Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Deborah Knox Livingston, 1876-1923
By Delaina Toothman, graduate student, University of Maine
Deborah Knox Livingston was born in Scotland in 1876 and graduated from St. Xavier's Academy in Rhode Island in 1892. She graduated from the NY Missionary Training School in 1895 and married the Reverend Benjamin Livingston in 1897. The turn of the century would bring changes for Deborah and excitement into her life as she became president of the Rhode Island Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1904, a post she would hold until 1913. As with so many other women, her work for temperance led her to the suffrage movement and in 1913 she became the Superintendent of the Suffrage Department of the National WCTU.
When her husband became the pastor of the Columbia Street Baptist Church, the couple moved to Bangor, in 1912 and there Livingston continued her activism. She served as President of the Bangor YWCA (1914-1915) and was a founding member of the Bangor Suffrage Center. Bangor at this time was the gateway to points farther north and Livingston worked hard to make Bangor a center of suffrage activity for the area. The Suffrage Center held regular suffrage meetings designed to encourage respectable women to attend. She and her group brought before the Maine Legislature a proposed amendment that would allow women the vote. It looked, in 1915, as if that amendment were going to pass. Livingston argued before the Legislative Committee that boys and girls had equal educational opportunities, which lead to more women in industry, which in turn was affected by government. Women, therefore, should have a voice in government. Although the referendum bill passed in the Senate, it failed in the House.
The suffrage proposal would return in 1917 as a referendum. Unfortunately, by that time Livingston was involved in a public feud with Florence Brooks Whitehouse over the types of tactics the women should use in getting the referendum passed. Livingston openly objected to the "picketing" of the White House by the "militant" suffragists. This feud likely did some damage to the cause of woman's suffrage, despite Livingston traveling thousands of miles and raising money for the cause.
Livingston's death was reported in the Australian Trove, newsletter of the WCTU, with much sadness in 1923. In it she was remembered as a gifted and persuasive speaker who worked hard for causes she believed in and was a superb friend. While her role in Maine may seem small, Livingston's influence reached around the globe and helped move forward the causes for which she was most passionate. She would live to see both realized with the passage of the 18th amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol and the 19th Amendment allowing women the right to vote.
Reilly, Wayne E., "Bangor Club Women Battled for Rights a Century Ago. Bangor (Maine) Daily News, 7 June 2015, accessed online at: https://bangordailynews.com/2015/06/07/living/blogs-and-columns-living/bangor-club-women-battled-for-rights-a-century-ago/?ref=relatedBox
Risk, Shannon M. "'In Order to Establish Justice': The Nineteenth-Century Woman Suffrage Movements of Maine and New Brunswick" (Ph.D. diss, Univ. of Maine, 2009), accessed online at https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/181/.
"The WCTU." Sydney (AUSTRALIA) Morning Herald, 24 Sept. 1923, p. 4. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/125652604/