Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Cornelia Dean Shaw, 1845-1904

By: Brandon Gibson, Matthew Boghossian, Kevin Pryatel, Benjamin Stegbauer, Mykia Lee, Aaron Yancey, Kayla Curtin, Sarah Haney, Matthew Keller, Blair McKee, Allison Schroder, Emma Winterkorn, undergraduate, and Christine Anderson, faculty sponsor, Xavier University, Dayton, Ohio

Activist, Toledo Woman Suffrage Association

Born on February 18, 1845, in Tremont, Illinois, Cornelia Dean was the youngest of the eleven children of George and Maria Dean. The family moved to Chicago, but both parents had died by the time that Cornelia was a teenager. Cornelia Dean attended Chicago Public Schools, and from 1860 to 1862, she attended Northwestern Female College in Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern Female College, not associated with nearby Northwestern University, opened in 1855, offering academic courses and "polite sports" (croquet and skating) to socially prominent young women. Dean took classes such as literature and grammar. She left her college education in 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, and returned to Chicago to live with her sister. In Chicago, on June 8, 1869, Cornelia Dean married Daniel C. Shaw. They lived in Chicago for two years before moving to Toledo, Ohio, where her husband worked for Overkells & Dans, a manufacturing company, while Cornelia kept house.

Cornelia Dean Shaw became an activist in Toledo's woman's rights organizations. As a leading figure in the Toledo Woman Suffrage Association, she attended the state and national meetings, contributing to the discussion and the strategies of the national suffrage movement. Shaw was also Secretary of the Toledo Ramabai Circle, an organization linked to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union that raised money to fund education for Brahmin widows in India in an effort to improve women's lives as well as Indian society. Her participation in the Toledo Ramabai Circle showed her support for women's education and achieving social reform by promoting the equality of women. Shaw also showed her support for women's rights by joining the Queen Isabella Association, which fought to advance women's suffrage and women's professional accomplishments at the 1893 World Fair through construction of a "Woman's Building" as a pavilion for large-scale meetings of the women in the Exposition and a memorial for the important women in history. The Isabellas also proposed to erect a statue in honor of Queen Isabella of Castile to acknowledge her as the "co-discoverer of the New World."

Cornelia Dean Shaw died in Toledo on November 13, 1904, at 57 years old.


Avery, Rachel Foster, ed. Transactions of the National Council of Women of the United States, Assembled in Washington, D.C., February 22 to 2, 1891. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1891.

Blumhofer, Edith L. "‘From India's Coral Strand': Pandita Ramabai and U.S. Support for Foreign Missions." In The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History, edited by Daniel H. Bays and Grant Wacker, 152-70. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003.

Find a Grave. Cornelia Shaw. Accessed 13 November 2017.

Maxwell, Lauren Alexander. "Constructions of Femininity: Women and the World's Columbian Exposition." Undergraduate Honors Thesis, Butler University. March 20, 2009. Accessed November 8, 2017.

"Francis Willard: Radical Woman in a Classic Town" (website). Northwestern University Library Archival and Manuscript Collections. Last updated 2017.

United States, Bureau of the Census. 1900 U.S. Census. Cornelia Dean Shaw. Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio. Dwelling 152, family 134.

Willard, Frances E. and Mary Livermore, ed. A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life. Buffalo, NY: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893. Last updated October 27, 2006.

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