Biographical Sketch of Isabella Williams Blaney

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mrs. Charles (Isabella) Williams Blaney b.1854-d.1933

By Laura Moore, Doctoral Student, Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara

Vice President, Club Women's Franchise League; Chair, Santa Clara Valley Suffrage Movement; Candidate for delegate from the Eighth Congressional District to the National Republican Convention; Vice President, La Follette League of California; Vice President of the Women's Roosevelt League of San Francisco.

Isabella Williams was born in 1854 in Chicago, Illinois to John Marshall Williams and Elizabeth Caroline Smith of Evanston, Illinois.[i] San Jose Daily Mercury, March 11, 1901; "Leaves his Millions to Many Relatives: Will of John Williams, Who Died at Mountain View in California, Filed in Illinois," San Francisco Call, March 24, 1901. She married Charles D. Blaney (1854-1923) on September 6, 1877 in Evanston, Illinois. Shortly after their marriage, the couple relocated to the Santa Clara Valley in California, where Charles worked in real estate and in 1911 became Chairman of the first Highway Commission in California. The couple had one child, Clarissa Butler Blaney (1883-1901), who died when she was 17 years old of typhoid fever.[ii] "Only Child Is Taken By Death Today," The Evening News (San Jose, CA), July 30, 1901. Isabella Blaney lived until 1933 in Saratoga, California.

Isabella Blaney was actively involved in the California women's club movement. As a clubwoman, Blaney sought to reform society both in California, as well as abroad. She fundraised for and organized foreign medical missions, including the building of a medical hospital in Northern China.[iii] Elizabeth Lowe Watson, "A Distinguished Woman," The California Outlook, April 13, 1912, 8. After her daughter's death in 1901, Blaney and her husband sponsored the construction of a hospital ward in San Jose, California for patients with contagious diseases.[iv] "Isabella Williams Blaney," Find A Grave, accessed August, 26, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=28842996

Blaney was also an active suffragette. She helped form the Club Women's Franchise League and later became Vice President of the organization, which at its height had 2500 members and local branches throughout California.[v] "The New Era League," The California Outlook, April 13, 1912, 8. The League was well known throughout California for its campaign to galvanize support for suffrage in 1911 by serving Equality Tea at their headquarters in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.[vi] Jessica Ellen Sewell, Women and the Everyday City: Public Space in San Francisco, 1890-1915 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 149. In 1910, Blaney became chairwoman of the organization committee of Santa Clara County. In this capacity, she supervised and financed a house-to-house canvass of the Santa Clara Valley to persuade voters to support women's suffrage in the October 10th, 1911 special election. Blaney also served on the executive board of the California Equal Suffrage Association.

Six months after Blaney helped to secure the passage of suffrage in California, The California Outlook reported in April 1912, "[w]ith the utmost delicacy and tact," Blaney "won over to Woman Suffrage many of the most stubborn opponents, and inspired her co-workers with courage and enthusiasm."[vii] "Isabella Williams Blaney," Find A Grave, accessed August, 26, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=28842996

After the success of her efforts at the state level, Blaney turned her attention in November 1911 to supporting and organizing for the La Follette League of California. She served as Vice President.[viii] "Rally For La Follette: California Progressives Already Claiming the State's Twenty Delegates," New York Times, November 27, 1911, 2. When La Follette dropped out of the race, Blaney became a member of the Executive Committee of the Roosevelt Progressive Republican League of California, as well as one of the vice presidents of the Women's Roosevelt League of San Francisco. In March of 1912, she was nominated as a delegate from the Eighth Congressional District to the National Republican Convention. And in June 1912, she "cast her vote in the convention amid much cheering."[ix] "Women Enter Political Field," Toledo Weekly Blade, June 27, 1912.

When Taft won the party's nomination, however, Blaney and the other Roosevelt delegates left the convention to form a new Progressive Party.[x] Jo Freeman, We Will Be Heard: Women's Struggles for Political Power in the United States (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers: 2008). When the Progressive Party was formally launched later that summer, Blaney, along with Jane Addams, Frances Kellor of New York, and June Gordon of New Orleans (who soon resigned), were the first women to serve on the executive board of a major political party—the Progressive National Committee.[xi] "The Militant Recruit," Cartoons from Harper's Weekly and other leading Journals: Women's Suffrage and the Black Vote, accessed August 26, 1917. http://elections.harpweek.com/1912/cartoon-1912-Medium.asp?UniqueID=38&Year=; Jo Freeman, A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2000), 260.

Blaney continued to work as a local suffrage leader fighting for the ratification of a national suffrage amendment to the Constitution. In October 1919, she joined the National Women's party in Sacramento to be present when the state legislature ratified the national amendment.[xii] "Women To View Suffrage Action," Oakland Tribune, October 18,1919, 16. When several states held back their support of the amendment in January 1920, Blaney, alongside a delegation of women from San Francisco, went to Republican Party Chairman Will Hays' office to urge him to influence the remaining states to vote for the national amendment.[xiii] "Women Ask Hays Aid Suffrage Ratifying," San Francisco Chronicle, January 13, 1920, 4.

Suffragists: Isabella Blaney, Mrs. Willmarth, Jane Addams (courtesy of the Library of Congress, unrestricted).

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