Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Frances Matilda Abbott, 1857-1939
Lila M. Teeters
Ph.D. candidate, University of New Hampshire
Frances Matilda Abbott was born in Concord, NH on August 18, 1857. Raised by her parents John Abbott and Matilda Brooks, Abbott became an avid writer. She began her publishing career as a teenager and filed regular contributions with local and national newspapers until her death on September 21, 1939. Her connections to the press lent considerable support to the New Hampshire College Equal Suffrage League and Concord Equal Suffrage Association.
Abbott graduated from Concord High School in 1875 and Vassar College in 1881. According to her Boston Globe obituary, her Vassar degree made her the first female Concord resident to complete higher education. Upon graduation, Abbott returned to the Concord area, where she would live for the rest of her life. Abbott's family, which included two brothers, had strong ties to the area, and her father served as the city's mayor six times.
Abbott soon made a name for herself in literary circles. Her articles could be found in local presses, like The Granite Monthly, regional ones, like New England Magazine, and national ones, like Cosmopolitan and Forum. Many of her articles focused on assuaging social anxiety aimed at the "new woman." In a contribution to Popular Science Monthly, for example, Abbott assured her readers that data "disprove the statement that spinsterhood is encouraged by college education." "The constantly increasing army of working women of culture and social ability," wrote Abbott in a piece for The North American Review, "is compelling readjustments in our ways of thinking and forms of living."
Part of Abbott's personal charge was to chart the societal "readjustments" initiated by college-educated women. At least two pieces, "The Pay of College Women" and "A Generation of College Women," used national platforms to document the paths pursued by college-educated women after graduation.
In addition to her serial work, Abbott published numerous books, including Birds and Flowers about Concord (1906) and The Simple Single (1909). She also contributed a chapter, entitled "Domestic Customs and Social Life," to the History of Concord.
According to One Thousand New Hampshire Notables, Abbott was an "active suffragist since 1897." She belonged to the Concord Equal Suffrage Club and the New Hampshire Equal Suffrage Association, serving as press agent (1913-1915) and leader of the Suffrage Headquarters in Concord (1914-1915) for the latter. On May 9, 1913, Abbott participated in a celebrated debate against Mrs. Albertus T. Dudley, president of the State's Society Opposed to Woman Suffrage.
Her contributions to both organizations occurred largely in print, engaging in debates about the social outcome of suffrage. Works such as "The Changing Home" (written in response to the question "Will the progress of Woman Break Up the Home?") and "A Comparative View of the Woman Suffrage Movement" assured her readers that change may be disquieting but it should not be feared. Nor would change be stopped, according to Abbott, and her works emphasized a continual flow towards progress. This is perhaps best captured in a poem, published by Abbott in The Granite Monthly:
Dame Partington sate in her easy chair,
On the edge of the Suffrage sea;
She said: ‘My home is all my care;
Now wherefore troublest thou me?'
But the sea it rose and rose again.
"Get out," said old Dame P.;
‘This is my home, my sacred home,
Besides I'm a great An-tee!"
But the sea came on in a mighty swell;
"I must get my mop," said she.
The white-capped waves were topped with votes.
"Go back and sit down 'way from me."
She plied her mop, but the votes came in;
"Oh, where am I at?" cried she!
The sea then spake, as it buried her deep,
"Way back in the last century!"
Combining her work in genealogy and publishing, Abbott helped compile the New Hampshire entry in the 1922 History of Woman Suffrage published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Beyond suffrage, Abbott was a dedicated member of numerous clubs: including Concord's Stratford Shakespearean Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Boston Branch of Vassar Alumnae Association, and the Association of College Alumnae.
Biographical information for Frances Matilda Abbott can be found through Ancestry.com's digitized New Hampshire, Births and Christenings Index, 1714-1904 and Death and Disinterment Records, 1754-1947. Abbott is also the subject of a short biographical sketch in Henry Harrison Metcalf, ed., One Thousand New Hampshire Notables: Brief Biographical Sketches of New Hampshire Men and Women, Native or Resident, Prominent in Public, Professional, Business, Educational, Fraternal or Benevolent Work (Concord, NH: Rumford Printing Company, 1919), 365. Abbott is credited as an assistant to the compilation of this work. Another sketch can be found in Henry Harrison Metcalf, ed., New Hampshire Women: A Collection of Portraits and Biographical Sketchesof Daughters and Residents of the Granite State, Who are Worthy Representatives of Their Sex in the Various Walks and Conditions of Life (Concord, NH: The New Hampshire Publishing Co., 1895), 177. Abbott is again credited as an assistant. For information related to Abbott's participation in the 1913 debate, see Ida Husted Harper, ed., History of Woman Suffrage, vol 6 (1900-1920) (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), 415. Abbott was prolific, but the following bibliography contains citations for her most commonly cited works: "A Generation of College Women," Forum Nov 1895, 377-384; "The Pay of College Women," The North American Review 163, no. 478 (Sept. 1896): 337-344; "A Comparative View of the Woman Suffrage Movement," The North American Review 166, no. 495 (Feb. 1898): 142-151; "The Changing Home," Boston Sunday Globe, Aug. 18, 1912, 40. The poem included here is "The Suffrage Sea," The Granite Monthly 48, no. 7 (July 1916): 220. Frances Matlida Abbott (One Thousand NH Notables )