Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Harriot Kezia Hunt, 1805-1875
By Myra Glenn, Professor, Elmira College
In the early 1850s Harriot Kezia Hunt, pioneering Boston physician and health reformer, emerged as a leading advocate for woman's suffrage. She became the first woman in Massachusetts to publicly protest the injustice of taxing propertied women like herself while denying them the right to vote. Her annual petitions declaring "no taxation without representation" were widely reprinted in newspapers throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Hunt also urged female enfranchisement in her 1856 autobiography Glances and Glimpses and her speeches at annual woman's rights conventions.
She stressed that denying American women the right to vote contradicted the republic's historic commitment to democracy and liberty. It transgressed "the noble spirit of our forefathers" and was "a violation of republicanism." Hunt also argued that it was unfair to deny "respectable," intelligent, educated American women the right to vote but then grant it to "drunkards, felons, idiots, or lunatics of men." Nativism exacerbated Hunt's resentment at being denied the franchise. Why, she bitterly asked, was the "pale, thin, waxy, tall, awkward, simple Irish boy" with a "vacant stare" and "shuffling manner" allowed to vote once he became a citizen, while she, "a Bostonian by birth, education, and life" was disenfranchised and thereby "insulted" by her nation.
When the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention convened in May 1853, Hunt and other suffragists urged delegates to delete the word "male" from a constitutional amendment listing the qualifications for voting. Twelve petitions with over two thousand signatures were submitted to the Constitutional Convention urging this reform. Hunt's name was among the signatories. She also submitted a petition requesting that propertied women either be allowed to vote or else "excused from paying taxes." When Convention delegates rejected these petitions, Hunt excoriated their action, declaring that these men failed to recognize "the right of woman" to vote "on the real basis of representation—humanity."
Hunt's campaign to enfranchise women attracted widespread public opprobrium. There was "hissing, yelling, and stamping, and all manner of unseemly interruptions," recalled one reporter during the 1853 annual woman's rights convention in New York, especially when Hunt invoked the Declaration of Independence to demand the franchise. Newspapers regularly criticized her as a "strong-minded woman" who stoked "hatred" and "violated God's truth" when she promulgated "woman's rights mania."
Undeterred by such criticism, Hunt persevered in her campaign for woman suffrage. In 1858, for example, she addressed the Massachusetts Legislature's committee on voting qualifications. Hunt reiterated her demands for the female suffrage and also argued that women should be able to "hold office, and sit side by side with the male Representatives in the Legislature."
Hunt's determined efforts on behalf of female suffrage earned her the admiration of leading woman's rights advocates. When Hunt died in 1875, Elizabeth Cady Stanton praised her as one of the "most steadfast advocates of woman suffrage." Stanton and the other authors of the now classic work History of Woman Suffrage honored Hunt by including her in the list of women activists to whom they dedicated their book. Hunt's name appeared with those of Mary Wollstonecraft, Lucretia Mott, Margaret Fuller, and other founding mothers of modern feminism.
Harriot Kezia Hunt, Glances and Glimpses; Or Fifty Years Social, Including Twenty Years Professional Life. Boston: John P. Jewett and Company, 1856. Glances and Glimpses, 294-295, 308-309, 339-341, & 369-370, reprints her annual protests for 1852-1855. Hunt's November 1853 annual protest, reprinted in Glances and Glimpses, 309.
Harriet H. Robinson, Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement: A General, Political, Legal and Legislative History from 1774 to 1881.Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1881, 22. See also 91-95.
"Taxation without Representation," National Era, November 4, 1852, "Woman's Rights," New York Daily Times, November 10, 1853, "Taxation without Representation," Liberator, December 31, 1859, and "Miss Hunt's Protest," Lowell Daily Citizen and News, November 27, 1866.
Hunt's demands for the suffrage were especially prominent at the Proceedings of the Woman's Rights Convention held at the Broadway Tabernacle, in the city of New York, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 6th and 7th, 1853. New York: Fowlers and Wells, 1853, 60-63, accessed from "Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921" (Library of Congress), American Memory, http://memory.loc.gov.
"Female Legislators," Boston Evening Transcript, April 22, 1853.
Official Report of the Debates and Proceedings in the State Convention, Assembled May 4, 1853, to Revise and Amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Boston: White & Potter, Printers to the Convention, 1853, 1:159-160, notes the presentation of Hunt's May 17, 1853, petition to the Convention.
The comments of the New York Daily Tribune reporter appear in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. I, 555 & 576. [LINK]. See also dedication page.
"Woman's Rights," New York Daily Times, November 10, 1853, New-Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, November 22, 1854, "XYZ," "Harriot K. Hunt and Her Protest," Boston Daily Atlas, November 27, 1854. Hunt's remarks appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript, February 4, 1858.
Stanton's remarks, made at an 1875 woman's rights convention, appear in the History of Woman Suffrage, 2:582-583.
Harriot Kezia Hunt, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University