Biographical Sketch of Rachel Brill Ezekiel

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890 - 1920

Biography of Rachel Brill Ezekiel, 1870 - 1965

By Judith Ezekiel, Women's Studies, Wright State University

Rachel Brill Ezekiel (1870-1965) was one of nine children born to Rebecca Tumim Brill and orthodox rabbi Mordecai Joseph Brill, immigrants to the U.S. from Eastern Europe. She was born in Charleston, South Carolina and raised in Richmond, Virginia; her father died when she was 13. She was among the early waves of women who trained in the previously male-dominated profession of "stenography" (secretary) and helped support her family.

A lifelong women's rights activist, Rachel worked for prominent Western suffragist Clara Bewick Colby, probably helping with the Woman's Tribune and serving as a delegate from Nebraska to the 1893 National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention. By February 1894, and regularly over the years, she served as stenographer for the NAWSA national conventions and their published proceedings, as well as recording secretary on occasion and at least another time as delegate to the national convention. In the 1890s, Rachel moved to New York City and worked as personal secretary for Carrie Chapman Catt, a relationship that lasted through the 1930s.

In 1898, Rachel married Sephardic Jew, Jacob Levy Ezekiel. The Brills and the Ezekiels were very involved in the Jewish communities wherever they lived. They had four children, including future New Deal economist, Mordecai. Jacob, though from a Confederate family, "fought ... for improvement in Negro education" for which he was fired as school principal. He never worked again, possibly due to mental illness, and Rachel juggled multiple jobs as the family's sole support.

Rachel was in an unusual position: she was an activist and a believer, but she was also a paid employee. Although she frequented the upper echelons of the organizations and was occasionally mentioned in newspapers' society pages accompanying suffrage leaders, she was neither a "lady bountiful," nor was she one of the "factory girls."

In 1909, Rachel was hired to establish the NAWSA's legislative headquarters in Washington, D.C. Her family sublet part of their home, at 1823 H. Street NW, to the organization. Rachel, long the sole paid staff member, coordinated the suffrage petition drive that amassed over 400,000 signatures. She also served as representative and spokeswoman for the NAWSA in Washington. In 1919, at NAWSA's 50th Convention, Rachel was honored as one of about 350 "life members." Catt gave Rachel a copy of her 1923 book, Woman Suffrage and Politics, a limited edition for suffrage activists, and inscribed "Among the faithful thousands who made woman suffrage possible in the United States, none was more patient, helpful, understanding and efficient to the Nth degree [than] Rachel Ezeki[e]l." Once the ballot was secured, Rachel followed Catt to the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, working as stenographer and helping organize the annual conventions.

Rachel, herself highly intelligent, lived among accomplished women. She interacted with the great suffragists of her era such as Susan B. Anthony, whose desk she possessed before passing it on to Alice Paul. Her letters also mention women lawyers, scientists, professors and policy makers. She helped her son Mordecai edit his 1930 statistics textbook and discussed plant pathology with another son.

Ezekiel died at the age of 95. On her tombstone is inscribed: "She devoted her life to others."

Sources

Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper, eds. The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4: 1883-1900. Rochester, NY: Privately published, 1902.

Brill, Rachel. Letters to Walter and Sarah Ezekiel (1923-1944). Personal archives.

Catt, Carrie Chapman and Nettie Rogers Shuler. Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement. No. 666/1000. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923.

Ezekiel, Mordecai (?). Handwritten Notes for Obituary. N.d.

Ezekiel, Walter. "Notes about Rachel Brill Ezekiel (June 12, 1870-Nov. 6, 1965) Largely with Regard to Her Involvement with Woman Suffrage Activities, at Request of Judy; Largely from Memory, WNE 3/31/73." Personal archives.

Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Jubilee Convention (1869-1919), St Louis, MO, March 24-29, 1919. Ed Justina Leavit Wilson. New York: NAWSA Publishing Co., 1919.

Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 5: 1900-1920. New York: J.J. Little & Ives, 1922.

"Mrs. Ezekiel Dead at 95." The Jewish Week. Nov. 11, 1965

"Mrs. Ezekiel, 95, Leader in Suffragette Movement." The Sunday Star. Nov. 7, 1965.

Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Held in Washington, DC, February 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20, 1894. Ed. Harriet Taylor Upton. Warren, OH: Chronicle Printing, 1894.

"Women's Vote Crusader Rachel Ezekiel Was 95." Washington Post. Nov. 7, 1965.

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