Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Anna M. Uthman (Mrs. J.W.) Putts, 1870-1940
By Maggie van Munching, undergraduate, University of Maryland, College Park
Anna M. Putts, also referred to as Mrs. J.W. Putts, was born in Mississippi during March 1870 to parents from Tennessee. She married her first husband and had a daughter, Thekla Uthman, born in 1892, while living in Texas. Anna Uthman made her way to Maryland, where she met and married John William Putts in 1895. J.W. Putts was a widower with two children. He founded the J.W. Putts Company, which owned many department stores in the greater Baltimore area. The couple was very wealthy and known for being rather charitable.
Unfortunately, J.W. Putts passed away at age 58 in 1910 from heart trouble. The silver lining in his death was that Putts' wealth allowed Anna Putts to continue their legacy and remain a charitable woman. According to Baltimore: Its History and Its People, she was known for having a "gracious personality." When her husband died, she "endowed a bed in the Children's Fresh Air Society in memory" of her late husband. For her many works of charity, she was "known to the needy of the city as a friend of all unfortunates." She clearly made an impact on the people of Baltimore and stood up for those who could not help themselves.
During the 1910s, Anna Putts promoted woman suffrage efforts through the Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore. She served as an active member of this local group during the later years of the suffrage push.
Anna Putts was an advocate for the development of a vocational school for girls in Baltimore. At that point in time, Baltimore only had one for boys. Her interest in education did not stop there: Putts was the first women on the Board of Managers for schools in Baltimore; more importantly, due to the recently passed right to vote, Putts was the first woman to be able to hold a position in a public office. After her swearing in, Mayor Broening congratulated Putts to which she replied, "I highly appreciate it," and in response he declared, "Then you are a suffragist." This exchange was covered in The Baltimore Sun; it was a powerful moment because it showed that a man who held a high-power position believed that Putts truly fought for her cause.
Anna Putts was an advocate for the furthering of girls' education. It is clear from each article or story written about Mrs. Putts that she was a strong and independent woman who stood up for what she believed in; therefore, it is no surprise that she was involved in the suffragist movement. Putts was involved in the fight for women's rights. She fought so that she could hold office just like any man could, and she won. Anna M. Putts did not let anyone or anything hold her back because she knew it was important to further women's roles in the United States.
Anna M. Putts's death date has been estimated to be around 1940. She can be traced in the Cumberland Evening Times on June 7, 1937, as serving on a school board for the Montrose School for girls.
"A Large Reception: Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Putts at Their Beautiful Home, on West Lanvale Street." The Baltimore Sun. February 14, 1896, p.8. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Hall, Clayton Colman, ed. Baltimore: Its History and Its People. Vol. 3, Baltimore: Biography. New York: Lewis Historical, 1912, p. 584.
Ida Husted Harper, ed. "Maryland." Chapter XIX in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
"Mr. J.W. Putts Dead: Well-Known Merchant Expires at Home From Heart." The Baltimore Sun. February 6, 1910, p. 12. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
"School Survey at Once Is Advocated Mayor: Joint Meeting of Board." The Baltimore Sun. August 19, 1920, p.18. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
United States Census 1900, s.v. "Anna M. Putts, Baltimore." HeritageQuest.
United States Census 1910, s.v. "Thekla Uthman, b. Texas." HeritageQuest.
"Vocational School for Girls Planned: Commissioners Considering" The Baltimore Sun. April 22, 1923, p.4. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
The Quest to Find Mrs. J.W. Putts: Reflection Essay
by Maggie van Munching
Attempting to shine a light on the life of an everyday suffragist was very eye opening for me. When we first got the assignment, I thought it was going to be as simple as typing the words "J.W. Putts" and "Baltimore" into Google and coming up with hundreds of results; I expected Mrs. Putts would show up in many sources, especially once I discovered her charitable work and association with the suffragist movement. Surprisingly however, this was not the case. When I was first given the name, I typed it into my search engine and came up with only two pieces of information: Mrs. Putts was on the board of a vocational school for girls, and a company that shared her last name had burned down in 1904. I was really at a loss and had no idea how to continue with such bleak information. I searched more about the fire but that only led me to more about what the J.W. Putts company was (a chain of department stores), and the fact that a lawsuit had been filed by one of their employees for an accident that occurred while he was working; even the court case did not mention who Mr. and Mrs. Putts were.
It was not until our class meeting with Titchie Carandang-Tiongson and Erwin Tiongson that I realized where I was going wrong: looking back at it, I never really thought about what time period this woman lived in. She did her charitable work at a time when women were often overshadowed by their husbands. I did not think about the fact that I could have been given the name of this woman's husband, something the Tiongsons realized in their search for Sofia Reyes De Veyra. Unfortunately, my new discovery confirmed that this was her husband's name, but it did not lead me to more information. When I put in "Mr. J.W. Putts," I was only finding information about his company and the Great Fire of 1904. There was nothing about his wife or who she really was.
This particular discovery really made me think about women and our history. Before the mid 20th century, women were often just "homemakers." They were expected to tend to the house and children and not given the opportunity to pursue a career (unless it was something considered appropriate for a woman, like secretary, nurse or seamstress). As we could see, women were overshadowed by men, especially if they were married to them. The fact that I had to find Mrs. Putts through her husband was quite upsetting to me. After learning more about her passion and drive, I would think a woman like this would stand out on the strength of her own accomplishments. But without her husband's influence, she would not have even gotten the three sentences in the book about Baltimore, or the position on the education board. Because of her husband's vast wealth, Mrs. J.W. Putts was able to insert herself in with those who had power. Hosting events like housewarming – for her very large home - parties and inviting those with power helped Mrs. Putts create relationships with influential people.
Fortunately for me, I sought help from both Professor Enoch and Katie, and that is where my entire search took a turn. With their help, I received a lot of valuable information from Baltimore's local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun. It was from this source that I learned more about who Mr. J.W. Putts was from reading his obituary. I learned more about his second wife – my suffragist – A.M. Uthman of Dallas Texas. Finally, I had information about Mrs. J.W. Putts that set her apart from her husband and really made her an individual. When I typed "A.M. Uthman" into my Google search I got a new hit! This time I was led to a book from the 1990s called Baltimore: Its History and Its People. One chapter was about Mr. J.W. Putt and who he was as a person. I learned that he was a very charitable man who was referred to as "one of those merchants who have gained for Baltimore her reputation for fair dealing and honorable methods" (Hall 584). From this description it is no surprise that A.M. Uthman was so attracted to a man who wanted to give back to those who needed it. Sadly, Mr. Putts died at the young age of 58 in 1910, which left his wife to continue the couple's legacy. It was in this book that I learned more about who Mrs. J.W. Putts was. It was also here that I realized how it is so hard to find out about women from this time period unless they were from – or married into – families with immense affluence. Unless you had money as a woman, it was much harder to make a difference in the world, especially the political world.
Earlier this semester, we read an article by Alice Walker that spoke about Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Hurston was a literary genius of her time, but because she is a woman, she is not often spoken about; in fact, this article talked about the fact that her gravestone was not even marked. For women like Hurston and Putts, it was extremely difficult to leave a lasting mark on society; one you would be remembered for.
Overall, it was very upsetting to me that I could not find an abundance of information on such a significant woman. She did not care about the boundaries set for women in the early 1900s, she just wanted to fight for her cause. The only mention of her being involve in the suffrage movement came from The Baltimore Sun and declared that she had been given the first position of public office in America. In the article, it also said that she was even called a "suffragist" by the Mayor of Baltimore. Unfortunately, however, there is not record of her involvement in marches or anything along those lines. It also saddened me that I was able to find more about her husband clearly because he was a man. Lastly, the only way to get to her was through her husband even though she deserved so much more than that. From working on this project, I learned something ironic: It can be hard to learn about a suffragist unless you know who her husband was.
Essay Works Cited
Hall, Clayton Colman, ed. Baltimore: Its History and Its People. Vol. 3, Baltimore: Biography. New York: Lewis Historical, 1912.