Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ethel Ridgley Vorce, 1876-1963
By Abigail M. Leedom and Liette Gidlow, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
A Voice of Detroit: Suffragist, Editorialist, Anti-Prohibition Reformer
Ethel Ridgley was born on May 1, 1876, in Detroit, Michigan, to Robert Bruce Ridgley of England and Caroline Mellen of Massachusetts. Robert Ridgley worked as a wholesale machinery merchant in the city of Detroit.
Ethel Ridgley spent most of her life in Detroit and southeast Michigan. As a child she was active in school and played tennis at the Detroit Athletic Club. She completed secondary education but did not receive any formal higher education. In 1896 at the age of nineteen, she married Albyn V. D. Stearns, an entrepreneur who invented a pill-coating device. Her marriage to Albyn ended abruptly in June 1896 when Albyn came down with a fever and died suddenly. In April 1903, the widow moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and married Myron Bond Vorce, Cleveland's Civil Engineer. In Cleveland, Ethel Vorce worked for a time as a secretary for a school. The Vorces had no children.
Cleveland was where Ethel Vorce first became involved with the woman suffrage movement. As the secretary of the Ohio Woman's Suffrage Association, Vorce traveled to national conventions for the cause. In 1912, Vorce became close with Rose Livingston, who was renowned for her reform work with sex workers in New York City. Vorce, an experienced speaker, travelled with Livingston and helped her to shape the issue of "white slavery" into a catalyst to promote woman suffrage. According to historian Mary Lui, Vorce believed that "with female intervention into the legislative process, such an evil as the white slave could not exist."
As the First World War began to consume the United States in 1914, many suffragists put suffrage aside and took up war relief. Vorce, however, seized the opportunity to connect the war with suffrage. In an article for the Detroit Free Press, Vorce asserted that if women "are worthy to serve, we should be worthy of the right to choose the executives behind whom we must stand in the time of crisis." In 1915, Vorce represented the Woman's Suffrage Association of Ohio in a national tour of the Liberty Bell. The tour ended in December in Washington, D.C., at the Forty-Seventh Annual Convention for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
During the war, the Vorces moved from Cleveland to Detroit, where Ethel Vorce continued her work for suffrage. As a member of the Equal Suffrage League of Wayne County, she attended a meeting in 1918 at the residence of Ford Motors founder Henry Ford. According to the Woman Citizen, Mrs. Ford had not been interested in suffrage until she heard Vorce speak. Reportedly, Vorce called Mrs. Ford "selfish" and told her that "just because she was fortunate enough not to need the ballot" did not mean that she should not help others gain the right, a conversation that was alleged to convince Mrs. Ford to take up the suffrage cause. After ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Vorce worked to educate women about their new right. As first vice president of the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association, Vorce endorsed a pamphlet called "What Women Should Know About Voting." In it, the association applauded the focus on the woman's role in the well-being of children and maintaining a sound home.
In 1927, Ethel and Myron Vorce, along with Ethel's father, moved from Detroit to Grosse Ile, Michigan, near the Ohio border. Here, Ethel Vorce took up writing editorials for the Detroit Free Press and continued to support an array of social causes. Prior to moving, Vorce joined the Democratic party, aligning herself politically for the first time and giving the keynote speech at a pre-primary conference in Flint in 1924. That year, she also joined the Detroit branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which she later served as vice president. In that role, she advocated universal disarmament following the end of World War I. In 1932, she served as the chairperson for the Women's Organization for the National Prohibition Reform. She suggested that saloons be used as voting headquarters and believed that this would help reform saloons into more respectable places.
In 1942, Myron Vorce died. Ethel Vorce continued her editorial writing well into her old age and also devoted herself to social affairs by hosting card parties, book clubs, and the Grosse Ile Musicale. She spent her entire life advocating for equality. She died on May 18, 1963, at the age of eighty-seven.
"Albyn V. D. Stearns Dead." Detroit Free Press, June 27, 1896, p.12. Newspapers.com.
Blackwell, Alice Stone. Woman Citizen, vol. 3. Leslie Woman Suffrage Association, 1918.
Fitzgerald, Susan W. The Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Forty Seventh Annual Convention. Washington D.C., December 14, 1915.
"Garden Club Has Many Activities on New Program." Detroit Free Press, April 5, 1931. Pt. 3, p.1. Newspapers.com.
"Grosse Ile Musicale Opens Fall Season." Detroit Free Press, September 23, 1945. Pt. 3, p.2. Newspapers.com.
Ida Husted Harper, ed., "Michigan," chapter XXI in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York, NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), pp. 303-16. [LINK]
Johnston, Sarah Hall, compiler. Lineage Book: National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Volume XXX. Pennsylvania: Telegraph Printing Company, 1910.
"The Ladies Play at the D.A.C." Detroit Free Press, September 27, 1892, p.2. Newspapers.com.
Lui, Mary Ting Yi. "Saving Young Girls from Chinatown: White Slavery and Woman Suffrage, 1910-1920." Journal of the History of Sexuality 18, no. 3 (2009): 393-417. JSTOR.
"Luncheon Follows Meet," Detroit Free Press. January 7, 1940. Pt. 3, p.11. Newspapers.com.
"Meeting Set for Friday." Detroit Free Press, April 17, 1938. Pt. 3, p.2. Newspapers.com.
"Mrs. Ethel C. Vorce." Detroit Free Press, May 19, 1963, Obituaries, p. A13. Newspapers.com.
"Mrs. M. P. Vorce Openly Espouses Democratic Causes." Detroit Free Press, May 7, 1924, p. 13. Newspapers.com.
"No Hostility in Ohio's Counties." Woman's Journal and Suffrage News 45, no. 37. September 12, 1914, p.255. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
"Notes and News." Woman's Journal and Suffrage News 46, no. 42. October 16, 1915, p.331. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Orth, Samuel Peter. A History of Cleveland, Ohio. Chicago-Cleveland: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1910.
"‘Stunts' Aid Suffrage," Detroit Free Press, September 8, 1918. Pt. 3, pp. 1-2. Newspapers.com.
"Suffragists Pledge Help." Detroit Free Press, April 5, 1917, p.5. Newspapers.com.
"They Did Not Explain." Detroit Free Press, June 3, 1924, p.6. Newspapers.com.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States. Population Density, 1900.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States. Population Density, 1920.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States. Population Density, 1940.
U.S. City Directory. Detroit, Michigan, 1899.
Wayne County, Michigan. Death Records. Secretary of State of Michigan. 1896.
Wayne County, Michigan. Marriage Returns. Secretary of State of Michigan.
"What Women Should Know About Voting," Michigan History Magazine 11(1920): 34-35.
Vorce, Ethel R. "Mrs. Vorce Answers Bishop's Assertions." Detroit Free Press, April 24, 1931, p.2. Newspapers.com.