Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Esther H. Abelson, 1889-1970
By Scott Beattie, Melisa Erdal, Anya Lamarre Anderson, Dan Le, Brian Wang, Jacob Wang, High School Students, Westford Academy, Westford MA.
Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party co-founder and field organizer
Esther H. Schultz was born to Louis and Jennie Schultz, Russian Jewish immigrants, on July 20, 1889, in Revere, Massachusetts. Her father worked as a junk dealer and construction worker and the family had nine children. On October 26, 1911, she married Samuel Max Abelson, and they settled in Pawtucket, RI. Samuel Abelson was a Russian immigrant and Boston University-educated lawyer, who was active in Republican Party politics. The Abelsons lived in Rhode Island until 1925 when they moved back to Massachusetts, first to Newton and then to Boston, where Samuel Abelson died in 1940.
Esther Abelson joined the Progressive Party in 1912. Sara M. Algeo, a Rhode Island suffrage leader, claimed in her memoir that Abelson became interested in woman suffrage cause through her involvement in the Progressive Party. In 1913, Abelson became a founding member of the Rhode Island Suffrage Party, a suffrage organization that grew out of and later merged with the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association in 1915. In the Suffrage Party, Abelson served as field organizer, in charge of finding, training, and scheduling volunteers. Abelson also raised money and attention for the suffrage cause by selling subscriptions to the Woman's Journal, a NAWSA suffrage publication. Abelson represented Rhode Island at the national suffrage convention of 1913 in Washington D.C. At the convention, Abelson's role selling the Woman's Journal brought her national attention, as a photograph of her selling copies of the Journal was published in newspapers across the country, including The New York Times.
In Rhode Island, Abelson participated in a variety of activities to support the woman suffrage cause. She served as a chairman of the suffrage bazaar to raise money for the organization in 1913. In 1915, Abelson chaired a committee of Woman Suffrage Party members to organize demonstrations “for the spread of the women-vote propaganda on Labor Day.” Also in 1915, Abelson served as chairman of the nominating committee for the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association. In her most unusual contribution, Abelson acted in a performance of the play “War Brides” as a fundraiser for the Woman Suffrage Party.
Abelson explained the difficulties facing suffrage organizers at a 1913 meeting of the Rhode Island Suffrage Party. The Providence Daily Journal reported that Abelson said that she “had not met with the encouragement she had hoped for, but in very determined fashion, she avowed her purpose to keep at it until she met success.” She also emphasized the importance of reaching out to Jewish Americans about woman suffrage, “to rouse the Jewish contingent from its extreme indifference.”
In addition to her commitment to woman suffrage, Abelson was active in other political and social causes. She and her husband helped start a Jewish organization, the Star Social and Literary Association, to promote sociability and the intellectual advancement of its members. She was a founding member of the People's Forum, an organization dedicated to “public debates and discussions...of all vital questions affecting human welfare...and the complete development of fundamental democracy and free government in America.”
In 1920, Abelson had her only child, a son named Nathaniel O. Abelson. Her son later graduated from Andover Academy and Yale University and became a map librarian for the United Nations in New York. Esther Abelson died from a heart attack in her home in New York City on June 25, 1970. Abelson's obituary in The New York Times heralded her as “an early leader in the suffragette movement in Rhode Island.”
“Leaders in Suffrage Convention at Washington, Asbury Park Press, December 8, 1913.
“Women at the Suffrage Convention in Washington.” The New York Times, December 14, 1913
Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925).
“Leaders in Suffrage Convention at Washington, Asbury Park Press, December 8, 1913. “Women at the Suffrage Convention in Washington.” The New York Times, December 14, 1913.
“Woman Suffrage Clubs Affiliate,” The Providence Daily Journal, June 11, 1915.
“Suffragists Plan Big Meeting,” The Providence Daily Journal, April 19, 1913.
“R.I. Suffragettes Plan Labor Day Demonstration,” The Providence Journal, August 25, 1915.
“Woman Suffrage Party Opens Three Day Sale,” The Providence Daily Journal, December 17, 1913.
“To Present ‘War Brides',” The Providence Daily Journal, February 8, 1917.
“1930 United States Federal Census.” Ancestry.com
“Marriage Record for Esther Schultz and Samuel Abelson,” Ancestry.com
“Mrs. S. Max Abelson,” The New York Times, June 27, 1970.
“Mrs. E. Abelson, Women's Vote Activist, Dies,” The Providence Journal, June 29, 1970.