Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Florence Monahan, 1888-1973
By Majriela Macedo, student, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Green Bay, WI
Chairman of National League of Women Voters in Minnesota, Founder of Voter League
Florence Monahan was born in January 1888 in Shakopee, Illinois to James Monahan and Anna Phelan. She was the eldest of three children. Monahan never married, and moved around quite a bit throughout her life. She began her life living in Illinois, moved to Minnesota, and later to California to work in at the California Institution for Women. Finally, she lived in Arizona for the remainder of her life, where she passed away in 1973.
Monahan began her career as a teacher in Minnesota, and later became interested in the suffrage cause there. Her first interactions with the suffrage movement began in 1915, when she joined a public speaking group that was part of a suffrage club. There Monahan would teach, and during her free time, would participate in suffrage activities. Her early work in studying women's legal status encouraged her to begin taking classes at Northwestern College of Law, where she would earn her degree, and be admitted to the Minnesota State Bar in 1917. Monahan worked with other suffragists in Minnesota. She was eventually contacted by Mrs. Raymond Brown, who was a national leader, to travel to New York to participate there in a campaign. Monahan traveled widely on behalf of the suffrage cause, such as when she spoke in New Jersey in 1915. Monahan also participated in suffrage events, including marching in the large suffrage parade in 1917 in New York. She recalled her time in New York in her 1941 book, Women in Crime, explaining that she would campaign by standing up inside cars and speaking to passers-by. Along with speaking out and participating in parades, Monahan also served as a state member for Minnesota on the Committee on the Legal Status of Women. She worked on behalf of the Political Equality Club and the Women Workers' Suffrage Club, and attended a 1919 convention as a delegate on behalf of the Minnesota Women's Suffrage Association. Monahan continued to do suffrage work into the early 1920s. She wrote articles and gave speeches, including arguing that women should be summoned for jury service. She believed jury service was important, because she thought that women could make a difference as jurors.
Along with her work in the suffrage movement, Monahan also made great strides in penology, which is the study of punishments of crime as well as prison management. In Women in Crime, she describes her introduction into working in prisons, and wrote that when she was approached to become the superintendent for the Reformatory for Women, she was unprepared, and had "always abhorred them." Although she was not interested in the position at first, she became very well known as a superintendent in Minnesota, serving at the Illinois State Training School for Girls in 1931, and later serving as the superintendent at a newly built women's reformatory in California. She also fought for men and women's state prison facilities to be separated in Arizona in 1949. She passed away on July 22, 1973 at the age of 85.
Find A Grave – Image of Grave Marker
Florence Monahan, Women in Crime (New York, 1941).
"Florence Monahan, founder of voter league, to be buried," Arizona Republic, July 25, 1973, p. 19.
Ida Husted Harper, ed., History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6 (1922), p. 321.
Illinois, Minnesota, California, Census Records, 1900-1940, Ancestry.
League of Women Voters, "A Painstaking Task," Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 6 (Washington, D.C., 1919), p. 4.
Florence Monahan, Women in Crime, 1941; accessible at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015008436597;view=1up;seq=10.