Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Jessie H. Childs, 1867-?
By Donna Greene, independent historian
On Feb. 14, 1915, The New York Times published six full pages under the heading: "Should Women Vote in New York State?" The extraordinary section consisted of negative and – sadly—positive responses to its editorial against women's suffrage that had run just a week before. One of those whose byline appeared over a column and a half was Jessie H. Childs, a published novelist who at that time was treasurer of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association.
Born in 1867 in Connecticut, Jessie was the daughter of Samuel H. and Amanda L. Hopkins. The family lived in New London. On Nov. 21, 1888, at the age of 21, she married Edward M. Childs. The couple was living in Columbus, Ohio by the time of the birth of their child, Sterry (a/k/a Stevy in some documents) Hunt Childs on Sept. 24, 1890. (The son has an interesting history: He was arrested in 1933 for embezzlement, found guilty and sent to state prison until 1939. He had three children, all of whom were dead by 1999.)
Edward, Jessie and Sterry moved to Brooklyn by 1900. The family resided in Manhattan in 1910. Edward worked in some capacity for the Finishing Cotton House Company, according to Census documents, which also say his occupation was in a laundry. By 1940 Jessie was widowed and living with Sterry and his wife and their children.
Mrs. Child's step-by-step journey to the women's suffrage movement is not well documented, but her unconventional (feminist leaning?) thinking can certainly be inferred from her novel, published in 1909, The Sea of Matrimony. (It was released as a silent movie in 1916 and released again in 2015 by Forgotten Books. It was also digitized by Google and is available free.)
In its review published Jan. 30, 1910, The Buffalo Courier said it could "scarcely commend it" to anyone about to get married, as "most of them would never attempt the trip if conditions as described in this story prevail among the married set." The novel, said the reviewer, is filled with husbands and wives in love with others, no one interested in being "faithful." While some of the incidents described are realistic, "books like this do no possible good." The reviewer wondered why a writer of such talent would find any satisfaction "in writing a story of this sort."
In the History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6, the report for New York State indicates that in October 1913 Mrs. Childs was elected treasurer of the New York Woman Suffrage Association.
The relationship between women and men – sometimes certainly in marriage -- is again a theme touched on in Mrs. Childs's letter to the editor in response to the New York Times 1915 editorial against women's suffrage.
Here are just a few excerpts from her piece published with the headline "Answers Seriatim. Mrs. Childs Replies to Point by Point of Editorial":
STATEMENT: "It is repugnant to instincts that strike their roots deep in the order of nature."
REPLY: These instincts are of the same nature of those that required the burning of Hindu widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands, and that kept women in Oriental harems."
STATEMENT: "Runs counter to human reason"
REPLY: The writer evidentially confuses human reason with his own peculiar method of reasoning
STATEMENT: "Flouts the teaching of experience"
REPLY: The fact that women are voting in so many countries and have done so for years and the results have been quite as good and often considerably better than in places where men vote alone, evidentially teaches the writer, by experience, nothing.
This writer could not determine when Mrs. Childs died.
Childs, Jessie H. "Answers Seriatim: Mrs. Childs Responds to Point after Point of Editorial," 14 Feb. 1914, p. XX4.
Ancestry.com for checking birth, marriage, and census records. Federal Manuscript Censuses, 1900, 1910, and 1940