Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Anna May Soule, 1859-1905
By Izzy Baird, student, Mt. Holyoke College
Anna May Soule was born in Port Huron, Michigan, on September 5, 1859, to Harrison Soule and Mary Parker Soule. Harrison Soule was a major for the Sixth Michigan Heavy Artillery during the Civil War, and later the treasurer of the University of Michigan. Anna May Soule died in Marion, Ohio on March 17, 1905. As a child, Soule experienced a disjointed education, attending a public school in Jackson, Michigan, a Catholic School in Canada, then, after a period of illness, the Ypsilanti State Normal School. After two years studying History and Constitutional Law at the University of Michigan, Soule left the university to become a teacher. She taught for three years each at the Minnesota State Normal School and the Ypsilanti State Normal School. She then returned to the University of Michigan to complete her bachelor's degree in 1894 and a master's degree in 1895. At the University of Michigan, Soule was an active member of the Women's League, and helped raise funds to establish a women's gym.
In 1896 Anna May Soule began teaching History and Political Economy at Mount Holyoke College. At Mount Holyoke, she emphasized equity and social justice both inside and outside of the classroom. For example, she required her political economy students to visit a local factory and report on labor conditions. Soule's dedication to workers' rights inspired some of her students, including Frances Perkins, to pursue careers in labor relations. Additionally, Soule was acutely aware of the impact of education on overarching social issues. In an article from 1900, Soule advocated for an expansion of the United States History curriculum at Mount Holyoke College in order to train good citizens who would raise and educate the next generation of Americans. As such, Soule believed in the necessity of civic education for women because of their dual responsibility as citizens and educators.
Soule's correspondence with the National American Woman Suffrage Association further demonstrates her knowledge of the importance of education to promote women's rights. In a letter exchanged between Anna May Soule and Susan B. Anthony, the two discussed the need to teach young women about the suffrage movement. This communication demonstrates a mutual understanding of the power of historical education to promote contemporary social change. At Soule's memorial service, Mary Wooley, the president of Mount Holyoke College, encapsulated Soule's understanding of her role as both an educator and an activist: "questions industrial, social, economic were never to her purely academic; they were living problems, as vital to the individual student as personal interest could be." Thus, Soule's passion for social justice fundamentally influenced her teaching, so that her two distinct roles-- that of an educator and of an activist-- intertwined.
Anna May Soule Papers. Archives and Special Collections, Mount Holyoke College. South Hadley, Massachusetts.
"Major Harrison Soule." University of Michigan Faculty History Project. 2011.
"Her Life: The Woman Behind the New Deal." Frances Perkins Center. 2016.
Letter, Susan B. Anthony to Anna May Soule, 14 Jan. 1901, accessible online at https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hatlas/suffrage/letter.html.