Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Bessie I. Savage, 1862-1911

By: Rebecca Lee, undergraduate, University of California, Berkeley

Bessie Isaacs Savage was born in Indiana in January of 1862. Her mother, Lucy Fulton, was from Missouri, and her father, Henry P. Isaacs, was a grain dealer from Pennsylvania.

Shortly after being her birth, her family moved to Walla Walla, Washington. There her parents had four more children--Grace, Mattie, Edwin, and Philip. Bessie married George Marvin Savage, a lawyer from Illinois, on November 19, 1890, and they had their first child, Henry I. Savage, in 1891. They later adopted their daughter, Margaret Savage. Bessie was a graduate of both Whitman College and Mills College, and an active suffragist. She belonged to several different organizations and, towards the time of her death, she was a landscape painter. On March 10, 1911, Savage died at a Century Club meeting in Seattle, Washington.

Bessie dedicated her efforts to The American Woman Suffrage Association, the Washington Equal Suffrage Association, and the Woman's Century Club of Seattle. She was an active member of these organizations and served in multiple officer positions.

The first documented record of Bessie's involvement in the women's suffrage movement was on October 13, 1885, when she spoke at the seventeenth annual meeting of the American Woman Suffrage Association in Minneapolis. During the early 1890s, Bessie was the secretary for the Washington Equal Suffrage Association and was elected president in January 1895 at the organization's first delegate convention. In a June 1895 article in the Washington Standard, Bessie made news by attempting to register as a voter. According to the article, she applied to the City Clerk, Robert A. Graham, to register, but was refused on the ground that she was a woman, and therefore not lawfully entitled to the ballot. She took the case to the Washington Supreme Court, and in March of 1896, in the case of Bessie J.I. Savage vs. Robert A. Graham, she challenged the State, claiming the right to register as a legal voter. However the Washington Standard reported that no appeal bond was given or filed. On January 22, 1897, Bessie was reelected president of the Washington Equal Suffrage Association. After having served as president from 1895 to 1898, Savage was elected treasurer. In a January 1898 article in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, it is reported that she gave a passionate speech reviewing the movement's accomplishments, advising women to join some organization and influence those around them.

Bessie continued to work to promote suffrage after the turn of the century. At a reception for the women attending the Federation convention in 1905, Bessie asked Washington's Governor Mead to fill a vacancy on the board of regents at the University of Washington with a woman. Later, according to a 1909 article in The Evening Statesman, she was one of eight women instructed to secure $5,000 in funds for home cottages and the improvement of grounds for a Girls' Home and Training School. In a 1910 article in The Wenatchee Daily World, Bessie is reported to have toured the state and spent her time canvassing for the suffrage amendment to the constitution to be voted on. Shortly after this campaign, Bessie died in March 1911.

Source Description:

Most of my sources are from various publications on the "Chronicling America" database. Chronicling America lists historic newspaper pages published from 1789-1924 and the U.S.Newspaper Directory to find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present. Many of my sources were various articles from The Woman's Tribune, The Wenatchee Daily World, Washington Standard, and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. These articles provided me with dates and many events that Bessie I. Savage attended. All biographical information concerning birth dates, death dates, and location ofresidence of her and her family members was found from various U.S. Federal Censuses by the U.S. Census Bureau on Ancestry Library. Other information about her activity was found in "The American Woman Suffrage Association," in History of Woman Suffrage, volume 6, located on the Women and Social Movements in the United States database.

Process Description:

The sources I found are from the History 7B Checklist that Jennifer Dorner prepared for us. After searching through Women and Social Movements in the United States Database, Ancestry Library, Everyday Life & Women in America, The Gerritsen Collection, and Chronicling America. The first definitive result was from The Gerritsen Collection. An article in The Woman's Tribune announced several events and reported on a meeting Mrs. Bessie Savage attended.

I then moved on to "Chronicling America" where searching "Bessie Savage" specified to state "Washington" came up with 49 results. After combing through all the results I found a lot of information about her suffragist career. In one source, "Women Should Vote" in The Wenatchee Daily World I found that her full name was Mrs. Bessie Isaacs Savage. In "City News in Brief" in the Washington Standard published June 28, 1895, I found a really significant event. Mrs. Bessie Savage applied to the City Clerk for registration as a voter and the City Clerk, Mr. Graham, refused the request on the grounds that she was a woman. She then applied to the Superior Court for a writ of mandate but it was refused and a notice of appeal was given by the plaintiff. In "News of Northwest" in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer there was news about a December 17, 1891 The Washington Equal Suffrage Association session where the officers were chosen. Mrs. Bessie I. Savage of Olympia was chosen as secretary. In a January 23, 1897 article, "Equal Suffragists to Meet. Working for Submission of Their Cause to Vote of People," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on the State Equal Suffrage Association annual meeting and listed Mrs. Bessie I. Savage, Olympia as the President.

After going through the results from the "Chronicling America" database, I went back to Ancestry Library to find more biographical facts about Bessie I. Savage. Through several U.S. Federal Census documents, I found that Bessie Isaacs was born in January 1862 in Indiana. She married George M. Savage in 1890 and had one child, Henry I. Savage, in August 1891 in Washington. They also had an adopted daughter, Margaret Savage who was born in November 1893 in Washington. Bessie I. Savage died in Seattle, King, Washington on March 10, 1911. I then went back to the Women and Social Movements in the United States Database and searched "Bessie Isaacs." There were two results, in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4: 1883-1900 Chapter LXIX: Washington, pp. 975-76. It reported on several elections, and I found that Bessie was elected secretary in 1892 and treasurer in 1898. I also went back to Ancestry Library to find more about her death and on the Find a Grave Index, I found her gravestone and more articles concerning her death.


"City News in Brief." Washington Standard (1895): 3. Accessed April 8, 2017. .

"City News." The Wenatchee daily world (1910): 2. Accessed April 8, 2017. .

"Equal Suffragists to Meet. Working for Submission of Their Cause to Vote of People." The Seattle post-intelligencer (1897): 2. Accessed April 8, 2017, .

Find A Grave Index. "Bessie Isaacs Savage." Accessed April 8, 2017.

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