Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Phoebe Persons Scott, 1878-1959
By Kristen C. Howard
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Arizona
Phoebe Persons Scott was born Phebe Tomkins Persons on 7 January 1878 in Newark, New Jersey, and educated at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, earning a bachelor's degree (B.L.) in Marine Biology in 1900. In September 1902, Phebe married George Gilmore Scott (1873-1960), graduate of Williams College (B.A. 1898, A.M. 1899) and a professor of biology and zoology at the College for the City of New York. Together Phoebe and George had two sons, Robert (born 1905) and Richard (born 1910).
The Scotts made their home together in New Jersey, first in Morristown and then Montclair. Phoebe worked for state suffrage in New Jersey before joining the National Woman's Party. By March 1917, she was serving as the Chairman of New Jersey's Seventh Congressional District for the NWP, a position she retained for the remainder of 1917. Phoebe joined in the picketing of the White House on 10 November 1917. Thirty women were arrested, tried and found guilty of obstructing traffic. Given the choice of a fine or a jail sentence, all but one picket chose jail; they were sentenced to terms between fifteen days and seven months, with Phoebe receiving a sentence of thirty days. Rather than serving their sentences in District Jail, the suffragists were sent to Occoquan Workhouse where they received horrendous treatment, including forced labor. On 15 November, the guards initiated what has been called a "Night of Terror," subjecting some of the prisoners to beatings and confinement. Soon after, the women began a hunger strike, in which Phoebe participated. On November 24, the suffragists at Occoquan were transferred to the District of Columbia Jail, after a successful lawsuit challenged their Occoquan imprisonment. A few days later, all the suffrage prisoners were suddenly released, for unexplained reasons on 27 and 28 November. The suffragists considered this a resounding victory, and celebrated the picketers and their release at the December Advisory Council Conference of the NWP in Washington, D.C. The picketers received "prison pins," a decoration for service devised by the NWP as an "emblem of the sacrifice of individual liberty for the liberty of all women."
Phoebe continued her involvement with the NWP after her experience as a political prisoner. She was elected secretary of the New Jersey Branch in December 1917, and continued serving in this position through 1921. In summer 1918, Phoebe opened the "Tri-Color Tearoom" in Montclair, named for the tri-colored flag of the NWP (purple, white, and gold). At the "notable suffrage demonstration" that accompanied the opening of the tearoom on 1 June 1918, the New Jersey NWP sold ice cream and cake, and hosted a speech of the suffragist and Phebe's co-prisoner Lucy Burns. This same month, Phoebe hosted a "Suffrage Flag-raising" event in her home in Montclair. Throughout 1918, Phoebe was further involved in recruitment events, specifically in recruiting young New Jersey munitions workers.
Phoebe's involvement in the NWP waned after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, although her name can be seen in the list of NWP members imprisoned on behalf of their suffragist activities in the September 1920 edition of the NWP's publication The Suffragist. Phoebe and George moved to Winter Park, Florida after his retirement in 1936, where Phoebe preceded George in death in April 1959.
Phoebe's participation in the 1917 picketing of the White House can be found in Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), and the more recent Mary Elizabeth Snodgrass, Civil Disobedience: An Encylopedic History of Dissidence in the United States (Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2009). Biographical details are available in national census data from 1900, 1920, and 1920; and in New Jersey State Census data from 1885 and 1905. Information on Phoebe's education are available in the 1900 Smith College yearbook and from the Smith College Alumnae Association. Her suffragist work is detailed in editions of the NWP's publication The Suffragist published between 1917 and 1921.
Note that it's possible that two (nondigitized) portraits of Phoebe Scott exist in the Records of the National Woman's Party held by the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress under the name "Phoebe C. Scott" (I.156).
Specific Articles from The Suffragist including Phoebe P. Scott:
"National Woman's Party," The Suffragist (17 March 1917), p. 2; "Financial Report," The Suffragist 5, no. 70 (26 May 1917), p. 11; "Financial Report," The Suffragist 5, no. 77 (14 July 1917), p. 11; "The Campaign from Coast to Coast," The Suffragist 5, no. 93 (3 November 1917), p. 7; "Forty-One Suffrage Pickets Answer the Attempt for the Democratic Administration to Crush Suffrage," The Suffragist 5, no. 95 (17 November 1917), p. 95; "A Week of the Women's Revolution," The Suffragist 5, no. 96 (24 November 1917), p. 4; "The Government Releases Suffrage Prisoners," The Suffragist 5, no. 97 (1 December 1917), p. 9; "The Woman's Party Conference at the Capital," The Suffragist 5, no. 98 (8 December 1917), p. 5 ; "National Woman's Party," The Suffragist 5, no. 98 (22 December 1917), p. 2; "New Jersey State Convention," The Suffragist 5, no. 98 (22 December 1917), p. 3; "The National Woman's Party in 1917," The Suffragist 6, no. 1 (5 January 1918), 7; "New Jersey Suffrage Demonstration," The Suffragist 6, no. 22 (22 June 1918), p. 6; "New Jersey Munition Workers Appeal to the President," The Suffragist 6, no. 23 (29 June 1918), p. 11; Mary Gertrude Fendall, "Treasurer's Report," The Suffragist 6, no. 28 (3 August 1918), p. 9; "Protest against Suffrage Blockade Continues," The Suffragist 6, no. 30 (17 August 1918), p. 9; "Decorated for Service," The Suffragist 7, no. 8 (September 1920), p. 21; "National Woman's Party," The Suffragist 8, no. 10 (November 1920); "National Woman's Party," The Suffragist 9, no. 1 (January-February 1921).