Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biographies of Carrie E. Weaver (1878-1961) and Eva H. Weaver (1901-1956)
By Anna LaRochelle, Central Connecticut State University (Prof. Prescott HIST 331) and Clare M. Sheridan, Librarian (retired), American Textile History Museum, Lowell, MA
Weaver, Carrie E. and Eva H.: machinists and union and suffrage activists, Bridgeport, CT
Carrie E. Weaver and Eva H. Weaver, mother and daughter, were both machinists and union members during World War I at the Remington UMC munitions plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut and active in the suffrage movement. They participated in a "watchfire" demonstration at the White House in January 1919, an action sponsored by the National Woman's Party.
Bridgeport, where the Weavers lived and worked, was a city with a history of labor unrest during World War I and the early post-war years. Well before the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, Connecticut arms manufacturers like Remington were supplying arms under contract to Allied powers. Remington's Bridgeport plant employed about 17,000 workers, including thousands of women, in a factory complex covering 73 acres. During the war, Bridgeport experienced "serious social and economic problems, including spectacular population growth, inflation, and shortages of housing, factory space, schools and recreational facilities" (Nichols). Wage disputes, the lengthening of work hours, demands to increase production and hazardous working conditions precipitated strikes in the munitions industry in 1918 that made national news. President Wilson threatened retaliation with blackballing and canceling draft exemptions. He ordered the workers to return to work, thus ending the strike.
In 1913, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns founded an organization to focus exclusively on passing a federal suffrage amendment. By 1917, the organization had evolved into the National Woman's Party (NWP) and attracted a wide range of women including many "laboring" women. The NWP 's goal was to pressure President Wilson into supporting the amendment by using more radical tactics than those employed by the national suffrage organization--tactics such as pickets and "watchfires" [bonfires] in front of the White House or in Lafayette Square across from the executive mansion, burning Wilson's speeches in the watchfires and even hanging him in effigy, parades and demonstrations, automobile and train tours (The Prison Special) of suffrage speakers, and imprisonment and hunger strikes that sometimes involved forced feeding. The women were often attacked by mobs of "soldiers, sailors and citizens" while police attempted to douse the watchfires and often arrested the women.
Both the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and the NWP saw in Wilson a common enemy. In the first few months of 1919, the NWP increased its attacks on the President to force him to secure the last Senate votes needed for passage of the suffrage amendment. As the NWP stated, "We will not sit in silence while the President presents himself to the people of Europe as the representative of a free people when the American people are not free, and he is chiefly responsible for it" (New York Times, January 10, 1919). NWP banners proclaimed Wilson as a "false prophet of democracy" (New York Times, Jan 2, 1919).
With their experience as workers in the munitions industry and as suffrage and union activists, the Weavers would have been attracted to the NWP's militancy. They volunteered to participate in a NWP action at the White House. On January 10, 1919, (ten days after the watchfire demonstrations had begun), both Carrie and Eva Weaver (then 18 years old), traveled to Washington with Mrs. Elsie Vervane (also VerVane), the leader of the group and president of the Woman ['s?] Machinists Union of Bridgeport (also referred to as the Bridgeport Ladies Machinist Union). Mrs. Vervane had also participated in a White House demonstration the year before with a group of Connecticut machinists. The Weavers and Mrs. Vervane were also accompanied by two other Bridgeport machinists and union members, Miss Ruth Scott and Mrs. Helen Chisaski.
The next day, they left NWP headquarters in Washington DC (where they were staying) to meet with President Wilson's secretary, Joseph Tumulty, in order to discuss not only the suffrage issue but Bridgeport's severe unemployment due to the decline in war work after the signing of the Armistice in November 1918. They were directed to his assistant to little effect. They then met with Connecticut's Senator George McLean (who was opposed to woman suffrage) regarding both issues but made little headway with him. In fact, he was unaware of the unrest in Bridgeport. They moved on to the demonstration at the White House which consisted of 22-23 women-- many of whom had come from other parts of the country.
Depending on the source, the date of the actual arrests as well as details of the demonstration vary slightly with regard to the number of women attending, terms of their sentencing, and other details of police and mob engagement (tearing down banners and other objects). According to one newspaper account given by Elsie Vervane in the Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer of January 22, 1919, her group brought one of President Wilson's speeches on democracy to burn, a piece of paper and a stick of wood to help start the watchfire. After building the watchfire, 22 women were arrested (probably on January 12 or 13) and charged with lighting fires on government property (Hartford Courant, January 16, 1919). They were let out on bail but after supper they attempted to demonstrate again but avoided re-arrest. At Federal court the next morning the group was sentenced to pay a fine of $5 (or $10) or go to jail for five days. The women chose the bug and rat-infested jail cells with Mrs. Vervane stating in The Bridgeport Times, "I will go to jail, that's what I came to Washington for." The women, according to Vervane, kept the jail in an uproar and were released after five days--several women being ill at the time. According to the Bridgeport Standard Telegram of January 15, 1919, the Park City Lodge of the Women Munitions Workers appointed five delegates to replace the arrested women and a telegram was sent commending the women in jail, "We are proud of your action and of your fight for democracy at home." The imprisonment made national and local news. That winter, at least eight other Connecticut women were arrested for watchfire demonstrations.
It should be noted that of the five Connecticut women, four of them lost their jobs at the Remington plant for participating in the protests. These included Helen Chisaski, a munitions worker, who had been employed for two years and Ruth Scott who had made shells at Remington for two years. She was reported as saying, "It didn't worry me at all," because there was no work at home anyway (Ford). Carrie Weaver had also worked at Remington for five years and she was "discharged the month before for taking part in a Woman's Party demonstration…." In addition, Eva Weaver had also worked at the Remington plant for two years (Bridgeport Standard Telegram, January 15, 1919 and Ford).
On August 18, 1920, the suffrage amendment was finally ratified by the requisite number of 36 states and the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution on August 26, 1920. The Connecticut General Assembly voted to ratify shortly thereafter (September 14) becoming the 37th state to ratify the amendment.
Carrie Edna Davidson was born in 1878. She was married to William J. Weaver on March 14, 1898 in New Britain, Connecticut. In the 1900 census, the couple were living in Bridgeport. William was listed as a factory laborer and later as an "engineer" in a factory. In the 1910 census, Carrie was reported as giving birth to five children, with four living, a son and three daughters-- Eva being the eldest child at nine years of age. William and Carrie divorced around 1916. In the 1920 census, Eva (19) and her sister Marian (16) were living with their mother at 525 Central Ave. Carrie was employed as an inspector at a "graphophone" (a type of phonograph) company and Eva was a stitcher at a corset company. Carrie married Gilchrist Shaw (December 4, 1920) in Bridgeport using her maiden name, Davidson. They lived in Stratford. Her occupation is not listed in the next two censuses. She died on June 14, 1961 and her obituary says she was a "retired cutter for the American Fabrics Company."
Eva H. Weaver, was born in 1901 and as a young woman was active in the Girls' Friendly Society, a girls' social club sponsored by the Episcopal Church. In 1920, she married Michael Vichiola [sometimes Vichioli] of Trumbull, a veteran of World War I. The couple lived in Trumbull and had nine children. Eva and Michael were divorced around 1940 with eight of the nine children living with Michael who died in 1961. The eldest daughter, Shirley, appears to have been living with Eva at that time. In 1943, Eva married Clarence Farley in Bridgeport. In 1955, Eva married again to Alexander Ulatowski in Bridgeport. She died only a year later on August 25, 1956 in Milford at age 49 according to her obituary (more likely around 55).
Bridgeport City Directory: 1947, 1949, 1951, 1955.
Bridgeport Post. Obituaries, June 15, 1961.
Connecticut Death Index, 1949-2012. Ancestry.com
Connecticut State Library Databases: Marriage and Death records. http://www.ctatatelibrarydata.org/marriage-records/; http://www.ctatatelibrarydata.org/death-records
Cronan, Carey. "Rep. Morano Cites Pioneer Women in State." Daily Advocate, Stamford, Connecticut, July 29, 1957, p. 14. (Read into the Congressional Record by Rep. Morano)
"Defend 'Liberty' Fires: Mrs. Brannan and Mrs. Rogers Say White House Patrol Will Stay." New York Times, January 10, 1919, p.7. Proquest Historical Newspapers.
Donohue, Mary M. "Site Lines: Housing Factory Workers during Wartime." Winter 2014/2015. Website: Connecticut Explored: https://ctexplored.org/
"Five Connecticut Women Get Jail Sentences." The Hartford Courant, January 16, 1919. Proquest Historical Newspapers.
Ford, Linda G. Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman's Party, 1912-1920. Lanham, N.Y.: University Press of America, 1991. (includes photographs)
"Girls' Friendly Society: Eighteen Attended Outing at Ocean Beach Saturday." Norwich Bulletin, July 25, 1910. Chronicling America: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/
"Girls' Friendly Society Surprised Mrs. Allan C. Mathews-Local Mention." Norwich Bulletin, June 11, 1910. Chronicling America: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/
Irwin, Inez Haynes. Uphill with Banners Flying. Penobscot Maine: Traversity Press, 1964.
"Men in Uniform Rout Suffragists: Demonstration in Front of White House Arouses Wrath of Soldiers and Sailors." New York Times, January 2, 1919 p. 1. Proquest Historical Newspapers.
"Munition Women Will Feed Fire: Park City Lodge Rushes Delegates to Washington to 'Carry On.' " Bridgeport Standard Telegram, January 15, 1919, p.34. (Website: Newspaperarchive)
Nichols, Carole. "Votes and More for Women: Suffrage and After in Connecticut." Women & History, No. 5, Spring 1983. Copublished by The Institute for Research in History, New York and The Haworth Press, Inc., New York. 1983.
Normen, Elizabeth J. "World War I's Impact on Connecticut." Winter 2014/2015. Website: Connecticut Explored: https://ctexplored.org/
"Suffragists Planning Prisoners Special to Tour Entire Country." The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, January, 22, 1919, p.2. Chronicling America: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/
The Suffragist, 1919 (various issues). Biweekly journal of the National Woman's Party.
Thornton, Steve. "In the Voting Booth and on the Shop Floor, Women Fought for Parity." Website: The Bridgeport History Center, Bridgeport Library. http://bportlibrary.org/hc/
United States. Federal Census Data. Population Schedules. Fairfield County: Bridgeport, Trumbull, Stratford. 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940. Ancestry.com