Biographical Database of Militant Suffragists, 1913-1920

Biography of Eleanor B. Arrison, 1882-1979

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By Christina Larocco, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Arrison, Eleanor B. (circa 1882–1979), was a prominent member in the Pennsylvania state branch of the National Woman's Party. In 1917, she both served as chair of the organization's Fifth Congressional District activities and ran the Congressional Union's information bureau. She also engaged in visible public protests, frequently traveling between her home in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. An early White House picketer, she attended Pennsylvania Day in January 1917, eventually spending eight weeks on the picket line in the first half of that year. In March, she became one of almost 1,000 women who marched to the White House on the day of Woodrow Wilson's second inauguration. Holding an American flag, Arrison marched next to Vida Milholland, sister of the suffrage martyr Inez Milholland. In Pennsylvania, Arrison was best-known for her clash with her US representative, Peter E. Costello. Costello had refused to meet with Arrison to discuss suffrage. Learning of this slight, 200 women gathered for a protest meeting. In 1918, Arrison was among those who criticized Wilson for not taking aggressive action to push the suffrage amendment through the Senate, traveling to Washington, DC, for a demonstration in Lafayette Square. Fifty women involved in this protest were arrested, though Arrison was not among them. She also worked to convince her own senators, Boies Penrose and Philader C. Knox, to support the amendment. Arrison's personal life was also not without drama. She married Walter B. Arrison while still a teenager, and the couple had two children. The union was not a happy one, however, and by 1907 Eleanor was suing Walter for divorce. Fellow Pennsylvania NWP activist Caroline Katzenstein suggests that Walter left Eleanor and that this desertion caused considerable financial hardship. Other evidence also points in this direction. At one point, Eleanor sought a court injunction to prevent Walter from removing all of the furniture in their home, which he had threatened to do, and from spending the interest he held in the house. In 1910 Eleanor was living alone with her two children and supporting herself as a dressmaker, though she still listed herself in the census as married. The court finally granted her divorce in 1920. Eight years later she remarried, to William W. Adams.

SOURCES:

Information about Arrison can be found in the Philadelphia Inquirer; The Suffragist; and (briefly) Caroline Katzenstein, Lifting the Curtain: The State and National Woman Suffrage Campaigns in Pennsylvania as I Saw Them (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1955).

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