Biographical Sketch of Emma Massman Roebuck

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Emma Massman Roebuck, 1869-1940

By Jennifer Hootman, Digital Humanities Librarian, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky

Four days before Christmas in 1940 in the early morning, Mrs. Zipporah Burton lost her mother, Emma Massman Roebuck, to heart failure. Just two months after celebrating her 71st birthday, Zipporah and her husband Alfred R. Burton laid Emma to rest at Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate, Kentucky on December 23, 1940. This must have been a very difficult loss for the 42-year-old Zipporah as it is quite likely that the two women had never lived apart. Even though Emma M. Roebuck's life and accomplishments may be obscured by time and represented by disparate archival records and documents, her legacy along with thousands of fellow suffragists lives on in the voting rights we enjoy today.

Emma Massman Roebuck was the oldest child born to Louis and Louisa (Miehof) Massman in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 20, 1869. Both German immigrants, Louis (born in Hanover) was 26 and Louise (born in Oldenburg) was 23 when Emma was born. From the age of 17, Louis worked as a bookkeeper (accountant) in an enameling factory where his father worked as a master enameller. He kept this job throughout his life supporting his wife and their three surviving children, Emma, Albert, and Clara. Emma had several years of schooling and graduated from the Notre Dame Academy of Cincinnati.

In 1892, 22-year-old Emma Massman married 27-year-old John S. Roebuck, Jr. Emma moved from living with her parents and their small German family in Cincinnati, Ohio to John S. Roebuck, Sr.'s English Canadian family in Newport, Kentucky. Only one year later, in 1893, Emma and John welcomed their only child, Zipporah, to the family. Zipporah grew up in a household with two single, working aunts. Dr. Katherine D. Roebuck, a physician and Mary W. Roebuck, a music teacher. Both Katherine and Mary must have made quite an impression on young Zipporah and her mother, Emma. John S. Roebuck, Jr. made an income through his private law practice. After his father's death, the young family continued to live with John's mother. Zipporah had an affinity for art and attended the Cincinnati Art Academy. She remained single and continued to live with her parents into her thirties.

While Emma M. Roebuck may never have had a paid profession, she most certainly had a meaningful occupation. For many years of her adult life, she served as an officer of her regional Campbell County Equal Rights Association and of the greater Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA). In a letter written to Laura Clay and printed in the 1913 KERA Convention Minutes, Emma expressed her deep commitment to the organization and regrets about not being able to make the annual meeting. Emma writes, "I was particularly anxious to go, as this is my last convention when I should be Secretary. I hope you will give my dear love to all my suffrage friends and tell them all my thoughts and prayers will be with them during the convention. I think it is 12 years since I was first elected Recording Secretary and I want to say I have enjoyed every bit of the work. I want you, please, to thank the Association for me for the confidence they have shown in making me their Secretary for so long and for the unfailing kindness I have ever received from them all."

Roebuck's most active years with KERA were in her service as an officer from 1901-1913. She served as KERA's Recording Secretary in 1901, 1903-1904, and 1906-1913 and was one of the original signers of the Association's articles of incorporation. In 1912, Emma also served as Acting Treasurer for KERA's 23rd Annual Convention in Lexington, KY. Emma Roebuck's duties were many as the Recording Secretary. In her role as Secretary, she was required to attend all meetings of the Association and Executive Committee. She kept record of the proceedings, read the minutes of all Executive Committee meetings at the first session of every annual meeting, and apprised members of the committee appointments. Moreover, as members and leaders continued to routinize KERA's structure, the Recording Secretary was required to chair the Publications committee, which included soliciting subscriptions for Suffrage Papers and providing the minutes and any other papers ordered by the Convention to be published. In addition to these positions, Roebuck served on the Credentials committee, which had responsibility for receiving and examining the credentials of delegates approved by their Local Associations to attend KERA. Emma Roebuck was a delegate of KERA to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in 1903 and an alternate delegate in 1906 and 1909. Because of term limits added during a 1911 revision of the KERA Constitution, Roebuck was compelled to turn over her position. She could have assumed a different position on the KERA Executive Committee, but health concerns led her to move out of active service.

Roebuck's involvement in KERA is noteworthy and required travel to a number of different cities across the state such as Louisville, Lexington, Richmond, Covington, and Ashland to attend and participate in the annual meetings. However, she was just as involved in suffrage efforts in her local area. Roebuck served as the President of the Campbell County Equal Rights Association in 1897 and 1902-1903, which met in Newport, Kentucky. Interestingly, records indicate that often times several women within the same family were participating and supporting one another's involvement in suffrage work. For instance, Emma's sister-in-law, Dr. Katherine Roebuck, served as the Corresponding Secretary for the Campbell County Equal Rights Association in 1895. Notably, when the Campbell County ERA members had no place to meet, Dr. Katherine Roebuck invited the small association to meet at her office every Tuesday evening. Even though Roebuck's local association started with just a handful of members, they were an active and effective group.

In 1895, one of the primary action items for the Campbell County ERA was to educate the local women on their right of school suffrage, which enfranchised them to vote in local school district elections. When parlor meetings to educate women of this right and requests of local ministers to preach sermons on school suffrage failed, their canvassing efforts proved to be the most successful. Going door to door, they convinced an additional 2,800 women to register to vote in local school district elections. By 1902, the Campbell County ERA grew to thirty members, six of whom were men. They worked to try to retain school suffrage and distributed literature. In 1909, Emma Roebuck reported that the Campbell County ERA was unsuccessful in convincing local labor unions to pass resolutions endorsing women's suffrage. Despite any failings or setbacks, however, they continued to distribute literature delivering it "directly to the lady of the house." By the 1912 Annual KERA Convention, the Campbell County ERA Secretary, Hannah L. Spring, reported that their number of enrolled members grew to 142 and that after three years they were successful in getting "Peace Day" observed in the Newport public schools. Under Roebuck's leadership, the Campbell County ERA was an active local association, holding regular meetings, hosting guest lecturers, studying the legal status of women in other countries, and discussing current events. The Campbell County ERA may have helped build a sense of community among local women who worked tirelessly over so many years to be counted as equals and enjoy the same rights of citizenry as their male counterparts.

Upon her death in 1940, Emma had been living with her daughter, Zipporah, and son-in-law, Alfred. Born in England, Alfred was a clerk for the Trust Corporation, and gained the right to vote when he became a citizen of the United States. Emma M. Roebuck lived a full life and found great purpose in her work for women's suffrage, leaving a legacy for herself, her daughter, and all women.

Sources:

Commonwealth of Kentucky. Department of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death. Emma Roebuck. 1940. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

Paul E. Fuller, Laura Clay and the Woman's Rights Movement. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1975.

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Eighth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, December 10th, 11th and 12th, 1895, Court-House, Richmond, KY. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Journals of the Ninth Annual Convention Held at Guild Hall, Trinity Church, Covington, KY. October 14 and 15, 1897, and of the Tenth Annual Convention Held at Court House, Richmond, KY. December 1, 1898. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Minutes of the Thirteenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Trinity Church, Covington, Ky., October 17-18, 1901. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Minutes of the Fourteenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Guild Hall, Trinity Episcopal Church, Covington, Ky., November 11-12, 1903. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Minutes of the Fifteenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Rooms of the Lexington Woman's Club of Central Ky., November 17-18, 1904. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Minutes of the Seventeenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Ashland, Kentucky, November 21st and 22nd, 1906. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Minutes of the Eighteenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Richmond, Kentucky, November 14th and 15th, 1907. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Report of the Nineteenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Richmond, Kentucky, November 17th and 18th, 1908. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Report of the Twentieth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at the Public Library Assembly Room, Louisville, KY. November 11th and 12th, 1909. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Reports of the Twenty-First and Twenty-Second Annual Meetings of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Covington, November 14-15-16, 1910 and Louisville, October 25, 1911. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Report of the Twenty-Third Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Lexington, Kentucky in the Arts Club Building, October 24th and 25th, 1912. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Report of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Louisville, Kentucky, November 20, 21 and 22, 1913. Retrieved from Explore UK. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/

Kerr, Charles, William Elsey Connelley, and E. Merton Coulter. 1922. History of Kentucky. Chicago: American Historical Society. Retrieved from HathiTrust. https://www.hathitrust.org/

United States Census Bureau. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

United States Census Bureau. Ninth Census of the United States, 1870. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

United States Census Bureau. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

United States Census Bureau. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

United States Census Bureau. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

United States Census Bureau. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

United States Census Bureau. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

United States Census Bureau. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/

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