Biographical Sketch of Berenice Morrison-Fuller

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Berenice Morrison-Fuller, 1856 – 1947

By Amanda Kaupp, St. Louis, Missouri

Berenice Morrison-Fuller was born in St. Louis, Missouri on November 1, 1856 to William M. Morrison and Sara Catherine (neé Swinney) Morrison. Berenice was the only child of the couple, and lived a privileged childhood in a three-story mansion on Lucas Place in St. Louis. In 1865, when Berenice was nine, she went to live with her maternal grandparents in Glasgow, Missouri after the death of her father, as her mother had died four years earlier. Berenice's maternal grandparents, Captain William Daniel Swinney and his wife, Lucy Ann (neé Jones) Swinney, owned a tobacco plantation, and Berenice became the largest landowner east of Glasgow after her grandfather bequeathed one-half of his large estate to her when she was just a teenager.

Berenice, like her mother before her, came from a family that valued education highly. In Glasgow, Berenice attended the Chestnut Street Academy and had been taught by women who had matriculated from the prestigious Troy Female Seminary in New York. Her mother, Kate Swinney, had attended Madame Gardelle's French School in Philadelphia a generation earlier, and in 1869, Berenice was also sent to Philadelphia for finishing school. So highly did Berenice prize education, that when she was just 19, she made a $100,000 gift to the Pritchett School Institute in Glasgow for an astronomical observatory (the Morrison Observatory) and trust. Although Pritchett College, as it became later, closed in 1922, the Morrison Observatory can still be visited today. It is owned and operated by Central Methodist University in Fayetteville, Missouri.

When Berenice returned from Philadelphia in 1873, Mrs. John P. Fuller was hired to be Berenice's governess. Mrs. John Fuller would have a permanent and crucial impact on Berenice's life. In May 1867, Mrs. Fuller had been a charter member of the Woman Suffrage Association in Missouri at the Mercantile in St. Louis, and she had just finished her third year as an administrator and educator at Howard College in Fayette, Missouri. She had been a delegate and officer in suffrage organizations, and had met both Julia Ward Howe and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She and her son John moved to Glasgow, and a year later accompanied Berenice to Europe. For four years Berenice and the Fullers traveled, visited museums and studied languages and history. Of Mrs. Fuller, Berenice wrote: "I became devoted to Mrs. Fuller and she to me ... as far as my education is concerned, I owe everything to her, her deep progressive thought, her sense of justice and her profound ethical and religious convictions." In December 1882, the Women's Suffrage Association of Missouri elected Mrs. Fuller president and Berenice Morrison secretary. In May 1886, Berenice married Mrs. Fuller's son, John, who was 6 years her junior. John Morrison-Fuller, deeply influenced by the libertarian teachings of Herbert Spencer, had agreed with Berenice to a hyphenated last name, and was himself a colorful, eccentric man who undoubtedly supported Berenice's progressive agenda. They lived in California for a year-and-a-half, where their daughter Berenice Morrison-Fuller was born. They returned to Glasgow, where John Morrison-Fuller ran three newspapers and fought vigorously against Prohibition. In 1909, the Morrison-Fullers moved to St. Louis.

John Morrison-Fuller died in 1910 after cracking his skull walking home on the ice. Berenice never remarried, but devoted the rest of her life to women's rights, even after age began to take its toll. In the spring of 1911, Missouri counted three formal suffrage clubs, meeting the required number for uniting with the National Association. The Missouri Equal Suffrage Association was formed, with Berenice the Vice-President at Large. On May 10, 1914, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Berenice had come into personal contact with Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, and Mrs. Stanton in the 1870s and 1880s, and quoted her as saying, "I was for two years recording secretary for this organization [Equal Suffrage League], and the small seed then planted has grown into a great tree." She was appointed as a delegate to the International Suffrage Convention in Stockholm. In 1916, she was chairman of the Demonstration Committee in St. Louis that strove to attract 10,000 supporters to line the parade route on June 14th for the first day of the National Democratic Convention. They stood along Locust Street, a "walkless, talkless" silent line, dressed in white, carrying the yellow banners. This "Golden Lane" fell short of the 10,000 called for, but the 2,000 women who came made a lasting impression. In 1919, Berenice was made the Chairman of the Finance Department of the Missouri Women's Suffrage Association. On July 1, 1919, she was one of the speakers at the "Ratification Dinner" given in Jefferson City at the New Central Hotel. She and Mrs. George Warren Brown escorted the Lt. Governor and Mrs. Wallace Crossley, and the newspaper reported that she raised over $300 for the Jefferson City League. On July 3rd, 1919, she and other suffragettes were present when Missouri Gov. Frederick D. Gardner signed Missouri's ratification of the Federal Women Suffrage Amendment.

In late 1930s, Berenice turned her eye toward the past, writing an essay called "Missouri Plantation Life", about her youth in Glasgow, Missouri. She was very aware of her privileged status and family connections, but did not much reflect on the issue of her family as having been slave owners. She bemoaned the loss of the decorum from the Victorian Age, writing, "women's finger nails resemble bloody claws. Raucous sounds are called music. Daubs of paint, without form and void, are labeled pictures." Berenice died at home at age 90, her daughter by her side. She is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, the following Latin phrase engraved on her gravestone: non quam di used quam bene, "not how long it takes, but how well it is done."

 

Image from: http://littledixie.net/Slave%20Housing%20Examples.htm

 

 

Buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery, Plot: Block 60, Lot 76
[https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=107979999]

Sources:

A detailed, thoroughly researched, three-part essay about the Morrison and Swinney families, written by historian Lynn Morrow, appeared in the Boone's Lick Heritage Quarterly in the winter of 2016-2017 (Boone's Lick Heritage Quarterly, Volume 15, Nos. 2, 3, and 4).

In the society pages, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch often covered Berenice Morrison-Fuller, including suffragette meetings and events (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 13 April, 1913; 2 May, 1914; 25 May 1916; 28 June, 1917; 1 July, 1919).

The Missouri Historical Review, Vol. XIV, described the "ratification dinner" in Jefferson City on July 1, 1919, and published the photograph of Governor Gardner signing Missouri's ratification of the Federal Women's Suffrage Amendment, with Berenice Morrison-Fuller and other notable suffragettes in attendance (The Missouri Historical Review, October, 1919 – July, 1920, Vol. XIV, Columbia, Missouri: The State Historical Society of Missouri, 1920).

In 1937, Berenice Morrison-Fuller penned an essay titled "Plantation Life in Missouri" about her memories of growing up on a plantation in Glasgow, Missouri. The essay is a romantic view of her upbringing: memories of beloved friends and horses, holidays, flora and fauna, the day-to-day business of life. She speaks fondly of the slaves on the plantation, but does not broach the topic of slavery as an institution itself. (http://dl.mospace.umsystem.edu/mu/islandora/object/mu%3A417728)

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