record after 1920, and very little is known about her subsequent activities. She appears to have been selected as a delegate to a convention in Erie in 1925, and a note that she hosted a University of Pennsylvania Faculty Tea in 1940 suggests that she remained in Philadelphia for some time before moving south.
Obituaries appear in the November 14, 1951 editions of the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer Public Record.
Florence R. Hall, "This State Leads Without Women Voters," Pittsburgh Press, May 23, 1915; Mrs. Frank M. (Jennie) Roessing, "Don't Shirk Marriage," Letter to the Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 26, 1915; Florence R. Hall,"Answering Mrs. Roessing," Letter to the Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 1915.
"Suffragist not amused by 'horse play' in legislature," Harrisburg Patriot May 19, 1917. It is unclear if or how the parenthetical question marks were rendered vocally or why the writer chose to include them.
For final quote, see "Justice Bell Rings for First Time As New Voters Cheer; Governor and Mayor Welcome Women Into Equal Right at Jubilee," Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 26, 1920.