Biographical Sketch of Anne May Beauchamp Reynolds

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Mrs. W. Harman Reynolds [Wedler], 1884-1970

[Anne May Beauchamp Reynolds]

Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware

Suffragist, Juvenile Court Advocate, Democratic Party Activist

Mrs. W. Harman Reynolds, as she generally styled herself, served on the Legislative Committee of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, a NAWSA affiliate, during Delaware's bitter struggle over ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. In the spring and early summer of 1920, Dover, the state's capital, became a hotbed of political activism as a well-connected group of anti-suffragists clashed repeatedly with representatives of NAWSA and the National Woman's Party, both within Legislative Hall and outside on The Green, the capital city's manicured colonial-era square. Lobbyists on both sides buttonholed legislators, sought access to the governor's office, held noisy rallies, and recruited allies. Through it all, the job of the Legislative Committee was to count votes and keep wavering legislators in line, in hopes of making Delaware the final state to ratify. The effort failed, and in August, Tennessee became the history-making state to put the amendment over the top.

Born Anna May Beauchamp in Fairmount, Maryland in 1884, Reynolds was the eldest of four children of John H. Beauchamp, a Methodist minister, and Edna Jane Cox. When her father became pastor of Immanuel United Methodist Church in the small Delaware hamlet of Townsend, New Castle County, he moved his family to the new post. There, Annie Beauchamp met Walter Harman Reynolds, a childless widower twelve years her senior and a local merchant and auctioneer dealing in agricultural implements and supplies. He later added the sale of Studebaker vehicles to his business. They married in 1903, when she was nineteen. During the marriage, the couple had three children; Edna (later Rapp) (1904-1971) who became a public school teacher; Walter Harman, Jr. (1906-1967); and John B. (1908-1981).

While her children were growing up, Anna May Reynolds gave time to a parent-teacher association in Townsend and to church work. It appears that she became politically active in the suffrage cause only during the battle to persuade the Delaware state legislature to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Her service on the Legislative Committee would have brought her into close working relationships with all of Delaware's key suffrage activists, including Marjorie Josephs Speakman, Mabel Lloyd Ridgely, president of the state suffrage association, and the National Woman's Party's Florence Bayard Hilles and Mabel Vernon, as well as the NAWSA's Carrie Chapman Catt who regularly stayed in Dover during the ratification struggle. The contest lasted, on and off, from late March until early June, 1920.

Perhaps because of her experience with the failed effort to get Delaware to ratify, Reynolds's public profile now became much higher. In preparation for the 1920 elections, she chaired a non-partisan Citizenship Mass Meeting in Townsend to provide information and instruction to new voters. In 1921, she became chairman of a YWCA committee running a summer camp for (white) girls. By 1922, she had signed on to serve as chairman of the New Castle County Democratic Women's Club, with the purpose of "arous[ing] the interest of the Democratic women," and bringing women "of the rural districts" into the party's orbit. In 1923, she joined a group of prominent former suffragists, including Ridgely and Hilles, as well as Emalea Pusey Warner, in lobbying the legislature to increase school funding. As her husband was a Democratic Party leader in New Castle County and ran for state treasurer in 1926, she had an obvious tie to the party and its concerns, but she worked across party lines as well to promote issues of common interest, particularly through the State Federation of Women's Clubs. She was keenly concerned with the fate of juvenile offenders; between 1923 and 1928, she was Townsend's representative (and the only woman) on a state Commission for a Detention Home for Juveniles, appointed by the state's Republican governor, William D. Denney. A Wilmington newspaper described her as one of the "staunchest advocates" of a 1923 bill in the legislature to create the detention home as an adjunct to the state's Juvenile Court. The paper credited the bill's success to her.

Rather suddenly, in the late 1920s, Anna May Reynolds's political activism and public visibility ended. By 1930, she had moved from Townsend to Wilmington, some thirty-two miles north, where the census-taker found her living with two of her children plus a boarder, and working as a secretary for Goodwill Industries, a Methodist Church project headed by her father. Although she described herself as a widow, in fact Harman Reynolds was still alive and living in Townsend (his death came in 1947). In 1929, he had sued her for divorce, around the time that Ethel Baynard Wedler had divorced her husband George, a salesman and agent for an automotive products company. George August Wedler and Anna May Reynolds were married in New York City in November, 1930. The couple lived quietly in Wilmington, with George eventually becoming executive secretary of the Delaware Gasoline Dealers Association and editor of the magazine Gasoline Dealer. He died in 1956; she died in 1970; they were buried in Gracelawn Cemetery, New Castle, Delaware.

Anna May Reynolds Wedler was one of dozens of Delaware women who did the on-the-ground daily work necessary to get the suffrage amendment into consideration by the state legislature. Although that effort was unsuccessful, once the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution, she turned her energies to organizing and informing voters, and contributing to the civic life of her state through both partisan political activity and volunteerism. In doing so, she lived some of the possibilities for full citizenship that the amendment afforded.

Sources:

Genealogical information on Anna May Beauchamp Reynolds Wedler can be traced through decennial censuses, vital records, and city directories available via ancestry.com and familysearch.org. The following obituaries proved useful: "Mrs. George A. Wedler," Wilmington Evening Journal, November 13, 1970, p. 18; "George Wedler, Head of Gas Dealers, Dead," Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, September 18, 1956, p. 17; "W.H. Reynolds Dies Suddenly," Wilmington Morning News, May 10, 1947, pp. 1, 4; "Mrs. Frank U. Rapp," ibid., May 13, 1971, p. 29; "J.B. Reynolds," ibid., September 30, 1981, p. 31.

Local newspapers digitized on chroniclingamerica.org included helpful details regarding her activism, as well as W. Harman Reynolds's businesses (note that in some newspapers his name is rendered as "Harmon")

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Wilmington newspaper articles providing coverage of her work include "Women to Work for Democrats," [Wilmington] Evening Journal, July 21, 1922, p. 7; "Vote for House of Detention," ibid., March 22, 1923; and "Women to Urge School Budget," ibid., April 10, 1923, p. 5.

For her service on the Juvenile Detention Home commission, see State Manual: Containing Official List of Officers, Boards, Commissions, and County Officers (Dover: State of Delaware, 1923-1928).

Sources covering Delaware's NAWSA suffrage activists and mentioning Mrs. W. Harman Reynolds include the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage, available on HathiTrust.org, and Mary R. de Vou, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Delaware," in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed., H. Clay Reed and Marion Bjornson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947): I, 349-71.

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.

Photo: A photo with a short caption appeared in the Wilmington Morning News, December 5, 1923, p. 18.

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