Biographical Sketch of Francesca Pierce

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists: 1890-1920

Biography of Francesca Pierce, 1870- ?

Written by Mikayla Knight, Undergraduate Student, University of California, Santa Barbara

Francesca Pierce is estimated to have been born in 1870 in Massachusetts. At the time of the 1910 United States Federal Census, she was age 40 and living in San Francisco Assembly District 44, San Francisco, California. She reported herself to be the head of household, divorced, and with no children. At this time, her occupation was as a stenographer doing general work on her own account.

Pierce worked alongside prominent suffragists, such as Alice Paul, and was very involved in her community as a prominent member of a number of women's clubs, committees, and activist organizations. Women's groups were a form of organizing that took off in California in the late-nineteenth century. They created a space dedicated to the discussion of day-to-day issues of social or political significance, such as women's voting rights, or lighter topics such as books, arts, theatre, etc. Some of the groups that Pierce was a key player in include serving as the secretary of the California Woman's Suffrage Party, treasurer of the California State Suffrage League, recording secretary of the State Central Committee, corresponding secretary of the California Equal Suffrage Association, the secretary of the "Votes for Women" Club, the Chairmen of the Equality Tea Committee, the president of the Progressive Prison Reform Association, not to mention likely being a general body member of other women's clubs unlisted in official news sources.

As a part of these organizations, Pierce participated in events such as distributing literature, campaign buttons, badges, and signs in support of the women's suffrage movement; was responsible for corresponding with and organizing delegations of Californian women to attend events such as the annual march as a part of the New York suffrage parade, or excursions to the state capitol; spent sunrise to sunset on election day picketing to request that participants place a ballot in their favor, and serving "Equality tea" for events pertaining to Woman's Suffrage Party of California.

Despite being a common beverage, in the early 1900s, tea was a politicized tool of the women's movement. It was used as a means of hospitality and attracting visitors to meetings and events of the suffrage party in order to politely entice people into joining the movement while doubling as a fundraising method. During the time of the women's suffrage movement, Equality brand tea expressed its support of the Woman's Suffrage Party of California by devoting all profits from its sale exclusively to the cause. As the Chairman of the Equality Tea Committee, Pierce was responsible for the distribution of Equality beverages at suffragist events.

Leading up to Californian women gaining the right to vote on October 10, 1911, Pierce was an outspoken voice of the suffrage movement. A few months before the passing of proposition 4 - Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 8, the policy that granted women equal voting rights in California, her plea was published in the San Francisco Call, the primary news source serving San Francisco at the time. She wrote,

My plea for the ballot is based on citizen sovereignty. There are 23,000,000 female American sovereigns in the United States today who are arbitrarily disfranchised by and through the will of half the people of these states. A constitution has to express the will of a majority of the whole people and not the majority of half the people, and in so far as all laws in our state and nation's history have no true basis in constitutional law. I seek not the ballot alone at the hands of our California Men today but the restitution of my sovereignty which has been usurped. Sufferance or suffrage is granted to an adopted citizen who expresses his desire to be one of us and conforms to the law in this regard; but the blood and lives of revolutionary sires secured to each American of either sex and for all time our sovereignty. The ballot is but the expression of the sovereign's will and sovereignty and will are both sexless.

Pierce argued that women were being deprived of their right to be autonomous people capable of having valid opinions on political matters. She encouraged eligible voters to grant women the right to vote as a recompense for the unjust treatment of female citizens.

In addition to her work in the suffrage movement, Pierce was also an important figure in prison reform in the early twentieth-century. After completing a two-year course in sociology at San Francisco State University, Pierce attended local women's clubs' events to speak about her personal work in jails and penitentiaries, in addition to leading the Progressive Prison Reform Association.

The Progressive Prison Reform Association, founded in April of 1912, was created by an organized group of women sociological workers based in San Francisco that focused on various social work projects such as bettering prison conditions and preventing crime. Due to advancements in the fields of medicine and psychiatry, many reformers came to believe that criminal activity could be largely attributed to a person's environment and mental health. Some of the causes identified by reformers potentially included poor living conditions, homelessness, absence of family, interpersonal violence, or lack of access to psychological help. By providing individualized analysis based on causation rather than the subsequent criminal act, inmates received a more just sentencing and treatment.

Pierce dedicated her life to fighting for justice as seen through her extensive commitments as a women's rights activist and her later work as a progressive prison reformer. She played a key role in the California suffrage movement by being on the board of numerous women's organizations and working tirelessly to the further the causes for equal rights. Her work as the founder and president of the Progressive Prison Reform Association has directly impacted our prison system today, by being on the forefront of championing for mental health evaluations and personalized sentencing for the accused in California in 1912. Her dedication has influenced these social movements and allowed for growth and advancements through San Francisco and beyond.

 

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1 "United States Census, 1910," database with images.

2 "Clubwomen and their Work," San Francisco Call, January 24, 1910, 6.

3 "Liberal Ticket," San Francisco Call, October 2, 1909, 7.

4 "Enfranchised Take Arms: New Voters Start World Crusade, "San Francisco Call, January 7, 1912, 47 and "Suffragettes Choose Heads," Los Angeles Herald, October 3, 1909, 2.

5 "Census Taking Nearly Finished," San Francisco Call, April 22, 1910, 5.

6 "Hatchet Buried at the Suffrage Meeting," San Francisco Call, August 26, 1911, 10.

7 "Prison Reform Luncheon Postponed, San Francisco Call, May 9, 1912, 9 and "Friends of Ruef Try New Tactics," San Francisco Call, June 17, 1912, 5.

8 "State Women will March: Suffragettes Plan for N.Y. Parade." San Francisco Call, February 6, 1912, 7.

9 "Suffrage Workers Plan an Excursion to State Capital" San Francisco Call, August 15, 1911, 5.

10 "Women Ready to Serve in Aid of Cause," San Francisco Call, October 10, 1911, 7.

11 "Hatchet Buried at Suffrage Meeting," San Francisco Call., August 26, 1911, 10.

12 "Boston Tea Party is Far Eclipsed by California Women: Equality Beverage Used to Attract Recruits and Raise Suffrage Funds," San Francisco Call, August 11, 1911, 7.

13 Advertising postcard: "Equality Brand Tea: supporting Women's Suffrage Party of California."

14 Francesca Pierce, "Woman Demands Lost Sovereignty: 23,000,000 of Fair Sex in America Want Civic Rights," San Francisco Call, August 31, 1915, 5.

15 "Women's Club Notes," San Francisco Call, December 6, 1913, 15.

16 "Friends of Ruef," San Francisco Call, June 17, 1912, 5.

17 "The Prison Reform Movement," https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/prison-reform-movement

18 "Suffrage leaders who are devoting time and energy to the cause of equal rights." San Francisco Call, August 31, 1911

"BOSTON TEA PARTY IS FAR ECLIPSED BY CALIFORNIA WOMEN: Equality Beverage Used to Attract Recruits and Raise Suffrage Funds." San Francisco Call, August 11, 1911. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"CENSUS TAKING NEARLY FINISHED." San Francisco Call, April 22, 1911. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"CLUBWOMEN AND THEIR WORK." San Francisco Call, January 24, 1910. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"ENFRANCHISED TAKE ARMS: New Voters Start World Crusade." San Francisco Call, January 07, 1912. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"FRIENDS OF RUEF TRY NEW TACTICS: Revolution Demanding Parole is presented at Prison Reform Association Meeting." San Francisco Call, June 17, 1912. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"HATCHET BURIED AT SUFFRAGE MEETING." San Francisco Call, August 26, 1911. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"Liberal Ticket." San Francisco Call, October 02, 1909. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

Pierce, Francesca, "WOMAN DEMANDS LOST SOVEREIGNTY: 23,000,000 of Fair Sex In America Want Civic Rights." San Francisco Call, August 31, 1911 Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"PRISON REFORM LUNCHEON POSTPONED." San Francisco Call, May 9, 1912. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"STATE WOMEN WILL MARCH: Suffragettes Plan for N.Y. Parade." San Francisco Call, February 6, 1912. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"SUFFRAGETTES CHOOSE HEADS." Los Angeles Herald, October 3, 1909. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"Suffrage leaders who are devoting time and energy to the cause of equal rights." San Francisco Call., August 31, 1911, Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"Suffrage Workers Plan an Excursion to State Capital." San Francisco Call, August 15, 1911. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"The Prison Reform Movement." American Social Reform Movements Reference Library. 2018. Accessed April 23, 2018. https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/priso n-reform-movement.

"United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MVGX-TXK accessed 23 April 2018), Francesca Pierce, San Francisco Assembly District 44, San Francisco, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 304, sheet 2B, family 10, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 102; FHL microfilm 1,374,115.

Woman's Suffrage Party of California. "EQUALITY BRAND TEA." Advertisement.

"WOMEN'S CLUB NOTES." San Francisco Call, December 6, 1913. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

"WOMEN READY TO SERVE IN AID OF ‘CAUSE.'" San Francisco Call, October 10, 1911. Accessed April 23, 2018. Chronicling America.

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