Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Emily Young O'Brien, 1866-1945

By Ryan Linthicum, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Emily Young O'Brien was born Emily Ayers Young on October 29, 1866 in Lisbon, New Hampshire. She was the oldest child of Susan Gerrish Ayers and James Riley Young. Her father was a merchant in Lyman and Lisbon. She attended St. Johnsbury Academy, and Boston University where she received her Doctorate of Medicine in 1893.

In 1922, she started working at Westborough State Hospital in Westborough, Massachusetts. Not allowed the same privileges as male doctors, Dr. O'Brien involved herself in conferences, meetings, and organizations in hopes of gaining experience and recognition. For instance, On December 14 and 15, 1900 she presented a paper titled "The Inception of Formal Education with Reference to the Development of the Child's Brain" at the third annual meeting of the Washington Homeopathic Medical Society. During the First World War, she also did a great deal of work at Camp Devens and was head of the Disabled Veterans' Hospital Services.

On February 19 1895, she married Robert Lincoln O'Brien. After graduating from Harvard University, Mr. O'Brien went on to work for President Grover Cleveland as a clerk. Later in life, Mr. O'Brien worked as the editor of the Boston Transcript and then managing editor of the Boston Herald.

Together they had two children, Miriam O'Brien and Lincoln O'Brien.

After moving to Washington, D.C., Dr. O'Brien worked largely to help raise awareness for child labor and education. Her most important work was as secretary of the Council of the Civil Center in 1906. As secretary, she worked on a study of Fisk's Civil Government of the United States, laws affecting women and children, taxation and other subjects of public interest. Together with Mrs. Ellen Spencer Mussey and Mrs. Alice Stern Gitterman, they helped push a petition to establish a Juvenile Court for the protection of neglected and delinquent children, compulsory education and restriction of child labor, as well as a rise the salaries of public school teachers. On January 29, 1906, they successfully entered the petition to congress, which eventually led to the establishment of a Juvenile Court on March 19, 1906 with Mrs. Charles Darwin as the President appointed probation officer.

On January 24, 1945, at the age of 79, she passed away in her home in Washington D.C. leaving behind her husband and two children.


James Otis Lyford, History of the Town of Canterbury, New Hampshire, 1727-1912: Genealogy and Appendix, (Concord: The Rumford Press, 1912), 16.

Association of Collegiate Alumnae, Committee on Educational Legislation, 1908, 3 (16), p. 105.

American Alpine Club, In Memoriam, Emily Young O'Brien, 1866-1945, December 9, 2017,

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Gage, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Ida H. Harper, History of Women's Marches - The Political Battle of Suffragettes, (New York: Madison & Adams Press, 2017).

"Societies and Current Events," North American Journal of Homeopathy, 3:16 (1901), 9.

The Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma, In Memoriam, April 1945,

Catalogue of the Public Documents of the Fifty-Ninth Congress and of other Departments of the Government of the United States, (Washington D.C.: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1910), 279.

"Chap. 960. - An Act to create a juvenile court in and for the District of Columbia," The Statues at large of the United States of America from December 1905 to March 1907, (Washington D.C.: Secretary of State, February 19, 2017), Page 73.

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