Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Jennie Ellen Knight Brown, 1856-1907
By Natasha Thoreson, PhD, Historic Site Manager, City of Plymouth, MN.
Officer, Luverne, MN, Political Equality Club; Officer, Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association; Executive Board, National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Jennie Ellen Knight was born February 27, 1856 in Fairfield, Wisconsin to parents Joseph Knight and Mary Aseneth Bailey. The family moved to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin shortly after her birth and, in 1871, moved again to Luverne, Minnesota. Jennie married George Henry Olds (1846-1882) on May 5, 1874. The couple had two children: Charles S. Olds and Alice A. Olds. Jennie remarried in 1884, two years after George's death, to Edward A. Brown (1858-1944). Edward was active in local government and was elected as the first mayor of the City of Luverne in 1904. The couple had four children: Florence A. Brown, Edward W. Brown, Susan K. Brown, and Marion E. Brown. Jennie Brown died on August 16, 1907. Upon her passing, the Rock County Herald reported: "No other woman in the county was so well known or so universally admired. Possessed of rare intellectual attainments and a spirit of progressiveness that lead [sic] her to take an active part in promoting the welfare and improvement of the city, her death is looked upon and mourned by all as a personal loss."
Jennie Brown was a member of the Luverne Political Equality Club from, at least, 1898 and was elected an officer at least once, serving as vice president in 1905. An auxiliary to the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA), the Luverne Political Equality Club was organized in 1893 with the help of NAWSA leader Laura M. Johns. Johns toured Minnesota in that year, helping to establish Clubs in Wabasha, Le Roy, Waterville, Heron Lake, Ellsworth, Marshall, Fergus Falls, and Breckinridge.
Serving as treasurer in 1898 and 1899, vice president in 1901 and 1902, and officer in 1905, Jennie Brown was also an active member of the MWSA. She was a member of the committee on resolutions in 1898 and 1901 and a member of the committee of credentials in 1901. She attended all State conventions from 1898 to 1905 and was a speaker in 1899, 1900 ("A Suffragist in Europe"), 1902 ("The International Conference"), 1903, 1904, and 1905 (a review of the Portland convention). In 1904, her lecture, featuring a "strong plea for those who were in sympathy with the suffrage movement to make it known," was singled out by the St. Paul Globe, the Minneapolis Tribune, and the Minneapolis Journal.
The MWSA appointed Jennie Brown a delegate to the NAWSA's conventions in 1901 and 1902. In 1903, she was chosen to represent Minnesota as a member of the NAWSA's executive board, a position the Rock County Herald claimed she still held at the time of her death. According to the Herald, Jennie was also involved with the Luverne Tourist Club, the Luverne Public Library board, the City Improvement League, and the Ladies' Cemetery Association.
According to the Rock County Herald, the women of Luverne were considered "especially active" in the fight for suffrage. Led by Jennie Brown, then a member of the national executive board of the NAWSA, the Luverne Political Equality Club participated in a "vigorous" protest against the proposed Statehood Bill of 1904 (H.R. 14749). In December 1904, the Herald printed the NAWSA's circular calling for an amendment to the Bill's language, which prohibited suffrage in the planned states of Oklahoma and Arizona based on "illiteracy, minority, sex, conviction of felony, mental condition or residence." While the women were concerned that the language would prohibit the future enfranchisement of women in the new states, they also took offense to the idea that women were "classed with the illiterate and the criminal." Of the protest, the Herald noted: "It is probable that no other piece of National legislature has ever aroused in Luverne the interest that is shown in the outcome of the Statehood bill and for this reason the approaching session of congress is looked forward to by the women of Luverne in particular, with the keenest interest." The Bill eventually failed.
United States Census, 1870, FamilySearch, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MN94-KGL, accessed 14 September 2018; Minnesota Marriages, 1849-1950, Family Search, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FDXM-NX9, accessed 14 September 2018; "Suffragists in Session: State Convention of the Minnesota Association Being Held at Stillwater," St. Paul Globe, October 12, 1900; "In a Broad Field: Woman's Suffrage Association Reviews Its Work and Plans," Minneapolis Tribune, October 13, 1900; "They Voted To-Day: State Suffragists at Mankato Elect Their Officers," Minneapolis Journal, October 25, 1901; "The Southwest Corner: Club Women of This Section Will Meet in Luverne," Minneapolis Journal, April 8, 1902; "Their Chance to Vote: Woman Suffragists Elect Officers for Ensuing Year," St. Paul Globe, June 5, 1902; "A Suffrage Convention: Annual Meeting Honored by Presence of Dr. Anna Shaw and Gail Laughlin," Minneapolis Journal, September 29, 1903; "Believes in Improving Small Opportunities: Mrs. Little Gives Advice to the Female Suffragists of Minnesota," St. Paul Globe, October 6, 1904; Untitled clipping, Rock County Herald, November 18, 1904; "Against Statehood Bill: Protest Filed by Women," Rock County Herald, December 2, 1904; "What Members of Local Clubs Are Doing: Woman's Suffrage Convention," Minneapolis Journal, November 12, 1905; "Death Summons Mrs. E. A. Brown Friday Evening, Casting Gloom Over Entire City," Rock County Herald, August 23, 1907; Minnesota Deaths and Burials, 1835-1990, Family Search, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FDZ7-W5S, accessed 14 September 2018.
Caption: Photo of Jennie Ellen Knight Brown, officer of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association.
Credit: "What Members of Local Clubs Are Doing: Woman's Suffrage Convention," Minneapolis Journal, November 12, 1905.