Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Janie Turner Saunders, 1877–1960
By Heather M. Kuzma, independent historian
Woman Suffrage Activist
Janie Turner was born in Webb, Mississippi, about March 18, 1877. Her mother, Maggie Turner Webb, was also born in Mississippi; her father, Thomas W. Turner, was born in Virginia. On March 3, 1904, Janie Turner married Benjamin Franklin Saunders, a planter and businessman from Charleston, Mississippi. The couple lived on their farm in Swan Lake, Mississippi. A photograph of Benjamin and Janie Saunders can be found on their passport application from 1924.
Saunders was an active member of several women's organizations, including the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Mississippi Federation of Women's Clubs. She was a founding member of her UDC chapter and served in several leadership roles. It was her involvement with the Mississippi Federation of Women's Clubs that led to her participation in the Suffrage Movement. In 1912, the president of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association suggested that other state organizations of women be invited to unite with the suffrage association. The Mississippi Federation of Women's Clubs, a strong and popular organization, was a desirable ally. In 1917, this collaboration was realized. As a member of the Federation, Saunders was already a supporter of woman suffrage, but she became a leader in the movement in 1919. That year, Saunders was finishing a term as president of the Federation. During its annual meeting, a resolution was passed in support of the ratification of the Federal Suffrage Amendment. At the same meeting, having no annual meeting of their own, the suffragists met to create a committee supporting ratification. Saunders accepted the role of chairman for this newly created committee. As chairman, Saunders wrote several articles that were published in newspapers throughout Mississippi. These articles urged public support of woman suffrage. In a December 1919 statement published by several Mississippi newspapers, Saunders wrote:
"We feel sure that the Legislators of Mississippi are fair minded on this and all questions and they will want women to enjoy full citizenship. Nor will they think it necessary for them to win it by the hard work of a state campaign . . . and so will vote for the ratification of the Federal Suffrage Amendment."
Saunders continued to rally support until the amendment was ratified.
After ratification, Saunders continued working for women's rights. She was a founding member of the Mississippi League of Women Voters and eventually served as president of the organization. As president, she wrote articles on women's issues in local newspapers. In 1922, The Columbus Dispatch printed Saunders' thoughts on equal pay: "The principle of equal work for equal pay is so clearly a matter of justice that one would expect to find it in every enlightened community. . . . The only explanation is custom—bad custom." Just like suffrage, Saunders saw equal pay as an important right to which women were entitled.
Saunders's husband died January 6, 1941, and she remarried on May 6, 1944. Her second husband, E.C. Ham, was a physician living in Memphis, Tennessee. Following the marriage, Saunders moved to Memphis, where she passed away in July 1960 after a long illness.
Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. IV (1883-1900) Rochester, N.Y., 1902. [LINK]
"As to the Suffrage Amendment." The Aberdeen Weekly (Aberdeen, Miss.), Dec. 26, 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86074011/1919-12-26/ed-1/seq-1/>
"Avent Oaks Scene of Interesting Wedding." The Greenwood Commonwealth (Greenwood, Miss.), May 6, 1944. Ancestry.com.
"Ben F. Saunders Claimed by Death." The Greenwood Commonwealth (Greenwood, Miss.), January 7, 1941, p. 1. www.newspapers.com.
"Equal Pay for Men and Women." The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Miss.), Feb. 8, 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065031/1922-02-08/ed-1/seq-8/>
"Mrs. Janie Turner Saunders." The Tallahatchie Herald (Charleston, Miss.), April 15, 1915. Ancestry.com.
"Mrs. Saunders Issues a Card On Suffrage." The Starkville News (Starkville, Miss.), Dec. 19, 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065612/1919-12-19/ed-1/seq-7/>
"Our Women are Not Militants." Greenwood Daily Commonwealth (Greenwood, Miss.), April 16, 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065131/1920-04-16/ed-1/seq-1/>
"Saunders-Turner." The Democratic-Herald (Charleston, Miss.), March 10, 1904. Ancestry.com.
The Sumner Sentinel (Sumner, Miss.), Aug. 4, 1960. Ancestry.com.
"To Form League of Women Voters." Greenwood Daily Commonwealth (Greenwood, Miss.), March 23, 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065131/1920-03-23/ed-1/seq-2/>
U.S. Passport Applications, 1795–1925 [database online]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.
"Women are Urged to Pay Poll Tax." The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Miss.), Jan. 29, 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065031/1922-01-29/ed-1/seq-4/>
Year: 1880; Census Place: Tallahatchie, Mississippi; Roll: 665; Page: 84C; Enumeration District: 107.
Year: 1900; Census Place: Beat 5, Tallahatchie, Mississippi; Page: 44; Enumeration District: 0060.
Year: 1910; Census Place: Beat 4, Tallahatchie, Mississippi; Roll: T624_760; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 0077; FHL microfilm: 1374773.
Year: 1920; Census Place: Beat 4, Tallahatchie, Mississippi; Roll: T625_895; Page: 44A; Enumeration District: 83.
Year: 1925; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897–1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3637; Line: 17; Page Number: 137, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820–1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Year: 1930; Census Place: Beat 5, Tallahatchie, Mississippi; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0024.