Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Emma Yard Ivins, 1857-1940

By Johanna Neuman, Scholar in Residence, American University, Washington, D.C.

Lifetime member, National American Woman Suffrage Association, member, treasurer, New York State Woman Suffrage Association, delegate, International Congress of Women

Emma Laura Yard was born in 1857 in New Jersey. On February 4, 1879 she married William Mills Ivins, a lawyer and progressive reformer who would become a Republican candidate for mayor of New York City in 1905. He was a member of the Honest Ballot Association, the City Reform Club and the Ballot Reform Committee of Citizens Union. The couple had five children, including William Mills, Jr., who was curator of the prints department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for thirty years.

An amateur photographer, Ivins corresponded with, and often hosted, Susan B. Anthony during her visits to New York. Their friendship began in January 1900, when Anthony wrote a column for the New York Sun, appealing for funds. Ivins sent a check for $50 (about $1,500 in current dollars) and a letter expressing her rationale. "For a long time I have had a great desire to enroll myself on the side of the suffragists," she wrote. "My sympathies have always been with you, but the ‘drip,' as the college boy calls it, of my dearest friends, who, alas, are among the anti-suffragists, has more and more convinced me that silent sympathy is neither sufficient nor decent." Noting that "circumstances" prevented her from taking an active role, she said she would "always do anything in my power to further the cause." Anthony wrote back, thanking her for "a generous check," making her a lifetime member of NAWSA and adding her name to the organization's "roll of honor." She also encouraged Ivins, who traveled in an elite social circle, to "induce a good many of your friends to contribute articles that will help to make [the NAWSA bazaar] a success."

Outspoken, Ivins despaired of the methods of British suffragettes. "I cannot see the connection in advisibility [sic] or benefit, between going to jail and the franchise," she said in a speech to a NAWSA convention in New York in 1909. When, in 1910, New York State Assemblyman Charles Dana disparaged women's suffrage by claiming he had found only one woman in his 27th District who favored the idea, Ivins canvassed the men registered to vote in the district. She found that 31 had favored women's suffrage, 32 opposed it and 17 requested more information. "I canvassed the men," she said, "because I thought that any canvas of the women … was really more or less beside the question."

Later, after the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920, NAWSA folded itself into the new League of Women Voters, Ivins following suit. A supporter of Woodrow Wilson and his League of Nations, Ivins was appalled when the League of Women Voters invited her to sit on the platform at a disarmament conference alongside the keynote speaker, Senator William E. Borah, a Wilson critic. "It will be a colder August day than has yet been recorded by the Weather Bureau when I occupy a seat on the same platform with Senator Borah," she wrote, adding, "This is not for what I fought the 20-years' fight for suffrage."


Elizabeth Cady Stanton, et al., History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 5: 1900-1920 (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1922).

Ivins Family Papers
American Art Archives, Smithsonian Museum:
Finding Aid
Correspondence of Emma Yard Ivins and Susan B. Anthony, December 1899, and from Susan B. Anthony January 9, 1900 and January 24, 1906, Box 18, Folder 8; See also newspaper reprint of their correspondence Box 18, Folder 11
Emma Yard Ivins's impressions of the British suffrage movement, Box 18, Folder
Emma Yard Ivins's objection to sitting with Senator William Borah at a League of WomenVoters disarmament conference, newspaper account, Box 18, Folder 16

"Suffrage Canvass Pleases Mrs. Ivins." New York Times, March 18, 1910, 10

"Mrs. E.Y. Ivins, Suffragist, Dies," Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, July 25, 1940, 1, particularly census and passport records

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