Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Eugenia B. Farmer, 1835-1924
By Leslie Greaves Radloff, teacher-librarian (retired); South St. Paul, Minnesota
Executive Secretary and Trustee, Dakota County Historical Society – Minnesota
Special thanks to Rebecca Snyder, Research Librarian extraordinaire and Director of Research and Publishing, Dakota County Historical Society, Lawshe Memorial Museum, South St. Paul, Minnesota for all her help and suggestions.
Eugenia B. Farmer (Eugenia Barrett/ Berniaud Farmer), born on April 8th, 1835 in Cincinnati, Ohio, was the daughter of abolitionists Emma Hubbard Barrett (b.1812, New York) and Edmund Berniaud (Edmund's last name as it appears on burial records.) Barrett attended and graduated from Oberlin College in the 1850s with some of the most well-known abolitionists and early women's suffrage proponents of the time, honing skills she would use first as an abolitionist, then in various offices, and ultimately in the fight for women's suffrage. She married Henry C. Farmer (1830-1912) on February 24, 1858, the same year Minnesota became a state. The Farmers' one son, Edmund B. Farmer (1859-1862), died at age three. Though a later Minnesota newspaper article mentions a son and daughter-in-law living in Brooklyn, New York coming to visit and enjoy Farmer's home cooking.
After their son's death Farmer dedicated herself to helping others on the advice of a doctor who thought working with others might help her to deal with the loss. Working first with Civil War wounded, she then became active in civic affairs and later in the Women's Suffrage movement. At some point early in their marriage the Farmers bought land in Meeker County, Minnesota just west of Minneapolis and St. Paul, quite possibly as an investment when Minnesota Territory was opening for settlement and railroads were being built. But after the Panic of 1859, the Dakota War in 1862, along with the Civil War dashed their hopes and those of countless other early settlers, investors and speculators, and many people sold their land and left the state. The Farmers, listed as living in Franklin County, Ohio at the time, also decided to sell their land, giving attorney Thaddeus C. Webb authority to sell the Meeker County property, which he did on September 14, 1865. However the Farmers were not through with Minnesota. Henry's job with the railroad brought them back to the state capital St. Paul a little less than twenty-five years later.
With the end of the Civil War Farmer continued her civic work and commitment to women's suffrage, wherever she and Henry lived. Records show that Henry, a Union veteran entitled to a $30.00 per month government pension, seems to have been supportive of his wife's work and involved in both abolition and suffrage work himself wherever they lived. A note was added to the record on January 13,1898 when he spoke before the Kentucky House of Representatives of his support for suffrage. The Farmers moved around a lot. Henry's work for the railroads took them to Kentucky, Washington, D.C., and other places where Eugenia made and renewed contacts in the Women's Suffrage movement before Henry's work finally brought them to St. Paul at the end of the nineteenth century.
It is during this time that Eugenia Farmer's name begins to appear in various local, state and national papers as she attended conferences and meetings; hosted others along with forums; attended rallies, served in executive roles of organizations promoting suffrage and wrote about what was happening related to woman suffrage in other cities and states in the United States for newspapers. She kept track of events and votes, giving encouragement when needed, but also seemed to chide supporters when she felt that was called for, urging others to fight a bit harder and longer, always believing that women would win the right to vote. Farmer was a vocal pro-suffrage voice and advocate of the vote for women, working with well-known national and local suffragists. This was a role she continued well into her seventies. In 1911 while Farmer was living in St. Paul at 615 Cedar St. (still close to the action at the State Capitol), a co-worker regarded her as "still one of the leading figures in the fight for suffrage now being waged in a considerable portion of Minnesota."
But Farmer had experience and training plus a good track record before coming to Minnesota. Her contact with abolitionists and people at the forefront of the Women's Rights movement while at Oberlin (a list that reads like a Who's Who of the two movements) and her mother's friendship with Susan B. Anthony in Cincinnati provided a good foundation for Farmer's work. By the end of the struggle for the vote Farmer had worked with, or met, most of the activists of the early years and those of the next generation. These included Anthony, Laura Clay, Carrie Chapman Catt among national figures and Minnesotans Clara Ueland and Ethel Hurd, while crossing paths with a younger Anne E. Forrestal; delegates from northern Minnesota, as well as those from Minneapolis and St. Paul. It seems she was seldom idle. However, she did find some leisure time to enter a national grammar contest. Farmer's name appears as a winner and she is listed along with other winners in "Correct English: How To Use It," vol. 5. This seems fitting considering her voluminous correspondence and newspaper articles.
In Covington, KY, where they moved after leaving Washington, D.C., she and Henry lived at 911 Scott Street. There she worked closely with Susan B. Anthony. Eugenia was one of the most active suffrage advocates in Kentucky throughout the 1890s, serving consistently as the president of the Kenton County local and the corresponding secretary of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA). She was a member of the exclusive "Committee of Six" that faithfully lobbied the legislature on issues pertaining to women such as a co-guardianship bill, a woman's property act, and school suffrage. School suffrage was Farmer's main issue of interest and on several occasions, she was selected to speak to the legislature on that topic. Her efforts helped to win for women in second class cities (Covington, Lexington, and Newport) the right to run for school board and to vote in those elections in 1894. Following this victory, she put her hat into the ring, running unsuccessfully for school board on the Republican ticket. In a state that was quite conservative, especially on racial issues, Famer took more liberal stands. She was largely responsible for any weak steps that KERA took toward interracial cooperation in the 1890s. She is reported to have spoken three times at the Colored Methodist Church in Covington. Close friend and fellow Committee of Six member, Josephine Henry, asked Farmer to contribute to her essay, "The New Woman of the South," published in Arena in 1895. Farmer's quote expresses her reason for wanting the vote: "I wish my political disabilities removed, giving me the power to help reform all that is oppressive to women and injurious to men. Eugenia B. Farmer, Covington, KY." When the Farmers moved yet again a note was read into the minutes in Kentucky stating how "greatly she would be missed!" That move brought the Farmers to Minnesota.
One of the first mentions of Farmer in Minnesota newspapers appeared in 1889 shortly after moving to St. Paul where the Farmers lived at 1026 Russell. In 1905 Henry and Eugenia were living on Cedar Avenue, close to the Old Capitol, where she would keep an office for many years. The following December she was called "the Spokeswoman to Gov. John A. Johnson for Minnesota Woman's Suffrage" in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Other articles took a more personal tone such as the one offering the news of the Farmers' 53rd wedding anniversary in 1911. If not the subject of articles, Farmer was writing them to keep everyone informed with short columns called "Of Interest to Women" and "Woman Suffrage the Issue in California" which were published later that year in the Duluth, Minnesota's The Labor World. Women in northern Minnesota were very interested in getting the vote as many had female relatives and friends in the "Old Country" who could already vote. Farmer spoke to immigrant groups at St. Paul's Neighborhood House on the West Side of the city. This organization was similar to settlement houses, and though begun by the Jewish women, by 1903 it served a much broader clientele. Farmer succeeded in convincing the women to form a suffrage club which later merged with other suffrage groups in St. Paul. Farmer seems to have had a knack for working with a wide variety of people and groups from professionals to immigrants. While doing all this, she was also listed as the Secretary of the League of Women's Voters. She worked with Clara Ueland and others campaigning for full suffrage.
As the struggle to gain the vote continued, Farmer's conviction and determination seemed boundless, never doubting that women would win the right to vote. She made it her business to keep the issue on the minds of the legislatures in Minnesota, and those who represented the state in Washington, D.C. Through the years she persisted as the pendulum swung back and forth in Minnesota. The May 30, 1911 the Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted her after the defeat of the suffrage legislation by one vote, "It was a case of broken pledges. They failed us, some of them, but I am not feeling bitter. They break their pledges to men, sometimes, and we should show the same spirit of generous forgiveness that the men do under the circumstances." She continued, "But we asked so little. Only that the legislature should let the people of the state vote the suffrage question. However, the fight is just begun. It was a flagrant breach of faith in the people." She could look back on victories in Kentucky and other places where she had worked, but in Minnesota it would take a little longer. Later in the decade it would seem to many that the women's issue took back seat to World War One but the fight continued.
Rightly proud of her work, she wrote about the successes, where the focus should be, which states to watch and how the world was changing as more and more women were granted the right to vote. In 1918 Farmer wrote "A Voice From the Civil War" which was about her work with Confederate sympathizers in Missouri and her early suffrage work in the places she and Henry lived. Another time she took Clara Ueland to task, complaining that Ueland was not giving enough lead time notice of meeting and dues, and that the views of the National group (NAWSA) were not being reflected in Minnesota. Apparently few people dared to disagree with Ueland, but Farmer was the seasoned senior suffragist. Ueland's colleague, Dr. Ethel Hurd, came to her (Ueland's) defense citing the group of friends who backed the suffrage movement financially and wrote that she (Hurd) thought that things were going well. Meetings were not held during most of 1918 because of the flu pandemic.
By 1920 Farmer, a seasoned veteran of the suffrage fight, was part of a group called "old suffrage board' along with Clara Ueland, Dr. Ethel Hurd, Mmes. S. A. Blackwell, Hugo G. Harrison, Russell M. Bennet, Fred H. Snyder, James Paige and Walter H. Thorp (all from Minneapolis) and the St. Paul group consisting of: Mmes. C. P. Noyes, Cordenio A. Severance, J. M. Guise, Stile Burr, James Forestal, and Miss Corneila Lusk who had gathered with others to celebrate after the news of ratification came from Tennessee. Newspaper descriptions tell of banners waving "gaily," an uproarious crowd, tears of joy, and perhaps relief.
Henry died in 1912 and Farmer spent the last years of her life at a retirement home in St. Paul, where the census lists her as an ‘inmate" (resident). She was remembered for her work in the early days of the movement in Minnesota with these words, "Much of the suffrage sentiment in the state (MN) can be traced to her years of work." Years after her work in Covington another group of women benefited from her ability to work with others wherever she lived; advocacy for the vote; dedication and diligence to the cause; and her eloquence and erudite style of writing and speaking. So, it seems strange that her name is listed neither on the Minnesota Memorial to early women suffragists erected very close to where Farmer had lived on Cedar St. in St. Paul nor in the state by state list of women who worked so hard for the right to vote.
Following her death in St. Paul, Minnesota on 3 October 1924 at age 89, her body was cremated and her ashes taken to Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio where Henry and their son Edmund also rest.
Stuhler, Barabara. Women "Organizing for the Vote: The Women's Suffrage Movement" p. 226. Aby, Anne J., Ed. The North Star State: A Minnesota History Reader. Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul. 2002.
Stuhler, Barbara. Gentle Warriors: Clara Ueland and the Minnesota Struggle for Woman Suffrage. Minnesota Historical Society Press: St. Paul. 1995. Pps.65 and 123.
http://nyx.uky.edu/dips/xt72v6988v00/data/07/1895/20554.pdf Minutes of the Eighth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, 1895
Proceedings of the Twenty-eighth Annual Convention of the National American ...
By National American Woman Suffrage Association. Convention
Correct English and Current Literary Review ..., Volume 5
By Josephine Turck Baker
Saint Paul, Minnesota, Polk City Directory Collection, 1879-80--
The Complete History of the Women's Suffrage Movement in U.S. (Including ...
By Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida Husted Harper, Anna Howard Shaw, Matilda Gage, Susan B. Anthony, Harriot Stanton Blatch & Alice Stone Blackwell
Paul A. Tenkotte, "Our Rich History: Eugenia B. Farmer was a suffragist, early proponent of equal rights in Northern Kentucky," Northern Kentucky Tribune(May 2, 2016)
Knott, Claudia. "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Kentucky, 1879-1920," Ph.D. diss, University of Kentucky, 1989.
Kentucky Equal Rights Association Minutes, 1890-1899.
http://lightnovelgate.com/chapter/the_history_of_woman_suffrage/chapter_664 Mrs. Eugenia B. Farmer mentioned, "For eight years Mrs. Farmer kept press headquarters in the Old Capitol, St. Paul. She added new papers to the list which accepted suffrage matter till it had 500, about all of them, and much of the suffrage sentiment in the State can be traced to her years of work."
www.rulesonline.com/rror-htm #59 Secretary's duties.
How Women Got the Vote
Women's Memorial; St. Paul, MN; Capitol Mall, Cedar Avenue and Martin Luther Blvd
http://people.mnhs.org/finder/census/1529960 Farmer listed on Minnesota census. St. Paul address.
https://www.newspapers.com/clip/22398690/farmer_covington_kentucky/ Farmer quoted.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, 19 Feb 1911, p 15.