Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Emma Worrell, 1834-1930
By Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware
Teacher, Suffragist, Temperance & Peace Advocate, Women's Club Worker
Emma Worrell may well be the only Delaware suffragist whose leadership in various iterations of the state's suffrage cause lasted from 1869 until 1920. Even Martha Churchman Cranston, dubbed by one admirer "the Susan B. Anthony of Delaware," whose suffrage activism began in 1880 via her involvement in the state Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), could not match Worrell's record. The list of Delaware NAWSA leaders with whom Worrell worked is lengthy indeed. It includes not only Martha Cranston and Emalea Pusey Warner, but also Margaret White Houston, Mary R. de Vou, Margaret Kent, Alice Smyth, Mary Mather, Gertrude Nields, Delaware Chief Justice Charles Lore, and his daughter Emma Lore. As white Protestants involved in women's clubs, educational, and temperance groups, they had much in common with each other and with Delaware's NAWSA leadership in general. Comprising successive generations of leadership within the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, these individuals set in place the stepping stones for NAWSA's approach to winning women's voting rights.
Emma Worrell was born in London Grove Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, on January 22, 1834, the eldest of five children, four of whom survived to adulthood, of Thomas Worrell and Miriam Lamborn Worrell. Her parents were Quakers, members of the nearby New Garden (Hicksite) Friends Meeting. When Emma was about four years of age, the family moved a few miles south to Hockessin, Delaware, where her father ran a woolen manufactory on Mill Creek and the Worrells joined the Hockessin Friends Meeting. Local lore suggests that the parents lived their anti-slavery principles, not only by dealing only in wool (not cotton), but also by maintaining an Underground Railroad station for enslaved runaways in their home.
Emma became a teacher, first in Hockessin and then, when the family moved to Wilmington in 1864, at various schools in the city, including serving for a time as principal of the Wilmington Friends School. In addition, she taught classes in the First Day School (Sunday School) of the Wilmington Friends Meeting. Throughout her life, Quaker principles guided her social activism, which included long-term commitments to educational reform and the education of girls, memberships in the Wilmington branch of the WCTU, Delaware Peace Society, and the Women's National Indian Association, serving on committees of the Philadelphia Friends Yearly Meeting, helping found a Wilmington home for "aged couples and single men" in 1891, and assisting in start-up funding for the Garrett Settlement for African Americans in 1913. At the latter institution, her fund-raising was completed in the company of Alice Moore Dunbar (later Dunbar-Nelson) and Blanche Williams Stubbs. As Emalea Pusey Warner, her former pupil and close friend, wrote in a tribute: "She was a woman of broad vision, a pioneer in all progressive movements and her interest in everything worth-while was unbounded."
Emma Worrell's suffrage work began in 1869. She joined her fellow Quaker, Thomas Garrett, a well-known white anti-slavery and women's rights activist, on the executive committee of the newly formed Delaware Woman Suffrage Association, an affiliate of the Lucy Stone-led American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Garrett's death in 1871 left the group without a high profile leader, but throughout the 1870s and 1880s, its members agitated for state-level suffrage and attended AWSA conventions. In general, the group worked separately from another Delaware suffrage group, headed by Mary Ann Sorden Stuart (1828-1893) and associated with National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). After the AWSA and NWSA united in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the new organization breathed life into the faltering cause in Delaware by helping found the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association in 1895. Emma Worrell became president, then assumed various official duties, including that of treasurer, until 1920. In 1896, the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association brought all suffrage clubs from around the state into a federation. In pursuit of the goal of state-level suffrage, the association collected some 3,000 signatures on petitions to the 1897 state constitutional convention, pressing the delegates to eliminate the word "male" from the new constitution's list of voter qualifications. Emma Worrell, Emalea Pusey Warner, and Margaret White Houston addressed the convention on that point, but to no avail.
Over the succeeding decades, Worrell continued her suffrage work, attending a number of NAWSA conventions during the 1900s and 1910s, donating funds, and remaining a stalwart in both the Wilmington and Delaware Equal Suffrage Associations. At the same time, she proved to be a dedicated member of the Wilmington New Century Club, which she had helped start in 1889. She regularly staffed its executive committee, participated energetically in its Current Affairs Class, and was a fierce advocate for improving the education of Delaware's children through the Education Committee. Along with her former pupil, friend and co-worker in the New Century Club and the Delaware State Federation of Women's Clubs, Emalea Pusey Warner, Worrell worked to raise funds and acquire state support for a Women's College in Newark, to be affiliated with the all-male Delaware College. The college—for white women only—opened in 1914. Undoubtedly, the experience of lobbying the Delaware legislature proved useful in suffrage advocacy, yet the Delaware State Federation of Women's Clubs took no stand on the issue, even after the General Federation of Women's Clubs amended its stance in 1914 to endorse suffrage. The Delaware leadership's reluctance was rooted in the members' insistence on even-handedness, perhaps necessary because one of Delaware's leading anti-suffrage leaders, Emily Bissell, the well-known anti-tuberculosis crusader and Christmas Seals founder, was a member of the Wilmington New Century Club.
In spring, 1920, when Delaware's capital, Dover, was the scene of an epic struggle to win ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, Emma Worrell was sidelined by a broken hip she had suffered in December, 1919. Bearing the pain "with heroic courage," as Emalea Warner put it, she was nevertheless confined to the second floor of her home during the weeks-long but ultimately unsuccessful, effort to convince the state legislature to ratify the amendment. When the amendment finally succeeded through Tennessee's ratification in August, she was "much disappointed" not to be able to get to her local registration site on its opening day, though she was determined to register as soon as she was able. In September, 1920, she wrote a farewell letter to her "fellow workers" in the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association, of which she was treasurer, when the women regrouped as the Wilmington League of Women Voters (LWV). In it, she reminded her co-workers of the group's quarter-century dedication to "the one inflexible idea of woman's human and equal right with man to life and all its duties, pleasures and responsibilities." In closing, she rejected the then-common sentiment that women voters should be non-partisan, suggesting that women "join the existing party we like best" but "beware of political machinations" and establish "a better standard of political action."
Eventually, she adjusted to her disability using a "roller chair," cared for in her home by her sister Laura Worrell Webb and her niece, Miriam Worrell Webb. Her later years were filled with club work and tributes from co-workers and former students. On her ninetieth birthday in 1924, 150 friends and former students paid homage to her warmth, engagement, and indefatigable spirit. And in 1927, when she was ninety-three, the Education Committee of the Wilmington New Century Club named and dedicated a library to her on the Women's College campus. After her death on November 12, 1930, Emalea Pusey Warner, whom Worrell once termed her "dear, unremitting, daughterly friend," read an affectionate tribute into the minutes of the Wilmington New Century Club. In her will, Emma Worrell left assets of around $67,000, mostly to relatives, but including bequests to the Wilmington Friends Meeting, "to be used preferably in educational matters when needed, [and to] ... promote the interests of the Society I love," as well as to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and the (Minquadale, New Castle, Delaware) Home for Aged Men and Couples "of which I have been a director since its start."
Obituaries in local newspapers described her as "beloved" by generations of Wilmingtonians who knew her as "Miss Emma," a teacher devoted to "the educational betterment of the children of the city and State," a clubwoman and suffragist, and "a leader in the intellectual life of this city." Each noted that in 1930, "she voted by mail on election day."
Biographical details for Emma Worrell and the Worrell and Webb families can be traced through decennial censuses, vital records, city directories, and Quaker genealogical materials found on Ancestry.com and familysearch.org. In some sources, the family name is rendered as "Worrall." Local newspapers digitized on chroniclingamerica.org and newspapers.com offer helpful details regarding her teaching career, and her activities in suffrage, women's club work, and temperance and peace activism. Books and reports digitized on HathiTrust.org, including the 6-volume History of Woman Suffrage, provide information on her suffrage and voluntary association commitments.
For Emma Worrell's 1920 letter to the members of the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association, see "Don't Be Partisan/ Women's Warning," Wilmington Morning News, September 25, 1920, p. 5. Local obituaries include: "Miss Worrell Dead at Age 96 Years," Evening Journal, November 12, 1930, pp. 1, 4; "Illness is Fatal to Miss Worrell," Morning News, November 13, 1930, p. 7; a photo accompanied both notices. There is a photo of her grave marker at the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery on the web site findagrave.com.
At the Delaware Historical Society, the papers of the Wilmington New Century Club, Accession #83.11, provide ample evidence of Emma Worrell's involvement in club matters, especially the Current Events Committee. Also at the Historical Society, the papers of Emalea Pusey Warner include a copy of her January, 1932, tribute to Worrell. (VBA #87A, 1 Box, Folder #7.) There are a few minor factual errors. The Historical Society's photographic collection contains some photos of Emma Worrell as well.
Emma Worrell's will, File #14173, dated 11/12/1930, can be found at the New Castle County Register of Wills Office, 800 North French Street, Wilmington, Delaware.
At Swarthmore College, the Friends Historical Library's Emma Worrell Family Papers include a scrapbook and a testimonial book presented to her in 1927 when the Wilmington New Century Club named a Library at Delaware Women's College in her honor.
Photos: A local historical blog post includes a 1924 photo from the collections of the Delaware Historical Society depicting Emma Worrell and her friend and pupil, Emalea Pusey Warner. There are also two photos of the family home in Hockessin.
For historical context on the Delaware suffrage struggle, including material on NAWSA suffragists, the Delaware State Federation of Women's Clubs, and the creation of Delaware Women's College, see Carol E. Hoffecker, "Delaware's Woman Suffrage Campaign," Delaware History, 20 (Spring-Summer 1983): 149-67; Carol E. Hoffecker, Beneath Thy Guiding Hand: A History of Women at the University of Delaware (Newark: University of Delaware, 1994), 17-29; 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 Björnson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947), I: 349-370.
See also Dorothy Gardner Downs, 101 Years of Volunteerism (Delaware State Federation of Women's Clubs, 1990), 19-20, 25.