Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920

Biography of Anna Rose Lowenburg, 1879-1966

By Brooke Ali, independent historian

Suffragist, artist

Anna Lowenburg was born Anna Rose Braunstein in Russia on 11 April 1879. Her parents, Nathan Braunstein and Freda Chevias, emigrated their family, including Anna's sister Eva and her five brothers, Isaac, Jacob, Philip, Samuel Meyer, and Harry, to America in the mid or late 1880s. They settled in Bridgeton, New Jersey, where Nathan began a successful furniture store called N. Braunstein & Sons.

In 1899, at the age of 20, Anna lived in Coatesville, PA with her brother, Isaac, and his wife and daughter. While living in Pennsylvania, Anna met Harry A Lowenburg, a 20 year old pediatrician in Philadelphia. Harry had been born in Philadelphia to German parents, Jacob Lowenburg and Henrietta Lebach. Anna and Harry became close and on 3 March 1903 they were married in Philadelphia. Their first child, Henrietta Burr Lowenburg, was born 8 December 1907 and their second, Harry Lowenburg, Junior was born on 11 October 1911.

Tragically, Anna's father died suddenly on 17 November 1902. He had long been troubled by asthma and that night, after returning home from a game of pinochle with friends, he suffered a severe asthma attack and passed away before the doctor arrived. Anna's mother never recovered from the shock and grief of losing her husband so suddenly. The family hired a nurse to take care of her; she had long suffered from physical illness as well as the depression caused by Nathan's death. On the night of 6 July 1905, after her nurse had fallen asleep, Freda, whom her family had thought was too ill to walk, left her house on East Main St in Millville, New Jersey and walked to the Main Street Bridge. A policeman tried to stop her but was not able to reach her before she jumped off the bridge into the Maurice River. Her body was recovered the following morning. Losing both parents so suddenly and tragically, just three years apart, was a serious shock to Anna and her whole family.

Anna threw herself into her role as a doctor's wife and a member of the “Philadelphia Hebrew social set” as one Philadelphia newspaper put it, participating in fundraising events like the Hebrew Charity Ball, which raised money for the Jewish Seaside Home for Invalids. She soon found a way to help her community on a broader scale, and in 1911 she became the chairman of the Pennsylvania American Woman Suffrage Association and participated in a number of suffragist activities. In March 1911 she attended a hearing in which pro- and anti-suffrage speakers were given time to argue their cases to the legislature. The following year, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) held its forty-fourth annual convention, hosting 400 delegates and another 6000 supporters from all 48 states. A major public event of this convention involved an automobile procession from Witherspoon Hall to Independence Square. The group was welcomed by Mayor Blackenburg, who expressed his sincere support for women's suffrage and his confidence that “When you want a thing and you are right you are sure to get it.” Finally, a declaration of women's rights was read at Independence Hall. Following in style the Declaration of Independence, it indicted men on the same principles as King George III, that of taxation without representation.

Anna Lowenburg came to know Alice Paul as a result of the 1912 NAWSA Convention and became one of the first contributors to Paul's efforts in Washington, which began in 1913. In February of 1913, Anna participated in a pilgrimage hike to Washington. Led by “General” Rosalie Jones, suffragists marched in army fashion, including crossing the Delaware in symbolic recreation of General George Washington's march. At one point, the group was mobbed by anti-suffragists, mostly men, who rushed at them shouting insults and, ultimately, had to be physically restrained by police. However, as they hiked spectators joined their ranks, including many men, so that by the time they reached their destination they numbered almost as many men as women. This hike was part of a lead-up to the Alice Paul-organized first national suffrage procession on 3 March 1913. 200 members of the Woman's Suffrage Party from Philadelphia and around Pennsylvania plus 5,000 other suffragists paraded through Washington to draw attention to their need for the vote. They gained attention from the event by hosting their parade the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson. Pennsylvania also sent a float in the shape of the Liberty Bell. Anna's position in the parade was that of chief marshal of the Keystone State (i.e. Pennsylvania) delegation, where she led a group of women representing various professions, including factory workers, physicians, stenographers, and bookkeepers from all over the state.

In 1913 Anna was made chairman of the state finance committee of the Pennsylvania Woman's Suffrage Association. During the summers, she led or participated in a number of open-air gatherings to make speeches supporting women's suffrage to the public. During one memorable instance, she was heckled by a street preacher who went by the lofty name of “St. Elmo,” who called her a “false prophet” and a “Philistine” and only left after Anna engaged the help of two police officers. She also returned to New Jersey to represent Philadelphia in a march in Atlantic City.27 Back in Pennsylvania, she manned the booth of the Pennsylvania Woman's Suffrage Association at the Allentown Fair to spread awareness and answer questions. She gave talks to unions, including the Typographical Union of Philadelphia, on the importance of women's suffrage and how successful it had already proved to be in the 9 states that had already granted it.

Harry Lowenburg travelled often to attend and speak at medical conferences and seminars, which led him to be in Germany in July of 1914 when the first World War broke out. Many suffragists protested against the war in Europe, including Anna who was worried about her husband's potentially perilous trip home. Anna travelled to New Jersey to preside over several “Woman and War” rallies on behalf of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. On 31 January 1915 the Equal Franchise Society held a “War Against War” public meeting at the Garrick Theatre in Philadelphia, and on 7 February they held a peace meeting at the Palace Theatre in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. At these meetings, the tragic effects of war on women and children were stressed, as well as the importance of equal rights and representation for women at a time when decisions about their health and safety were being made without their input.

When it was announced that President Wilson would be attending the swearing in ceremony of 4,000 newly naturalized citizens in Philadelphia's Convention Hall in May 1915, a delegation of suffragists travelled to the White house to petition Wilson to include a short meeting with women's suffrage groups in his itinerary. Wilson sent a note declining the offer, as well as refusing to meet with the delegation who had travelled to Washington. Anna, now on the board of directors of the Equal Franchise Association, and her colleague Dora Kelly (Mrs. Lawrence) Lewis, of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, refused to leave without having an audience with the president. They stayed at his office for two days before going home to Philadelphia, pledging to continue their petition for the president's time when he reached their city. They wished to point out the hypocrisy that the right to vote was being given to thousands of foreign-born citizens, while simultaneously being denied American-born women. The president continued to excuse his inability to see the women based on his full schedule, but the women later found out that he had spent the remainder of his time golfing at a local golf course.

Suffragists in several states had legislation for public referenda on 2 November 1915 to give New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania citizens the chance to decide on woman suffrage. Or course, only men were eligible to vote in these referenda, so suffragists stepped up their efforts to win over the voting public. They handed out literature on street corners and in office buildings and gave open-air speeches in public areas. Anna was a member of the “brush and paint squad” that pasted walls with posters calling for a vote in women's favor. President Wilson declared in October that he planned to vote in favor of woman's suffrage in his home state of New Jersey. However, despite even presidential support in their cause, the vote for women's franchise failed, in all three states. As a result, many NAWSA leaders began to think about focusing on a suffrage constitutional amendment, a strategy already the centerpiece of Alice Paul’s efforts. The amendment came to be known as the “Susan B Anthony amendment.”

In December 1915, the Congressional Union for Women's Suffrage (CU) organized their annual convention to take place in Washington so that they could present President Wilson with a petition “too long to be unrolled” of signatures supporting the Susan B Anthony amendment. This time, Wilson did agree to meet with them, a delegation that included women of the suffragist society, including Anna, Army and Navy servicemen, and supportive members of Congress. However, if President Wilson hoped to appease the suffragists with a statement of support and a meeting, he was soon to learn otherwise. Within a year, the suffragists were getting frustrated with his apparent lack of action; they wanted him to be more proactive in urging Congress to pass the suffrage amendment. When Wilson delivered his opening address to Congress on 5 December 1916, as he spoke of the need for Puerto Rican suffrage, Anna and four of her suffragist colleagues, who were sitting in the balcony, unfurled a banner that read, “Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?” The banner caused quite a stir among the people in the spectator boxes. A young page was lifted up from below to pull the banner down and a group of police officers converged on the women to make sure they didn't perform any more acts of protest, although they did not detain or evict them. This protest became a national sensation and was carried for several days in newspapers all over the country. Anna continued to work for the cause with the CU, later the National Woman’s Party, until the 19th Amendment was ratified on 26 August 1920.

In June of 1921 Anna and Harry divorced. With the success of her work for woman suffrage achieved, Anne took their children, Henrietta and Harry, and travelled the world. The family spent time living in Italy, Germany, France, and Africa, before returning to the United States. Anna gave talks about her travels to various clubs and organizations, where she presented lantern slides and items she had acquired abroad. In 1933 she opened a gallery, that she called Little Museum, on Mechanic Street, New Hope, Pennsylvania, where she could permanently display her international collections to the public. She also became the proprietor of the Garden Tavern, located on the same street, and lived in the apartment above.

On 26 November 1934, Anna was the victim of a robbery. Three young men entered the tavern around 9:00 that night and ordered a round of drinks. Anna was alone in the tavern at the time. After quickly finishing the drinks, the men cut the telephone lines, then bound and gagged her and placed her in an adjoining room. They then made their way upstairs to her apartment and stole approximately $1000 worth of jewelry, including a bracelet that had once been owned by French actress Sarah Bernhardt. They also emptied the cash register of the tavern, adding $25 to their spoils, before leaving the building without untying her. She managed to free herself and make it to a neighbour's home where they called the police. Three suspects were later apprehended in Lambertville, New Jersey, but Anna was unable to identify them in a line up. A few weeks later, at a second police line up, Anna identified a man she believed to be the leader of the trio, Frank Proscyjnocki. At some point after this incident she opened up a new establishment, called the Old Forge Inn, on Old York Rd, Abington.

Although the fight for the vote was over, Anna couldn't shake the mantle of civic involvement. In 1941 she was nominated for the position of president of the Craftworkers Auxiliary. She was also chairman of Units for Unity Program of Fellowship House in Philadelphia in 1951.

When Anna retired she moved to Charleston, West Virginia and took up painting with the same drive and determination as she had done everything else in her life. In 1960, at the age of 81, she began showing her work in galleries, including Village Gallery in Kanawha City, the Charleston Art Gallery, West Virginia State College art gallery, and Charleston Community Centre, where she was honoured with Painting of the Month in July 1964 for her piece entitled “The Loved One.” Her work was in the abstract expressionist style, favouring pastels and water colour, and she became known for her use of colour and ability to express emotion in her painting. She also taught painting and gave a lecture on art history at New York's Metropolitan Museum. Her support of the arts extended to theatre. She played a small role in Clare Boothe's play “The Women,” alongside her daughter who played Mrs. Morehouse in the play. The performance was sponsored by the Ladies' Auxiliary of B'nai Jacob Synagogue. After her theatrical debut, she maintained a more behind the scenes position in the local theatre community, including as a judge in the Kanawha Players “Oscars.”

Anna passed away 15 March 1966 at the age of 86. The following year, her many friends in the art community organized the Anna Lowenburg Memorial Exhibit, showing 38 of her paintings at the Sunrise Foundation. Henrietta later donated 32 of her mother's paintings to the Kanawha Public Library.

Sources

Much of Anna's life was recorded in newspapers, particularly Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, and Charleston Daily Mail. Her marriage and divorce from Harry Lowenburg were found through their marriage affidavit and passport application forms.

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