Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Leila Peirce Andrews, 1868-1946
By Amy Ramos Lopez, Undergraduate Student, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI
President, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party; Chairman, Rhode Island League of Women Voters
Leila Peirce Andrews was born on June 9, 1868 in North Providence, Rhode Island to Albert L. Andrews, a real estate broker, and Sarah (Metcalf) Andrews, a homemaker. Andrews lived in North Providence her entire life and remained a single woman. She worked as a broker in the family's real estate business and owned numerous properties on which she earned rental income. In the late 1910s, as a middle-aged woman, Andrews joined the woman suffrage movement as a member of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party.
Andrews was a leading member of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party by 1919, serving as its membership chairman. On July 17, 1919, a delegation of leading suffragists from the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association and the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party met with Governor Livingston Beeckman to persuade him to support a special legislative session to ratify the woman suffrage amendment. Andrews and Mabel Orgelman, another party member, represented the organization at this important meeting. Beeckman informed the suffragists at the meeting that he would support the special session they requested. In addition to meeting with the governor, Andrews was active in lobbying other Rhode Island politicians on the woman suffrage amendment. She and a couple other Woman Suffrage Party members met with Isaac Gill, a powerful local politician whom The New York Times referred to as the "reputed dictator of Rhode Island Elections." They met with him to gain his support for the special suffrage session and he agreed to back their efforts.
Andrews helped support the woman suffrage cause by lobbying both high-profile politicians and ordinary Americans. Although the woman suffrage constitutional amendment had not been ratified yet, the Rhode Island Legislature had approved voting rights for women in presidential elections in 1917. While working toward full suffrage for women, Andrews and her colleague Mabel Orgelman gave speeches to and met with women's organizations across the state urging women to register to vote in 1919. In addition to her local activism, Andrews traveled to New York with Orgelman and Madeline Cass in 1919, Woman Suffrage Party members, to meet with Carrie Chapman Catt, chairman of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and Will Hays, national chairman of the Republican committee.
Leila Andrews was at the center of a major controversy in the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party in November 1919. At the organization's annual meeting, the membership elected Andrews chairman of the organization, ousting Sara M. Algeo, the Woman Suffrage Party's founder and long-time leader. The specific details of the conflict are unclear, but reports in The Providence Journal use words such as "bitter contest," "insurgents," "overthrow," and "protracted debate" to describe it. The Journal referred to the election as "a contest between the old and the new elements of the organization" with the "insurgents" backing Andrews and winning control of the organization.
As the suffrage ratification battle was heating up both nationally and in Rhode Island in 1919, Andrews was concerned about the influence of political parties on the process. She was worried that the suffrage cause would be damaged if it became too closely associated with any particular political party. Andrews firmly believed that a non-partisan political approach was the best way to achieve woman suffrage and led efforts in Rhode Island to create an independent women's organization, which ultimately became the Rhode Island League of Women Voters. She wanted the new organization to avoid political divisions and fight for reform causes that she thought most American women supported. She explained that, "There are many things in the national programme of women voters for which we shall strive. Our influence will be thrown toward the accomplishment of these things. But if a new broom is to sweep clean, it must be a usable, effective broom. This is to be accomplished best, I believe, by staying away from the established party organizations and holding our influence to be used in all its power on those things that most demand our attention...[I]ndependence of action should be our watchword. Certainly non-partisanship is best till woman has sensed her new power, which means until she is better informed on the issues and methods of work." She conceded that eventually an "independent organization should expect to throw its whole weight in favor of the party and candidates it prefers."
Andrews served as chairman of the new League of Women Voters in 1919 and she embarked on a campaign to introduce to Rhode Islanders to the goals of the organization. She stressed its non-partisan nature and support for maternalist social reform, based on the idea that women voters were more nurturing and conscientious about the good of the community than men. In a letter to The Providence Journal, she explained, "It is to be expected that women will divide as Republicans, Democrats, Socialists and Prohibitionists, but there are certain things which all intelligent women want, irrespective of party. The League of Women Voters will enable them to bring united pressure to get them. These things are for the country's good. All women wish to see illiteracy wiped out and child welfare promoted." She hoped that woman suffrage would help end political divisions and machine politics in the country. She tried to assure male voters that they had nothing to fear from the League of Women Voters, that "the league does not intend to become a woman's party—arrayed against the men." Andrews also used non-partisanship as a political strategy to accomplish the ratification of the woman suffrage amendment, stating, "We beseech the women to refrain from joining the political parties, at least, until they have shown their sincerity by granting to us the complete extension of the franchise."
With her involvement with the League of Women Voters in Rhode Island, Andrews was helping construct plans for women's activity after suffrage was achieved. In February 1920, Andrews and other leading Rhode Island suffragists attended NAWSA's annual convention in Chicago. The convention was intended to celebrate the ratification of the suffrage amendment, mark the transition of the national organization to the League of Women Voters, and set goals and strategies for continued activism.
As chairman of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, Andrews stressed the importance of women's responsibilities for citizenship and good government. She assured the public that "new women voters are taking their duty seriously" and supported educational programs to help educate women about government and political issues and gave speeches on topics such as "New Civic Duties for Women." The Woman Citizen recognized the hard work of Leila Andrews and Mabel Orgelman on behalf of the League of Women Voters, reporting that, "Miss Andrews and Miss Orgelman have been especially successful in organizing new Leagues of Women Voters throughout the state and making addresses on the work of the League." Andrews retired as chairman of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters at the end of 1920 and was replaced by her close colleague, Mabel Orgelman. The membership elected Andrews honorary chairman at that time.
After stepping down as chairman of the League of Women Voters in 1920, Andrews withdrew from political activism in the state. She died in her North Providence home on September 25, 1946. Leila P. Andrews was a prominent leader in the Rhode Island suffrage movement, particularly in the critical years right before and after ratification of the constitutional amendment. Despite this prominence, Andrews is given scant discussion in the Rhode Island chapter of The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6. She appears in one sentence that reads, "This year Miss Leila P. Andrews was elected president of the Woman Suffrage Party." Sara M. Algeo wrote the Rhode Island history of NAWSA suffrage activism in the book and had a bitter feud with Andrews, having been voted out as president of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party in favor of Andrews in 1919. Algeo's conflict with Andrews likely explains her limited presence in The History of Woman Suffrage.
"Leila P. Andrews," The Providence Journal, November 6, 1919
"Half a Century with Rhode Island Suffragists," The Providence Sunday Journal, August 29, 1920.
Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]
Acts and Resolves Passed by the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at the January Session, A.D. 1920 (Providence: E. L. Freeman Company, Printers, 1920), 920.
"Governor Unmoved by Women's Pleas," The Providence Daily Journal, September 30, 1919.
Leila P. Andrews, "Women Voters Urged to Retain Their Independence," The Providence Sunday Journal, August 3, 1919.
"Beeckman Favors Suffrage Session," The Providence Daily Journal, July 18, 1919.
"Coventry's Woman's Club," The Providence Sunday Journal, February 22, 1920.
"Half a Century with Rhode Island Suffragists," The Providence Sunday Journal, August 29, 1920.
"Leila P. Andrews," The Providence Journal, November 6, 1919.
"Local Delegates to Victory Convention, " The Providence Sunday Journal, February 8, 1920.
"Special Session Decision Expected To-Day," The Providence Daily Journal, July 21, 1919.
"Suffragists Renew Ratification Fight," The Providence Journal, September 24, 1919.
"The Political Sisterhood Lines Up," The Providence Sunday Journal, July 20, 1919.
"Organization News," The Woman Citizen Vol. 4, No. 25 (January 10, 1920): 707.
"Rhode Island," The Woman Citizen Vol. 4, No. 20 (December 6, 1919): 531-32.
"Rhode Island's Lead," The Woman Citizen Vol. 4, No. 25 (January 10, 1920): 710.