Biographical Sketch of Frances Boardman Squire Potter

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Frances Boardman Squire Potter, 1867-1914

By Marika Denk, student, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

Corresponding Secretary, National American Woman Suffrage Association, New York

Frances Boardman (Squire) Potter was born to Truman H. and Grace Amanda Squire on November 12, 1867, in Elmira, New York. She was a writer, lecturer, and professor, speaking on literary, social, feminist, and industrial subjects. She married Winfield Scott Potter in 1891. Together they had four children: Agnes Squire, Mark Louis, Grace Eleanor, and Truman Squire. She divorced her husband in 1899, and whether she remarried remains unknown. She died of an unknown illness at the age of 46 in Chicago, Illinois, on March 25, 1914. She is buried in her hometown of Elmira, New York.

Frances Squire graduated from Elmira College in New York in 1887. Her career began in 1900 when she joined the University of Minnesota as an English professor. In 1909 she and her friend and colleague, Mary Gray Peck, resigned from the university to devote themselves to social work and suffrage. In 1905 Potter published her book, The Ballingtons. The book follows two contrasting marriages, and covers the topic of a husband and wife seeking freedom and individuality within their marriage. The work is considered an important historical artifact.

Potter also published a play in 1904, Germelshausen, based on an old German legend. The play was co-authored by Mary Gray Peck and Carl Schlenker. She also published The Common School Spelling Book in 1914. In 1909, she joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association as corresponding secretary in New York. In her first appearance at a national suffrage convention, she gave a speech on "Women and the Vote." She lectured often about college women, democracy, and their right to vote.

On April 16, 1910, Potter wrote a letter to President William Howard Taft. In the letter she apologized for the interruption during his address to the national convention by members of NAWSA. Potter received a letter back from Taft, expressing that he was not at all bothered by the incident, but by the attention it gained as a way to "embarrass the leaders of the movement." This correspondence gained much attention as it made its way into newspapers across the country.

In 1910 Potter resigned from the National American Woman Suffrage Association. It was not clear as to why she left, but some speculated that it was because of friction between her and Rev. Anna Shaw, the president of the organization. Many members felt that Potter was more important to the organization than her job suggested—believing, in fact, that she should take the place of Shaw.

After her resignation from NAWSA, she joined the Women's Trade Union League and the General Federation of Women's Clubs as national lecturer. She also became the Chairman of the Department of Literature and Library Extension in the General Federation of Women's Clubs and joined the Socialist Party in 1910. She continued her career as a lecturer as part of the staff of the University Lecturers' Association until her death.


Deaths Index, Cook County, Illinois, 1878-1922.

Duluth [Minn.] News Tribune, April 26,1910.

Harper, Ida Husted. "Chapter IX: The National American Convention of 1909," in History of Woman Suffrage, volume 5 [LINK]

Harper, Ida Husted. Chapter X, "National American Convention of 1910," History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 5, 1900-1920. [LINK]

"Official Apology of Suffragists is Sent to Taft," Los Angeles [Calif.] Herald, April 16,1910., p. 1. [ n/cdnc?a=d&d=LAH19100416.2.7]

Potter, Frances Squire. The Ballingtons, 1905.

Schlesinger, Arthur and Elizabeth. Potter, Frances Squire, 1867-1914. Papers of Frances Squire Potter, 1879-1923: A Finding Aid.


"SQUIRE-POTTER, Frances," ed. by John William Leonard. In Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915, p. 772 [LINK]

"Friction Caused Her Resignation: Mrs. Frances Squire Potter Could Not Get Along with Other Leaders in Suffrage Association," Duluth New Tribune, April 26, 1910, p. 6.


Frances Squire Potter
Photo Credit: Life and Labor v. 4 [1914];view=1up;seq=138


Frances Squire Potter (2) Chairman of the Department of Literature and Library Extension
Photo Credit: The History of the General Federation of Women's Clubs for the First Twenty-Two Years of its Organization, 1912

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