Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Caroline R. Wendell, 1847-1930
By Sally Wilkins, freelance writer, Amherst, New Hampshire
Vice President, Association for the Advancement of Women. Auditor, New Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association.
Caroline R. Wendell was born in Dover, New Hampshire November 29, 1847 to a family with deep and broad roots in the reformist movements of the mid-nineteenth century. She was a cousin of both the noted justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and the avid reformer Wendell Phillips (partner in abolition work with William Lloyd Garrison and in suffrage with Lucy Stone). Caroline appears to have been one of those unsung "worker bees" on whom any successful movement or organization depends. Minutes of state and local suffrage meetings contain single-sentence tributes to her efforts: "Miss C. R. Wendell presented the report of the audit." "Miss C.R. Wendell was appointed Secretary pro-tem." "Miss C. R. Wendell was named to the National Executive Committee." We are left to consider the details of her life as revealed in the few extant documents.
Caroline's father, Daniel H. Wendell, was a successful businessman, her mother Huldah Jenness was descended from a founding family of the New Hampshire seacoast. Both were committed to philanthropic efforts, particularly in the areas of temperance and suffrage. Caroline's brother Dan was a Civil War surgeon who died a few years after the war. Her sister, Nellie, died a few years later, and by 1885 Caroline was the lone survivor of the prosperous family. Carrie (as she was known locally) threw herself and her resources into the work of leaving the world a better place.
A contemporary biographical sketch describes her as "a woman of strong individuality and progressive thought, possessing keen perception and fine executive ability, combined with quick sympathy, broad charity and a consecrated spirit." She succeeded Armenia White as president of the NH Woman's Christian Temperance Union and was chair of the Board of Trustees of the Mercy School for Girls in Manchester, to which she provided substantial funding and furnishings. She was director or trustee of a dizzying array of social service organizations, ranging from the Anti-Tuberculosis Association to the Memorial Hospital for Women and Children, the Red Cross and the Wentworth Home for the Aged.
For many years Caroline served as vice-president of the National Association for the Advancement of Women, of which Julia Ward Howe was president. It is hardly surprising that she was an avid supporter of equal suffrage, having grown up listening to her cousin, Wendell Phillips; more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that another cousin, Edith Barrett of Portsmouth, was vice-president of the NH Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. This must have made for some strained family gatherings.
In 1901 Carrie sold the family home and moved to a two-family residence in downtown Dover. She rented one unit and lived in the other, remaining active and independent until her death, December, 15, 1930.
A Brief History of the New Hampshire Women Suffrage Association: A Report of the Annual Meeting Held in Manchester, October 25, 1907. Concord, NH: Association, 1907.
"Fire Damages Dover House." Portsmouth Herald 23 Mar. 1926: 5. NewspaperArchive.com.
"For Tenth Time." The Boston Daily Globe 18 Oct. 1890: 6. NewspaperArchive.com.
Metcalf, Henry Harrison, and Frances M. Abbott. "Caroline R. Wendell." One Thousand New Hampshire Notables: Brief Biographical Sketches of New Hampshire Men and Women, Native or Resident, Prominent in Public, Professional, Business, Educational, Fraternal or Benevolent Work. Concord, NH: Rumford Printing, 1919. 167-69.
"Miss Caroline R. Wendell: A Tribute." Foster's Daily Democrat [Dover, NH] 18 Dec. 1930. Microfilm.
New Hampshire Wills and Probates 1643-1892. Lehi, Utah: Ancestry.com, Pdf.
Nye, A. E. G. "Daniel H. Wendell" and "Wentworth Home for the Aged." Dover, New Hampshire, Its History and Industries: Issued as an Illustrated Souvenir in Commemoration of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Foster's Daily Democrat, Descriptive of the City and Its Manufacturing and Business Interests. Dover, NH: Geo. J. Foster, 1898. 144-45, 33-36.
The Case Against Woman Suffrage. New York City: Man-Suffrage Association, 1903.