Biographical Database of Militant Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Emma House Reed, 1887-?
By Ryan Linthicum, Smithsonian Institution
Born Emma House in 1887, Mrs. Percy Reed was an outspoken suffragist who fought for equal rights for women most of her life.
In 1907, Emma House married 26 year old Percy Reed in Highland Springs, Virginia.
Eight years later, on August 2, 1915, Mrs. Reed joined the Virginia State Equal Suffrage League. That same year Mrs. Reed, along with Suffrage League members Mrs. Meredith and Miss. Hill, went to the Virginia Chamber of Congress to plead for the adoption of a state suffrage law. Their passionate remarks were enough to convince the congressmen to consider the bill. Congressman Watson remarked that day, "that there were disabilities under which women at present labored in our government that should be corrected, and that some of these might be corrected by giving woman the right of the ballot."
Their work continued, however, a year later on June 10, 1916 when Mrs. Reed joined the Congressional Union of Virginia. As the Union's secretary, she was heavily involved in all suffrage campaigns in Virginia and Washington, D.C. Due to the Union's efforts, the South saw a large turnaround in their views on suffrage. As a Washington Post article reported, "The campaign of the Congressional Union among the women of Dixie is credited with effecting the change."
One of the biggest activities the Congressional Union of Virginia embarked upon was a western campaign to persuade newly enfranchised women to join a National Woman's Party. Mrs. Reed and her colleagues were among the 23 women charged with this task. Their sendoff on April 10, 1916 at Washington DC's Union Station was a spectacle. Mrs. Reed was among the parade of envoys that drove to Union Station. Their cars were "hidden in a display of suffrage flags of yellow, white and purple." At the station, they were met by 5,000 suffragist sympathizers. The women's train journey was dubbed the "suffrage special" for their crusade to the states where women had won the vote.
On her trip Mrs. Reed lectured in Arizona. There she appealed to the women as "sisters" and pleaded with them dramatically to vote against Democratic candidates to pressure that political party, in control of Congress, to pass the constitutional suffrage amendment. In her passionate speech she always ended by telling women "The gate is locked, you hold the key in your hands."
After the trip, Mrs. Reed and the Congressional Union focused their attention on specific congressmen. Their meetings with legislators seemed to have had an overall positive impact. In their meeting with Representative Watson, for instance, on December 3, 1916, he described suffrage as "only a matter of time."
On December 16, 1918, Mrs. Reed joined the women's "watchfire demonstrations" outside the White House. There she carried signs demanding President Wilson secure the final needed Senate votes for the amendment, and burned speeches by the President in an iron urn on the sidewalk. In front of the press and the public, each women read remarks by the President before burning them in the urn. When Mrs. Reed's turn came she exclaimed, "Liberty is a fierce and intractable thing to which no bounds can be set and no bounds ought to be set."
Not much else is known about Mrs. Percy Reed after the watchfire demonstrations. It is known, however, that she was a passionate woman who fought bravely for women's right to vote.
Alexandria Gazette, 131, no. 262 (Nov. 8, 1915). 1.
Arizona Republic, 22, no. 1 (April 22, 1916). 9.
Inez Haynes Irwin. The Story of the Woman's Party. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1921.
"Percy Reed, 26, and Emma House, 20, Rev. A. H. Catlett." Washington Post (Washington, DC), June 1, 1907, p. 3.
"Suffrage Heralds Go." Washington Post (Washington, DC), April 10 1916, p, 2.
"Suffrage Stirs South." Washington Post (Washington, DC), Aug. 2 1915, p. 4.
"Woman Vote Hope High." Washington Post (Washington, DC), Dec. 3 1916, p. 19.