Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Elnora M. Babcock, 1852-1934
By Thomas Wirth (lecturer) and Juli Alfano (student)
State University of New York at Cortland
Founder/President, Political Equality Club of Chautauqua County; Superintendent of Press Work, New York State Woman Suffrage Association; Superintendent of National Press Work, National American Woman Suffrage Association
Born in Columbus Township, Pennsylvania on January 11, 1852, Elnora M. Babcock was an influential suffragist and a superintendent of presswork for the American suffrage movement. Babcock graduated from Jamestown High School and the Lyons Musical Academy in western New York. At eighteen, she married John W. Babcock, a graduate of the Jamestown Union School and Collegiate Institute. John entered Cornell University in 1874. After graduation, the couple moved to Silver Creek, New York, where John was appointed principal of Silver Creek Academy. Following a brief stint in Silver Creek, Elnora and John settled in Dunkirk, New York in 1880. John accepted a post as principal of Dunkirk Academy and as a teacher of languages and mathematics. In 1881, he was promoted to superintendent of Dunkirk schools. The Babcocks had two children—Frederick M. and Maude R. Babcock.
Elnora Babcock established herself as a prime mover of women's suffrage in western New York during the late 1880s and 1890s. The region was home to the first political equality clubs in New York State, having received their inspiration from speeches delivered in Jamestown by suffrage pioneers such as Lillie Devereux Blake, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. Babcock formed the Dunkirk Political Equality Club in 1889 and was elected president of the county organization in November 1890. Under her command, the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club grew its membership to over 1,400 women across 25 local chapters. In the early 1890s, Chautauqua boasted the largest county organization in the United States. In Babcock's brief history of the origins of women's political equality clubs in western New York—published in 1904—she located the clubs proudly within Chautauqua's legacy of progressive action, comparing their impact favorably to other charter institutions to emerge from the county, including the Grange, the Chautauqua Assembly, and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
Babcock won re-election as president of the Chautauqua Political Equality Club in October 1893 but declined the position after accepting a post as superintendent of presswork for the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA). Babcock was one of several women from Chautauqua County to ascend to a position within the state organization; others included Kate S. Thompson of Jamestown, treasurer of NYSWSA from 1895 to 1898, Lotta P. Cheney of Jamestown, a state organizer in 1892, and Martha R. Almy, who served in various leadership roles for NYSWSA in the mid-1890s. Babcock earned widespread acclaim for her work as press chair between 1894 and 1899. She demonstrated a singular persistence in the effort to combat anti-suffrage propaganda, launching a counter campaign of pro-suffrage literature in newspapers across the state. In 1896, she estimated that she sent pro-suffrage material to 250 newspapers in New York. Babcock's publicity drive soon attracted the attention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In 1899, she took a position as superintendent of presswork for the national organization.
Over the course of the next seven years, Babcock steadily increased the visibility of the suffrage movement in the American press, disseminating thousands of general articles, special articles, plate matter, personal sketches, and photographs. One of her most important innovations was the establishment of a clippings bureau that was used by the NAWSA press committee to counteract the spread of anti-suffrage publicity. Babcock also skillfully delegated authority to state press chairmen who cultivated ties with local newspapers in locations where the push for enfranchisement had not yet gained traction. In her last year as press chairman, 1906, Babcock reported that 5,000 newspapers in the United States were publishing suffrage material sent by the NAWSA, "and that it was very difficult to respond to all the calls for it."
After leaving her position as NAWSA press superintendent, Babcock continued to fight locally for female political equality. She inspired her daughter, Maude, to join the struggle, and the two women were listed as NAWSA life members in the proceedings of the NAWSA annual convention of 1911.
Elnora Babcock died in 1934 at the age of 82.
- "Elnora M. Babcock, Suffragist, Dead; Organized Feminist Movement in Chautauqua County Under Susan B. Anthony," New York Times, December 30, 1934.
- "John W. Babcock '78," Cornell Alumni News 21 (35) (June 5, 1919), 428.
- Sara Kibbler, "Elnora Monore Babcock," Making Women's History (blog)
-Sara Kibbler, "The Suffrage Writings of Elnora Babcock," July 9, 2018, Making Women's History (blog)
- "Babcock, Mrs. Elnora Monroe," Francis E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, eds., A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Womenin All Walks of Life (Buffalo: Charles Moulton, 1893), 40-41.
- Elnora Monroe Babcock, "Women and Suffrage," The New York Times, May 10, 1903.
- Elnora Monroe Babcock, "Political Equality Movement," in The Centennial History of Chautauqua County, New York (Jamestown, NY: Chautauqua History Company, 1904), 510-519.