Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Georgietta Julia Nickerson Whitten, 1864-1963
By Mazie Hough, University of Maine
Georgietta Julia Nickerson was born on August 6, 1864 in Swanville, Maine to George Washington Nickerson and Julia Tripp Parsons. She was the oldest of ten children. At 23, she married Henry A. Whitten, a traveling salesman, and moved to Melrose, MA where the couple had five children, two of whom died of diphtheria. When Henry grew ill, the family moved back to Maine where Georgie helped support the family as a seamstress. One of her clients was the noted opera singer, Nordica.
Georgie's passion however, was politics and she turned to the Socialist Party which advocated for equal political and civil rights for women and equal pay for equal work. In 1907 the Socialist Party established a woman's committee to develop literature which specifically spoke to women and "to keep the need for agitation for suffrage for women before the locals." Georgie became the head of the West Searsport Local and the Maine Correspondent for the National Women's Committee of the Socialist Party—a title which she used throughout her life. As a socialist organizer, her three main objectives were woman suffrage, child labor, and rural free delivery (parcels post).
According to her niece, Georgie was single-handedly responsible for organizing her local's work. The men and women gathered signatures for suffrage petitions and with the funds from the dues, Georgie tirelessly promoted not only woman suffrage, but also government pay for women who worked in the home and the right to vote through the mails—what she called universal written referendum suffrage.
In 1918 Georgie wrote to Adolph Germer, the National Executive Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, to urge him to organize mothers by allowing them to participate in party decision through the mails. You cannot get members, she told him, if you don't organize, and you can't organize without women. "For the mothers are all the organizers there are in the world, and that is why you have no democracy, and never will have, until you unite with home-tied mothers by universal written referendum suffrage."
The Socialist Party in Maine could not survive the Red-Baiting which followed World War I. By 1920, "what few party adherents did exist in the state all but disappeared." (Breton, 35) Georgie, however, continued her political work. Suffrage, as far as she was concerned, would not succeed until women—especially rural women tied by work to their homes—could vote through the mails. Her calling card announced, "I work for Mother's Federal Pay, and all to vote the legal way, with a duplicate preferential ballot by universal referendum civil service suffrage." At this point, her niece said, "all she did was write. She thought this was her work." She wrote to officials, friends, and fellow socialists, promoting the issues that most concerned her. In every letter, she also included her proposal for "universal written referendum suffrage."
Georgie died in May, 1963
Buhle, Mari Jo, Women and American Socialism, 1870-1920. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981
Bloor, Ella Reeve, We Are Many: An Autobiography. New York: International Publishers, 1940
Scontras, Charles A., The Socialist Alternative: Utopian Experiments and the Socialist Party of Maine, 1895-1914. Orono, Maine: The Bureau of Labor Education, 1985.
Progressive Woman 1908-1912
Interview with Margaret Clements, Swanville, Maine, 20 October 1990.
Georgie Whitten correspondence in author's possession.