Biographical Sketch of Winifred Morris

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Winifred Morris [McCosh], 1887-1960

By Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware

Teacher, Suffrage Leader, Clubwoman, Red Cross Worker

Born and raised in Delaware's capital city, Dover, Winifred Morris served in several important positions for the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, an affiliate of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). A teacher, she possessed both the skills and (likely) the confidence to take leadership roles in the Delaware branch, and to serve on its Legislative Committee during the difficult—and ultimately unsuccessful—effort to convince state legislators to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Her family's social position in Dover brought her into contact with other local suffragists, particularly Mabel Lloyd Ridgely, president of the Equal Suffrage Association during the ratification contest. Being a resident of Dover's historic district situated her at the center of the undertaking. Like many NAWSA suffragists, she was a clubwoman and served Dover's Century Club in several capacities, including as president. Like many of them, too, she joined the League of Women Voters (LWV) after the Nineteenth Amendment's ratification, and was active in lobbying for legislation dealing with school issues and children's welfare in general. In her later years, she acquired the nickname "the Red Cross Lady" for her long-term commitment to that organization, and particularly her dedication to the welfare of servicemen and their families during the Second World War. An apparently disastrous marriage took her away from Delaware for a couple of years in the 1930s; that experience aside, she spent most of her life in her native city and state.

Winifred Morris was born December 22, 1887, the second of three children of Walter Morris, a banker who rose from being cashier of the Farmers' Bank of Delaware to becoming its president, and Ella Dorset Reed. The Morrises were from Pennsylvania, where Walter was born, but his attorney father moved the family to Dover in the 1850s, establishing it as part of the city's small professional class. When Winifred was three, her mother died, as did her infant brother Walter. In 1894, her father was remarried to Anna Louise Moore Smithers, a Dover widow whose family traced its lineage to the American Revolution. (Anna Morris later became Delaware State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution.) From her first marriage, Anna brought into the family a son who was Winifred's age, Nathaniel Barratt Smithers, III. But she also brought significant social capital: her late husband's father, Nathaniel Barratt Smithers, Sr., had been Delaware's lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives—a Republican—during the 1860s, and remained active in Dover as a lawyer, bank president, and member of the city's school board until his death in 1896. Although the Smitherses were Methodists, the Morris family were Presbyterians, the denomination to which Winifred gave her allegiance. Given her father's and her stepmother's connections, Winifred would have been used to encountering prominent churchmen and members of the state legislature coming and going at their house, particularly when the legislature was in session.

After attending Mary Baldwin Seminary in Virginia and then West Chester Normal School (after 1927, West Chester State Teachers' College) in Pennsylvania, graduating in 1909, Winifred Morris took up a teaching post in Dover. During her career, she also taught in Cape May, New Jersey, and Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. The most intense period of her suffrage activism came in 1919, by which time she was a secretary of the Dover branch of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association and secretary of the state-wide group, and had been elected as a delegate to its annual conference, held in Dover that autumn.

As the Nineteenth Amendment was making its way through the state ratification process, Delaware NAWSA members had high hopes for an affirmative vote from their state's legislature. Pressing the sitting Republican governor, John G. Townsend, to call a special legislative session, the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association opened its Dover ratification headquarters in January 1920. With the special session called for March 22, the association's Dover members became a key cohort tasked with mobilizing resources and laying the legislative groundwork. Winifred Morris became a member of Legislative Committee, along with Anna May Beauchamp Reynolds, Marjorie Josephs Speakman, and other women from Kent County. The Committee interviewed members of the legislature to get their views, counted votes, and attempted to shore up support. In the end, the state Senate voted to ratify, but the state House adjourned in early June without taking final action. The measure died. It fell to Tennessee to provide the ultimate state vote for ratification, in August, 1920. Throughout the wrenching process, Winifred Morris proved to be a skilled chronicler of fast-moving events. When it was all over, her colleague Mary R. de Vou, the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association's long-time Corresponding Secretary, credited her with compiling the Delaware ratification section for the sixth and final volume of the History of Woman Suffrage. Whether the words were Morris's or de Vou's, they summed up the general sentiment of the disappointed group: Delaware suffragists "were little prepared for the weeks of intrigue and double dealing into which they were thrust" once the special legislative session convened.

After the suffrage amendment entered the U.S. Constitution, Winifred Morris joined her former colleagues in becoming a member of the League of Women Voters (LWV) and then its corresponding secretary and chair of the membership committee. As president of the Dover Century Club in 1921, she represented the club in the LWV's newly formed Joint Legislative Committee and served a term as recording secretary of the state federation of women's clubs. Having learned from their suffrage lobbying experience, the members of the Joint Legislative Committee sought to combine the resources of various women's voluntary associations in order to endorse bills of interest. Among the issues of concern to the group were child welfare, education, prison reform, women in industry, mother's pensions, health, and civics. In 1921, she also served a term as secretary of the Delaware State Teachers' Association. One particular issue prompted her to express her views in a national forum: the right of women, as well as men, to enjoy the rewards of participating in the work force. In a 1922 letter published in the League's periodical, The Woman Citizen, she took issue with a correspondent who had urged "women in business and professions to give up their occupations if they have other means of support" in order to make way for war veterans. Urging readers not "to forget the logic of the years of struggle for equality for both sexes," she noted tartly that at a recent meeting of her local LWV chapter the members agreed "that there are many men who could easily retire without starvation."

With her busy, full life, it seemed likely that Winifred Morris would remain single. But in November, 1933, at the age of forty-six, she suddenly married Mac Emerson McCosh in Chicago. Mac McCosh was a native of Ogle County, Illinois who worked as a salesman in Chicago and Detroit, first in real estate and then in the lumber business. McCosh was a puzzling choice for a woman of Winifred Morris's background and interests. He was five years her junior, and had only recently (in August 1933) been divorced by his first wife, Hazel Kemper McCosh, on grounds of cruelty and non-support. Moreover, he had never completed his college education at Northwestern University, having been "dismissed" from the school in 1914 while he was captain of the baseball team for violating its code of conduct. Almost as suddenly as the marriage had begun, it ended. By December, 1934, Winifred Morris McCosh was in California. Her stepmother joined her in May, 1935; the women returned to Dover in early July after travelling together throughout the west. When Mac McCosh died of meningitis on July 7, 1935 in Traverse City, Michigan, he and Winifred were already divorced; a male friend supplied the details needed for McCosh's death certificate. Winfred Morris McCosh confirmed her status to the 1940 census-taker, describing herself as "divorced."

Once settled back into her life in Dover, Winifred Morris McCosh began volunteering with the Red Cross, assisting with its braille program and eventually becoming the Kent County home service chairman. During the Second World War, when Dover became home to a large Army Airfield (now Dover Air Force Base), the work of the Red Cross expanded substantially. It was through her contributions to service members and their families that she earned her nickname as "the Red Cross Lady" of Kent County. When she died on July 7, 1960, local obituaries mentioned her Red Cross and Dover Century Club activities, but ignored her suffrage activism. She was buried in Dover's Old Presbyterian Cemetery, the final resting place of her parents, brother Walter, and sister Eleanor Burnet.

Sources:

Basic information on the Morris, Smithers, Moore, and McCosh families can be traced through the decennial censuses, vital records, genealogies, and city directories available via Ancestry.com and familysearch.org. The web site, findagrave.com includes photos of the Morris and Smithers families' grave sites. Digitized Delaware newspapers found on chroniclingamerica.org and newspapers.com provide crucial details, including obituaries, social notes, and reports of club and suffrage work. See in particular, "‘Red Cross Lady' Granted Leave," Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, May 19, 1953, p. 26; and "Retired School Teacher, 72, Resident of Dover, is Dead: Mrs. Winifred Morris McCosh was Active in Club, Red Cross Work," ibid., July 7, 1960, p. 10. See also the biennial reports of the Delaware State Federation of Women's Clubs, some of which are digitized on hathitrust.org.

For Winifred Morris's 1922 letter, see "With Our Readers," The Woman Citizen, 6 (April 8, 1922): 30, digitized by the Gerritsen Collection: gerritsen.chadwyck.com.

For a general overview of Delaware's NAWSA suffrage affiliate, see Mary R. de Vou, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Delaware," in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marion Björnson Reed (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1947), I, 349-370; de Vou's acknowledgement of Winifred Morris's work, p. 362; quotation on "intrigue and double dealing," p. 363.

The best secondary source on the struggle over ratification is Carol E. Hoffecker, "Delaware's Woman Suffrage Campaign," Delaware History, 20 (Spring-Summer, 1983): 149-167.

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