Biographical Sketch of Clara Aldrich Rodger

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Clara Aldrich Rodger, 1862 – 1943

By Rachel DiSibio, Dr. Wheeler; Instructor- Samantha Misa, Binghamton University

Clara Aldrich Rodger was born in New York on September 16, 1862, to Catherine Foster and John J Aldrich. She and Dr. David R. Rodger married in 1888 in New York and moved to Connecticut before the year 1900. They had three children together, John A. Rodger, Robert W. Rodger, both born in New York, and Katherine A. Rodger, born in Connecticut. As an upper-class white family, they had a servant in Connecticut named Alice Bronson, and Mrs. Rodger was able to devote time to becoming a public figure and an advocate for woman's suffrage. After Connecticut, Mrs. Rodger and her family moved to Richmond Hill, Queens in 1902 and resided at 614 Freedom Avenue. She then moved to 603 West 138th St., Manhattan, where she remained until her death on November 28, 1943. She was 81 years old.

Early in life, Clara Aldrich attended Jamestown city public schools and then went to Shepardson College, in Granville, Ohio. Upon her move to Connecticut, the Woodbury Woman's club, an organization that bettered the town using their members' talents and held fundraisers for charity, asked her to become president, which she did. She then became a member of the Executive Committee of the Connecticut State Federation of Women's Clubs, an organization that worked to provide volunteer services and to enhance the lives of women through facilitating opportunities to better their community. After Mrs. Rodger's work in Connecticut was completed, she moved back to Richmond Hill in New York and became the President of the 20th Century Club. While this organization no longer exists, it was founded in 1898 and worked to promote "the beautification and upkeep of the Richmond Hill Community." Soon after this she began her suffragist work and became the County Chairman of the Woman's Suffrage Party in Queens in 1915 and its President from 1916 to 1918. An article in the Evening World stated "It was declared by many politicians who were familiar with the vote in other parts of the state that Queens had the best and most effective organization in New York State," thanks to Mrs. Rodger. She transformed the Queens Borough from an unorganized association to a uniform organization and had 37,000 women working for the cause of woman's suffrage. She also worked on state registration for men of draft age. The Evening World afforded that by being a mother of three and working as a suffrage leader, she "[was] disproving the oft – repeated assertion that a woman cannot be in politics and attend to her home duties at the same time."

Mrs. Rodger's impact on the suffrage movement was well known and appreciated; at the time of her death the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called her a "pioneer suffrage leader in Queens." Mrs. Rodger attended the 48th Annual Convention of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party in 1916 as the Queens Borough Chairman. The mayor of Albany, Mr. Joseph W. Stevens, was in attendance and the convention spanned from Monday, November 20th to Friday, November 24th. Mrs. Rodger, also being the chairman of the elections committee, organized the elections for the officers of the party. She explained the method for the election of the officers and thanked "Automatic Registering Machine Co. of Jamestown NY" for allowing the Woman Suffrage Party to use their voting machine for the convention. She was then called on by the chairman of New York City, Miss Mary Garrett, to make a detailed report on Queen. She elaborated on how the Borough started their campaigning for suffrage late in the year and in an excessive amount of debt. However, through Mrs. Rodger's leadership, in November 1916, the Queens organization of the party was out of debt and preparing to establish a headquarters. She also stated that through their political work, they now had an advantageous majority in the Senate and Assembly.

In 1918, at the Queens County Republican Committee meeting, which took place in the Masonic Temple of Richmond Hill, Mrs. Clara A. Rodger was elected Vice Chairman of the Republican Committee. She worked with Mr. Joseph H. DeBragga, the unanimously re-elected Chairman, and was a candidate for County Clerk at the time. At this meeting, DeBragga voiced the need for the committee to bring the G.O.P. back to its old, high standing. In an article titled "Say Woman is Best Man", the Brooklyn Daily Eagle discussed Mrs. Rodger's campaign for County Clerk and stated that "the women are working for the election of Mrs. Rodger partly because she is a woman and partly because she is the best man for the job." She was "not only the only woman seeking office in Queens, but she is the first woman who has ever sought office in the county by general election." The article also stated that Republican women worked to ensure that Queens earned its rightful place on the Republican Party political map and that Mrs. Rodger spearheaded this effort. Mrs. Winslow and Mrs. N.P. Schwerin, the first and second Chairmen of the Fourth District, established public speaking classes, and upon completion, the students were to speak as part of Mrs. Rodger's campaign, on her behalf, after the Liberty Loan.

On November 2nd, 1918, Mrs. Rodger was appointed to County Clerk for the last two months of Alexander Dujat's term. Dujat, the previous County Clerk, had been convicted of bigamy. Republican leaders wanted this appointment, as it would help Rodger's ongoing campaign and help Republicans secure the female vote. She was "the first woman in Queens to be appointed to a high official position, in that county." Upon her appointment, Mrs. Rodger said "I will undertake the work with the intention of showing the public that a woman can be entrusted with large executive and public positions." During her first days in office she replaced Democrat Edward J. Kiely with a Republican Attorney, Robert Prince Bell, but stated that she would make no further changes in her staff. She was officially sworn into the position on November 6, 1918 before Justice Van Sielen. She ultimately lost the election to Edward W Cox, a Democrat, but would serve the rest of Alexander Dujat's term. During this time, however, Mrs. Rodger had supporters who repeatedly told the leaders of the Republican party how effective her role as County Clerk was, and this praise helped her to get Republican women to register and vote.

In 1929, Mrs. Rodger was elected second Vice President of the Women's Club of Queens at the 78th Annual Convention of New York City Federation of Women's Clubs, held at the Hotel Astor on February 1st. Supreme Court Justice Thomas C.T. Crain was in attendance, and discussed his worry that women who went straight to business after high school were losing their morals. He asked that the Women's Club form junior clubs for those girls. Mrs. Harvey Thomas, the retiring president, attended her last luncheon and legislation was adopted to urge the building of a general city hospital in Queens, another urging the Board of Education to pay salaries of teachers working with boys of New York Parental School, and one on maternity education. Mrs. Caroline Paige Smith and Mrs. Florence M. Weinstein were also elected as First Vice President and Assistant Corresponding Secretary respectively.

Lastly, Mrs. Rodger was also featured, on the State Committee, in letters to Harriet Burton Laidlaw dealing with international matters. The majority of the letters discussed seminar meetings in Mexico City and relations with Mexico, as well as the Caribbean, and meeting with the widow of the former minister of China, W. J. Calhoun, in March 1931. She was also mentioned on the state committee of the "Tenth Suffrage Anniversary Celebration, New York Women Voters" in a letter from Mrs. Charles E Simpson, the chairman of the celebration, thanking Mrs. James Lees Laidlaw for attending the meeting in Albany the past Saturday; and giving a speech to younger women about how difficult yet valuable the fight for the vote was. In 1936, Mrs. Rodger appeared in the New York State Republican Convention Program, which took place in Albany, as an alternate for Tompkins County for the Republican State Convention.

Mrs. Clara Aldrich Rodger worked in Connecticut and New York to better the lives of women. She was involved in multiple organizations in each state, and by becoming a suffragist and political activist in New York, she helped women attain the respect needed to enter political offices. 1931 is the last year she is mentioned specifically in relation to the suffragist movement; therefore she had 31 years acting as a suffragist and political woman. Her long lifespan of 81 years consisted of breaking barriers which helped to make political activism easier for following generations of women.

Sources:

The Woman's Club of Woodbury Connecticut, accessed September 28th, 2017. http://www.womansclubofwoodbury.org/Woman_sClub_of_WoodburyHome.php

General Federation of Women's Clubs, Clubs of CT INC., accessed September 28th, 2017. http://www.gfwcct.org/

Twentieth Century Club of Richmond Hill Records, Digital Archives of Queens Library. Accessed on September 27th, 2017. http://digitalarchives.queenslibrary.org/browse/twentieth-century-club-richmond-hill-records

New York State Republican Convention Program. January 01, 1936 – December 31,1940. History Vault.

New York State Suffrage Campaign Annual Reports. January 01, 1916 – December 31st 1916. 48th Annual Convention. History Vault.

Harriet Burton Laidlaw General Correspondence. January 01, 1931 – December 31st, 1931. History Vault.

United States census, 1900, 1920, and 1930. Familysearch.org

Clara A Rodger NY, NYC Municipal Deaths, 1795 – 1949 Familysearch.org.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. September 15th, 1918. "Organization Men in Queens Smile Over opposition." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. September 18th, 1918. "DeBragga again Heads Queens G.O.P." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. October 3rd, 1918. "Say Woman is Best Man." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. November 2nd, 1918. "Corpsey Commits Dujat to Prison; Woman to get job." Newspapers.com

New York Tribune. November 3rd, 1918. "Woman named County Clerk by Whitman." Newspapers.com

The Evening World. November 5th, 1918. "Mrs. Rodger First Woman County Clerk of Queens, A County Clerk's Daughter." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. November 7th, 1918. "Mrs. Rodger outs Queens Attorney." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. December 2nd, 1918. "Mrs. Rodger spent nothing." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. September 28th, 1919. "Pertinent Paragraphs from Queens County." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. February 8th, 1928. "French Ambassador Wishes US and France to Dovetail in Politics as in Athletics." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. February 2nd, 1929. "Crain Fears For Morals of Young Girl in Business." Newspapers.com

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. November 29th, 1943. "Mrs. Clara A Rodger Dies; Queens Suffrage Leader." Newspapers.com

Notes:

[While on my assignment I was given Mrs. David B Rodger from New York, this woman's husband's name is David R Rodger. She was listed in the History of Women's Suffrage as Mrs. David B Rodger from Queens, and she was on the Campaign of 1917. While all of these other facts do fit, the only one that does not is her husband's middle initial. Since a census was hand written it is possible that a ‘B' and ‘R' could be confused, and transcribed incorrectly in The History of Women's Suffrage.]

[The 1900 United States Census lists Mrs. Rodger and her family living in Connecticut at that time, and having their three-year-old daughter in Connecticut. Therefore, she moved to Connecticut some time prior to 1900, but the exact year is still unknown.]

[On the New York State Republican Convention Program, Mrs. Clara A Rodger was listed as Clara A. Rodgers. However, as she was a Republican County Clerk, and a known Republican, the addition of the ‘s' to her last name, does not mean she was not this woman.]

Fun Facts:

After college, Clara Aldrich was an organist at the New York Juvenile Asylum which became Children's Village at Dobbs Ferry, in New York. She continued to play the organ, and was an organist at the Unitarian church in Hollis for eleven years.

Continuing to use her musical talents in 1928 she played the piano, while her daughter Katherine sang in French, at the Luncheon of the Colonial Daughters of the 17th Century, which was held at Leverich towers. The French Ambassador, Mr. Paul Claudel was in attendance due to his prior commitment to the Colonial Daughters, even though he was due in Washington to celebrate the French Treaty.

Clara Aldrich's son John A. Rodger worked as a mechanic while her son Robert A. Rodger worked in the automobile industry.

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