Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Clara M. Schlingheyde, 1872-?

By Mary Langer Thompson, retired public school principal and writer

Clara M. Schlingheyde, born July 31, 1872 in San Francisco, taught stenography by day, but "gave every hour that could be spared to the work at [woman suffrage] headquarters, a free will offering." She recruited speakers for fraternal organizations, lodges, and societies in order to wake up the "unawakened" voter.

Not all men's societies were welcoming. Clara sent speakers to men's organizations because they were the voters, and asked for twenty minutes during a business session so that one or two speakers could talk for ten minutes each and present arguments and illustrations to win equal suffrage. She wanted speakers to keep it simple, and use, for example, the "taxation without representation" argument. Clara wanted to educate the public on the idea of votes for women.

California women created a new mass social movement called "organized womanhood" in the early 1900's. San Francisco, in particular, mirrored eastern cities in size and immigrant working populations. Women wanted new values, new organizations, and a new collectivity.

Clara sometimes sent speakers to women's organizations, believing that "every woman influenced at least one man." She sent speakers to parlors of "the Order of the Native Daughters" in San Francisco, and reached out to outlying districts of San Francisco to young factory girls and box makers, mostly during their lunch hours.

As Treasurer of the California Equal Suffrage Association, after southern and northern California groups merged in 1904, Clara obtained donations for the national suffrage bazaar in New York. At a convention in Los Angeles to celebrate the joining of the northern and southern associations, she made a plea for $300, but said they'd need more if women were to win. When asked how much, she said, "I'll say we want every cent we can get." According to the L.A. Times her reply "brought down the house." The wife of famous Napa Valley artist, William Keith, Mary McHenry Keith, pledged $500, the single largest pledge. Again in 1911, Mrs. Keith donated $1,000 to the campaign fund of the College Equal Suffrage Association after Clara jumped to her feet to ask, "Is there not someone who will give $1,000?"

California became the sixth state to grant women the right to vote in 1911, a turning point in the national women's movement. Women used political techniques and cross-class connections. Still, many male lawyers and judges contended although women got the vote, this didn't mean they could serve on juries. That campaign would not win until 1917.

On April 27, 1913, the Sacramento Union headline read, "Well Known Girl to Be Delegate to Suffragist Meeting." Clara, now one of the most famous "club women" in California, was appointed to represent the state at the Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Budapest. Each of the nine states of the Union in which women voted sent delegates. The paper announced that she would be in Budapest for three months and upon her return remain in New York as private secretary to Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the International Suffrage Alliance.

In 1915, she expressed her gratitude in Jus Suffragii, an International journal, for the work of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, particularly its relief work.

Sources: Clara M. Schlingheyde in the U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925, accessible at

Gullett, Gayle. Becoming Citizens: The Emergence and Development of the California Women's Movement, 1880-1911, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000).

Oldfield, Sybil. Jus Suffragii, II (November 1914-September 1916), p. 29, accessible at

"Women Freely Give Money for Ballot Battle," San Francisco Call, 20 August 191l, accessible at California Digital Newspaper Collection San Francisco Call 20 August 1911

"Miss Schlingheyde Honored," San Francisco Call, 26 April 1913, accessible at California Digital Newspaper Collection San Francisco Call 26 April 1913


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