Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Melinda Scott, 1872-1954

By Brianna Mills, undergraduate, Binghamton University; Professor Leigh Ann Wheeler

English-born Union leader and suffragist speaker.

Melinda Scott was born in Cheshire, England in 1872 to parents James Scott and Martha Needham although her naturalization petition lists a date of October 18, 1876. Records show that Needham and Scott wed in 1871, just before Melinda was born. In 1874 James and Martha had Alice, Melinda's younger sister. There is no mention of Melinda's mother after Melinda and her sister Alice were born. It is unclear how long the Scotts lived in England but we know that Melinda moved to the United States where she lived with her father and sister on Park Place in Newark, New Jersey.

In the U.S. Miss Scott quickly picked up the trade of hat trimming and used the skill to find herself employment. She took a job as a hat trimmer in a factory in New York where she quickly mastered her craft and became a respected and well-paid worker. She believed that more skilled and disciplined American-born women made better candidates for unionization, an argument she used to encourage the women she worked with to join the suffrage movement with her. Scott thought that joining as many unions and groups as possible would maximize efforts and success in gaining suffrage and equal rights for women.

Scott joined a group of hat trimmers called the Neckwear Makers to further her involvement in the women's suffrage movement. Scott was known for her intelligence and eloquence when she spoke, and she used those skills to quickly work her way to becoming a business agent for the Neckwear Makers. In 1911, the Neckwear Makers joined the National Women's Trade Union League (WTUL). Under the guidance of Scott, they won better wages and conditions for the hat trimmers by January of 1912. The agreement promised a shorter work day, better wages and the offering of full work to employees before it was offered to external contractors. This was a big success for Scott and motivated her to continue joining unions and fighting for women's rights.

Scott capitalized on the momentum she had from the Neckwear Makers deal by giving a speech that advocated for women's rights at the Wage Earner's Equal Suffrage League mass meeting in April of 1912. Her speech was a response to a recent statement made by an unknown senator from New York that referenced Roman history to contextualize and define women. She addressed the Senator's statement by emphasizing the terrible working conditions women had to face as well as the living conditions that also affected their children. Scott closed out her speech by saying "I want the ballot to be able to register my protest against the [working] conditions that are killing and maiming [workers]." Scott's speech was referred to as "inspiring" and received support from the women and men in attendance.

Scott continued her progress by traveling to major industrial cities to spread awareness and gain support for the suffrage movement. She toured New Jersey giving speeches on street corners, at factory gates, and in Union halls to win labor votes. During these tours Melinda's skill and ability to speak movingly helped her win many of the labor votes she was seeking and got her elected vice president of the United Hat Trimmers of Newark and New York.

Scott used the success she had already reached to become more involved in unions and elevate her standings within them. After her victory with the Neckwear Makers, Scott was elected treasurer of the WTUL. She remained the treasurer until 1914 when she ran for president of the New York branch and won. As president of the New York branch Scott was in charge of overseeing the first New York City convention for the WTUL.

The WTUL exposed Scott to several other women's suffrage groups that she became interested in. She became involved in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and was asked to lead a march of approximately four hundred women in February 1914. The march consisted of working class women who wanted equal rights in the work place. The walk ended in a mass meeting where some women were able to give speeches and personal accounts of their work experiences. Scott and a select few other march leaders were able to speak privately to president Woodrow Wilson in his personal chambers. Each woman was given two minutes to make a speech to the president and the women used their time to plead with Wilson to support the women's suffragist movement.

Most of Scott's personal life remains a mystery. Her presence in the political world is significant between 1911 and 1915 when she capitalized on her successes and used them to expose herself to more opportunities. During that time, she was referred to as Miss Scott which tells us she was unmarried until she was at least 33. There is no reference to any children she may have had and her home life was kept out of the articles Scott headlined.

Melinda Scott died in New Jersey in 1954.


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