Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Emily Elisabeth Dobbin, 1875-1949

By Leslie Ordal, University of Toronto

Emily Elisabeth Dobbin (occasionally erroneously listed as Dobbyn) was born in Kentucky on February 5, 1875, the middle of three children born to Leonard B. Dobbin, a physician originally from Ireland, and Julia Branham. The family lived in Louisville, Kentucky through the 1880s, then moved to Kansas City, MO. After an education at the University of Chicago, Dobbin would return to Missouri to begin her teaching career. She would continue to teach in St. Paul, Minnesota, while also active in the suffrage movement and other social causes. In later years, she lived in San Diego, CA, with her mother. She died in San Diego on October 24, 1949.

Dobbin studied astronomy at the University of Chicago, obtaining her Bachelor's degree in 1902 and a Master's the following year. During this time she produced two sole-authored papers in scholarly publications, based on her research at Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin. Dobbin was employed as an Assistant in Mathematics at the University of Missouri as early as 1905; later she would teach mathematics at the secondary level at the Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul, Minnesota and also lead the school's astronomy club. She was listed among the rolls of the Chicago chapter of the Sigma Xi scientific research honor society.

Dobbin's suffrage work began in St. Paul, with her efforts documented beginning in 1909 in the Minneapolis paper Star Tribune. As a member of the St. Paul Woman Suffrage Club, she helped organize the 28th annual convention of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage association. Soon after she became a notable figure in the Minnesota suffrage movement, first speaking to community groups such as the State Editorial association and later taking a more prominent role as the president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage association. She delivered a detailed report of the suffrage activities in Minnesota at the 1910 National Woman Suffrage Association convention.

Dobbin proved to be a polarizing figure at the Minnesota Woman Suffrage association's 1911 convention. She sparred over issues with the eventual president-elect Mrs. A. T. Hall, splitting the convention-goers into two opposing factions as Dobbin refused to seek reelection in protest of the then board of directors. In the same year, Dobbin served as president of the St. Paul Political Equality Club, another suffrage group. In 1914, the Mower County Transcript, a small newspaper in Lansing, Minnesota, described her as "perfectly outrageous" in declaring "[t]he innate cussedness of man is the thing which stands in the way of equal suffrage." That same year, Dobbin paid the legal fees for activist Clara Hardenbrook, who attempted to cast a ballot on May 7 and was escorted out of her polling place without being allowed to vote.

Throughout her suffrage work, Dobbin was also a dedicated teacher, speaking on topics such as the methods of teaching geometry to the Minnesota State Teachers' Association. She also ran a weekly paper, The Minnesota Socialist, and advocated for the building of a women's prison in Minnesota.

Dobbin continued to be active in social causes even after women got the vote. In 1921, she spoke to the Socialist Study club in St. Paul about the problem of child labour, advocating for the closure of sweatshops and compulsory school attendance. Following the Irish War of Independence in 1919, Dobbin worked to raise money for humanitarian relief in Ireland, where thousands were living without adequate food or shelter. Dobbin moved to California in the 1920s and her political activities lessened or went unrecorded after that point. She continued to work into her 60s, however, and was listed as a real estate broker in San Diego in the 1940 census.

Selected sources:

Dobbin, Emily Elisabeth. (1904). "Line of Sight Constants for Some Stars of the Orion Type." Astrophysical Journal, 19, 382-84.

Dobbin, Emily Elisabeth. (20 May 1904). "The Orbit of the Fifth Satellite of Jupiter." The Astronomical Journal, 562, 83-88.

Dobbin, Emily E. (29 Oct 1915). "Analytic Methods in Elementary Geometry [spoken lecture]." Minnesota State Teachers' Association.

Ford, Alyssa. (8 Nov 2016). "The story of St. Paul woman Clara Hardenbrook, who tried (and failed) to vote in 1914." The Line. Retrieved from

State of California. California Death Index, 1940-1997. Sacramento, CA, USA: State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics.

"Suffrage Club to Entertain." (24 Oct 1909). Star Tribune, p. 21.

back to top