Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Minola Graham Sexton, 1859-1922
By Tina Dwyer, Program Coordinator, Princeton University
and Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian
Minola Graham was born in New York City on December 5, 1859 to Andrew Jackson Graham and Caroline Ross. Education was very important to her father, so she attended Dearborn-Morgan School in Orange and was taught at home by private tutors. Her family had a history of philanthropy and was active in the Unitarian Church which likely guided her own philanthropic tendencies later in life. Her mother was a well known Quaker philanthropist who supported suffrage, temperance, and the abolition of slavery. Her mother's childhood home was a "station" for runaway slaves in the Underground Railroad. Her father Andrew Graham was an author and an educator originally from Ohio. He wrote many texts and books on shorthand and was considered an expert in the field and was the author of the System of Phonography, a unique system of shorthand. Before marriage, Minola was a secretary for her father, noted for her skill as a rapid shorthand writer. She married Chandler Sexton from Albany, N.Y. on December 23, 1885 and they had two children, Andrew J.G. Sexton and Carolina G. Sexton. In 1858, Andrew J. Graham started a publishing business named Andrew J. Graham & Company and Chandler Sexton became his partner in the business. Originally the Sextons lived in New York City, but in 1874, they moved to Orange, N.J., where they stayed for the rest of their lives. Minola passed away in 1922 at the age of 53.
Minola felt that women's clubs were a form of "university" for members to participate in educational and civic activities. The first club she joined was the Woman's Club of Orange (WCO) - where Minola put her rapid shorthand skills to good use as the Corresponding Secretary. The thousand women-strong WCO, was founded in 1872 under the patronage and guidance of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association (NJWSA). Next she joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, convinced that Prohibition would help solve much of the world's misery and crime. Inspired by her belief that women needed to have the right to vote in order to move the cause of temperance forward, she organized the Orange Political Study Club (OPSC) in 1898. As chairman of the May 1898 Convention of the National Federation of Women's Clubs held in Orange, N.J., she ensured that the event had a large attendance. She served as President of the OPSC for four years, later becoming the Honorary President and Chairman of Reconstruction. In 1917, when the US entered WWI, the OPSC shifted its priorities to war relief work. As Chairman, Minola steered fundraising efforts that collected a large sum of money for the Soldiers' Club House at Camp Dix (owned by the NJWSA). She was also the founder of the Equal Suffrage League of the Oranges.
In 1900, at the 10th annual NJWSA meeting in Moorestown, Minola was elected president, a position she'd hold for six years. During her tenure as President, the association grew and flourished, adding many new members and chapters. Minola regularly travelled throughout New Jersey to speak to women's clubs and other societies. She also organized numerous suffrage meetings, including two-day National Suffrage Association rallies held annually from 1902-1904 at the Tabernacle in Ocean Grove, NJ. Throughout 1904, she spoke at the meetings of several groups including the Federation of Women's Clubs, the Conference of Charities and Corrections, New Brunswick Political Club, and the State Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Her mission was to bring the suffrage cause before other groups. Later she was made NJWSA Honorary President for Life.
Additional organizations that she participated in were:
- President of the Unitarian Alliance
- Member of the Consumers' League of New Jersey
- Member of the American Red Cross
- Member of the Committee on the Protection of Women Under International Law
- Member of the Bureau of Associated Charities of the Oranges
William Edgar Sackett, John James Scannell, Scannell's New Jersey's First Citizens, (NJ: J.J. Scannell, 1917), p. 402.
Friends' Intelligencer and Journal- Volume 57, (1900), p. 389.
The Journal of Commercial Education - Volume 9, (1894), p. 318.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, Matilda Josyln Gage, Ida Husted Harper, The History of Woman Suffrage- Volume 6, (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1920) pages 412, 431. LINK to NJ report.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, Matilda Josyln Gage, Ida Husted Harper, The Suffragettes- Complete History of the Movement, (e-artnow, 2017), pages 4840, 6215.
"Miss Milholland to Speak Here," The Daily Home News, 11/7/1912, p. 2.
- 1880 federal census
- 1905, 1920 NJ census