Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Bertha Chouteau Turner Munsell, 1881-1969
By Elizabeth McWhorter, Lilibeth Alarcon Estevez, & Moe Noguchi, undergraduate students, Presbyterian College, Clinton, South Carolina.
Member, South Carolina Equal Suffrage League; A founder and first Chairman, League of Women Voters of South Carolina.
On September 20, 1881, Bertha Chouteau Turner was born to James Lucas Turner and Bertha Gabriella Turner in Boone County, Missouri. Her father, James, was a highly educated and successful farmer in the county. However, the death of her parents left Bertha orphaned by the age of 12. The death of both parents at such a young age gave her strong sense of responsibility and self-reliance.
Bertha married Frederick Soule Munsell in 1901. Frederick was an insurance executive. After their marriage the couple moved to Hawaii where they opened the first branch of the New York Life Insurance company in the islands. The Munsells moved to Nevada in 1910. In 1917 they moved to Columbia, South Carolina where Bertha would make her biggest mark on the woman suffrage movement.
During World War I, Bertha became the state chairman of Women's Victory Loan and Women's Liberty Loan. As a chairman, she led several successful loan drives. Munsell also served as chairman of the American Citizen Committee, attending several summer courses on citizenship at local colleges including Winthrop University, Coker College, and took a course at Converse College. She reported on her experience at the State Convention in 1920.
Bertha Munsell was also a leader of the South Carolina Equal Suffrage League. When this organization merged into the League of Women Voters in 1920, she was elected as its chairman. In this position, she urged women to insist that they be allowed to register in time for the November election and to “qualify themselves” to vote. Under her leadership the SC LWV urged women to register, and held citizenship classes, and promoted women's education so that they could better use their voting rights. “The women of our state are a great untried power striving for the best interests of our homes and communities and it is only by co-operation and organization that we can get expect to get results.” Munsell made great efforts for women in South Carolina as a leader of many kinds of activities.
The Munsells left South Carolina in the 1930s and lived in Maryland and Philadelphia before retiring in Florida. Even after her death in 1969, Bertha Munsell's activities and achievements remain as a legacy in women's history in South Carolina and women's rights more broadly. A classroom at Bryn Mawr College is named in honor of the Munsells thanks to a generous donation by their son, Frederick, Jr.
“To Celebrate April 6th,” The Abbeville Press and Banner, March 22, 1918
“Another Chance for Local Women: One More Opportunity to Register, Gaffney Ledger, Gaffney, South Carolina, September 28, 1920. Accessed March 16, 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/78044049/
“Bible School to Observe World Friendship Day, Press and Sun-Bulletin, March 7, 1936.
Treasury Department, 1918. Report of National Woman's Liberty Loan Committee For The First And Second Liberty Loan Campaigns 1917. Washington, DC. c_nwllc_1917. Accessed April 10, 2017.
"The League of Women Voters Through the Decades!" League of Women Voters; "Family Search." Free Family History and Genealogy Records – FamilySearch.org. Accessed April 17, 2017.
Amy Clark, "Munsell Funds Room at College." People (Cocoa, Florida), August 1, 1980.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920. Vol. 6. Fowler & Wells, 1922
History of Boone County, Missouri: Written and Comp. St. Luis: Western Historical Company, 1882.