Biographical Sketch of Rose Ann Billington

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Rose Ann Billington, 1858 – 1942

By Judith Pissano, MLIS, Branch Manager of the Gloucester County Library System

Known as the mother of the New Jersey suffrage movement and member of the Democratic National Committee, Rose Ann Billington, née McVey, was born on October 29, 1858 in Bootle, England. Rose Ann had nine brothers and sisters. Her parents were Hugh McVey, a boot maker, and Margaret Johnson, both from Ireland.

On August 20, 1879, Miss McVey married James Joseph Billington, Sr. at St. Francis Xavier R.C. Church in Everton, in Liverpool, England. The ceremony was witnessed by Robert Hodge and Annie Billington, James's younger sister. Together the couple had 10 children, five sons and five daughters. Their first child, Elizabeth C. (aka Lillian) Billington was born in August, 1881, in Bolton, Lancashire, England. The couple arrived in the United States some time in 1882 and settled in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her husband worked as a building contractor and later as the Hudson County Boulevard commissioner.

Although Mrs. Billington was the mother of ten, she divided her spare time between charitable and political work. She was a member of the St. Theresa Society, a Catholic welfare group in Jersey City. She was also an ardent suffragist; one newspaper account noted her presence in the gallery of New Jersey State Assembly in February 1915 when it unanimously approved an Equal Suffrage Amendment. After the passage of the 19th Amendment, she attended numerous meetings of the Democratic National Committee, national conventions, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's three inaugurations. Some of her other political activities included:

  • appointment as a member of the Democratic National Committee from New Jersey by Mayor Frank Hague in 1920. She served on the committee until her death in 1942.
  • support for repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited intoxicating liquors. In 1931, she was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "I am in hearty cooperation with Mr. Raskob, and approve his methods," referring to Democratic Chairman John Roskob's letter recommending the amendment's repeal. The letter urged the committee to focus on economic issues and that prohibition should be subordinated or avoided as an issue.
  • voting in favor of the two-thirds rule during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The "crowning point of her career" came when Mrs. Billington met with President Woodrow Wilson. After "receiving an urgent phone call from Washington, where a group of New Jersey woman ran into difficulties while picketing the White House," she took a train to D.C and arranged to meet the president through his secretary, fellow New Jerseyite, Joseph P. Tumulty, Before seeing the president, Mrs. Billington urged her fellow suffragists "to take off their paraphernalia and act in a manner more becoming to their sex." Upon meeting President Wilson, she reminded him of the statement he made in favor of woman suffrage while he was governor of New Jersey. The next day President Wilson urged the Senate to pass the Nineteenth Amendment.

Rose Ann Billington died at home on October 12, 1942 at the age of 83, after a year-long illness. She was survived by her husband and nine of her children. Her son Stanley Billington had died three years before. Once asked how a woman could convince men, she said, "Speak softly, wear feminine clothes, and don't challenge them with arguments, but reason gently."

Sources

"Suffrage Wins in House 58 to 0," The Courier-News (Bridgewater, NJ), 2 February 1915, p. 1.

Freeman, Jo. A Room at a Time (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000), pp. 149-52.

Gordon, Felice D. After Winning: The Legacy of the New Jersey Suffragists, 1920-1947 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986), pp. 81-83, 96-97, 100-101, 160-63.

"Defections Sharpen Contest Over Rule," The New York Times, June 27, 1932.

"Democrats Voice Ideas on Wet Plank," The New York Times, April 8, 1931.

"Mrs. Billington, Long a Suffragist, Member of the Democratic National Committee from New Jersey Dies at 83," The New York Times, October 13, 1942.

"Republicans Urge Repeal in Jersey," The New York Times, June 1, 1932.

Ancestry.com:

  • Federal Census of 1920, 1930
  • New Jersey State Census, 1895, 1905
  • Manchester, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754 – 1930
  • England Census, 1881
  • U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s – Current

 

Photograph of Mrs. James Billington taken from obituary in the October 13, 1942 issue of The New York Times.

"Mrs. Billington, Long A Suffragist; Member of the Democratic National Committee From New Jersey Dies at 83. Her Plea To Wilson Won, President Urged Senate Day Later to Vote Approval of Suffrage Amendment." The New York Times https://nyti.ms/1ikfPhQ

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