Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890 – 1920
Biography of (Bernadette) Katherine Soden Bigler, 1867–1958
By Jason Musgrave and Josh Bill, MA students, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL
First Vice President and Chair of the Finance Committee, Illinois Equal Suffrage Association; Director, Illinois Association of Progressive Women; Vice President, Republican Women's Committee of Illinois; Member, Republican Women's National Committee
A daughter of Irish immigrants, Bernadette Katherine Duffy was born in 1867. She was the seventh of nine children born to John, a seed store employee, and Mary Duffy, a housewife in Louisville, Kentucky. At age twenty-four, she married her employer, George A. Soden, a wholesale jeweler in Chicago, Illinois. After her marriage, Soden was able to focus her time and financial assets as a volunteer and activist. Soden involved herself in the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, a state auxiliary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; she held fundraisers and served in various leadership capacities within the Equal Suffrage Association as well as a variety of other charitable organizations. Six years after the passing of her first husband, Katherine Soden married Albert J. Bigler and remained active in Republican Party politics, women's groups, and other community organizations until her last years. Katherine Soden Bigler passed away in Lakeside, Michigan on June 29, 1958.
At the height of the suffrage movement, Soden was drawn into the actions of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA). The IESA secured the right for Illinois women to cast ballots in presidential and municipal elections in 1913, but their work continued in the aftermath. At times, the IESA struggled with their budget, but Soden consistently assisted the group, leading fundraising banquets, self-denial drives, and many other endeavors to help financially support the organization. Soden was selected as First Vice President of the IESA in 1914. Additionally, she put pressure on aldermen in Chicago to "improve the condition of streets" and "[have] smoking abolished in cafes." By 1919, Soden had distinguished herself among suffragists, for she was one of only three Illinois women selected to the Republican National Committee, which helped to form the party platform and politics at the nominating convention in advance of the national suffrage amendment. These pioneering steps were crucial; Soden and her Illinois suffrage sisters helped to ensure the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution was passed. Illinois was among the first to ratify women's suffrage nationwide.
Throughout her life, Soden remained steadfast to the betterment of women, particularly in and around the Chicago area, helping to establish the Ella Flag Young Memorial Scholarship to help public school children, helping to form the Women's Roosevelt Republican Club to continuously improve the Republican Party, and travelling to Europe to see if strategies could be gained there to help women's rights in America. After her marriage to Albert J. Bigler, Katherine Soden Bigler could still be found working on behalf of the Republican party in Illinois, serving as the Vice President of the Republican Women's Committee in the state well into the 1930s. Staying active until her golden years, engaging in charitable works in Chicago and Miami (where she spent her winters), Katherine Soden Bigler never forgot that the battle for gender equality required steadfast zeal and determination.
Note:, Mrs. Soden/Bigler did not use her given first name, Bernadette. Most mentions of her use her married name as Mrs. George A. Soden (first marriage) and Mrs. Albert J. Bigler (second marriage). The few documents we found that carry her first name use Katherine or Kate.
"And they were Wedded: Why Miss Duffy Wore a Traveling Suit Yesterday." Chicago Daily Tribune, May 6, 1891.
"Chicagoan's Bride: Mrs. Albert J. Bigler." Chicago Daily Tribune, February 5, 1924.
"Death Notices." Chicago Daily Tribune, July 1, 1958.
Drexel, Constance. "The Part Women Will Play in Purely Partisan Politics: Newly Enfranchised Voters are Given Equal Rights on the Democratic Committee and the Republicans Plan #x00a0to Take Care of the New Electors" Washington Herald, April 11, 1920.
"First Big Check to Self Denial Fund." Chicago Daily Tribune, July 17, 1914.
"Girding for the Ballot Battle: Women Organize Republican Club to Purify Party." Chicago Daily Tribune, September 17, 1921.
"Karen Lundsberg Becomes Bride of Robert Bigler." Chicago Daily Tribune, May 23, 1935.
"Mrs. George Soden of G.O.P. Committee Departs for Europe." Chicago Daily Tribune, May 18, 1922. Accessed June 28, 2018. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
"Pick Team Captains for Young Memorial." Chicago Daily Tribune, January 6, 1919
Trout, Grace Wilbur. "Side Lights on Illinois Suffrage History." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 13, no. 2 (July 1920): 145-79.
"Women Outline Political Wants." Chicago Daily Tribune, February 15, 1914.