Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Katherine Livingston Eagan, 1852-1933
By Nancy Cole, retired librarian
Katherine Livingston was born March 18, 1852, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Her parents, Edward Bayard Livingston and Phoebe Curtis Livingston, were both from Lowville, New York, and returned there to live when Katherine was seven.
A few years later, due to her father's appointment to the New York Custom House, they moved to Brooklyn. Katherine enrolled in the Packer Institute and graduated from there.
She married Dennis Eagan in December 1873, and they moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Eagan, born in Ireland and a veteran of the Union army during the Civil War, had lived in Florida for some time -- “since the carpet bag days,” as one news article described his residence. Dennis had been a Florida state senator for six years and at the time of their marriage was Florida Commissioner of Lands and Immigration.
Katherine and Dennis had four children. Their two sons both died young, Livingston at 6 years old and Dennis, Jr., at 23. Their daughters were Elizabeth and May.
Dennis was a leader of the state Republican Party and in 1896 was described as “the most influential Republican politician in Florida.” He was appointed to various federal posts and was the Jacksonville postmaster when he died suddenly in 1902. Katherine then divided her time between Jacksonville and Washington, D.C. (where her married daughter Elizabeth lived), with some international travel and frequent visits to Lowville, New York, where she had spent much of her childhood.
One of Katherine's earliest civic activities was the formation in 1896 of the first Florida chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The chapter in Jacksonville was later named for her. At that time, the DAR was a prominent civic organization. At the 1902 DAR Congress in Washington, D.C., at which Katherine as state regent was a delegate, New York state alone had 75 chapters with the largest in New York City having 410 members.
In 1897, she was a founding member of the Jacksonville Woman's Club. While the most influential organization in Jacksonville at this time was the male-only Board of Trade, most of the social reforms of the decade were initiated by the Woman's Club. A 1911 Jacksonville Times Union editorial rated the Woman's Club “first among organizations in Jacksonville” as it “does the most to shape the character of the city – morally, educationally, esthetically.”
More than half the members of both the Board of Trade and the Woman's Club were listed in the Social Register. At the turn of the century, however, Jacksonville's population was majority black “with power and wealth...centered in a relatively small white elite,” according to James B. Crooks, writing in The Florida Historical Quarterly.
Katherine was active in many civic issues at the turn of the century, including as a founding vice-president of the Home for Aged Women Association in May 1899.
Although there was no woman suffrage group in Florida at the time, Katherine attended the February 1902 First International Woman Suffrage Conference called by the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C. She was asked to write her opinion of the suffragists, which appeared in The Tampa Tribune in an article she titled: “Bright Women at Close Range.” She wrote, “I have changed my opinions very materially and cannot help thinking that the world would be much better if there were more broadminded women in the country that have a purpose in life that is not entirely selfish.”
She described the moving reception given to Susan B. Anthony on her 82nd birthday and reported that “Miss Anthony said to me one day that Florida is the only State under the Stars and Stripes that has never done anything for this cause, and I have promised if I can find women courageous enough, mentally, to stand the ridicule that comes to all new ventures, that I will do my share to get them interested in the suffrage cause.”
It was ten years later, in June 1912, when Katherine and a group of women called an organizing meeting in Jacksonville to form the Equal Franchise League. In announcing the meeting, TheOcala Evening Star expressed confidence that the group would “increase rapidly as there are hundreds in Jacksonville who have given the subject of woman suffrage great study.” At that meeting Katherine was elected temporary president, and a week later they held their first public meeting.
Katherine called that gathering to order, and The Lakeland Evening Telegram quoted extensively from her talk. She described her experience of trying to organize the Woman's Club fifteen years before with “fear and trembling of the criticism” that would result. After false starts of inviting women to her house to form the club, the three consistent attendees sent out one hundred postcards anonymously because “not one of us wanted to stand sponsor for the movement.” Fifty women attended and the club was finally formed.
“In woman's suffrage,” she continued, “one of the most quoted and most abused figures of speech is ‘Woman's place is in the home.' And I am sorry to say that many women quote this as glibly as the men themselves, without even understanding what the home means.” She went on, “A woman who has discipline and executive ability and can manage her children with love and firmness would take an interest in all children. Women who are free to look on life with their own eyes, think their own thoughts, who live in a real world of struggling, suffering humanity, are the most effective mothers who ever lived.”
She also spoke of women who “have no homes; that have to go out and earn their bread, and often that of their children. Conditions have changed from the day when women and girls were sheltered and provided for in the home. With the high cost of living many women are forced to help bear the burdens of the family, and while the father encourages and gladly takes what they earn, it is his voice that joins in the cry, ‘Woman's place is in the home.' It would be humorous if it were not a tragedy.”
The following month the League held its first regular monthly meeting and elected Katherine as president. They established goals, including to advance the rights of women, promote civic improvements, and secure “equal franchise by appropriate state and national legislation.” The subheading in The Tampa Times reporting on the meeting promised “Jacksonville Suffragettes to Show the Way—Will Organize the State.”
When Jeannette Rankin, at that time national field secretary of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association, headed a delegation of suffragists to the state capital in Tallahassee in April 1913, The Tampa Morning Tribune headlined their report, “Suffs Come with Winning Smiles.” The story began, “Not of the London militant type but with winning persuasive ways did the army of suffragists descend upon Tallahassee this week.” The article also explained that the national organization's state auxiliary, the Florida Equal Franchise League, was “ably aided by Mrs. Katherine Livingston Eagan, who has been getting considerable mention by reason of her suffrage activities.”
Near the end of 1913, The Miami News reported that the vice-president of the League, Mrs. Roselle Cooley, was then the “acting” League president.
Although the League affiliated with the National Association and was a suffrage society, they avoided using the term in their name, and they made little effort to expand their activities beyond Jacksonville. There were soon several other groups in Florida linked to the national organization but there was little cooperation among them. A group of women issued a call for a statewide convention in November 1913. The Jacksonville League was part of the call but no one from their group attended the convention and so chose not to be part of the statewide group.
In January 1916, the Jacksonville League elected officers, including Katherine as third vice-president. Later that month they held another special meeting to hear from the president of the state Association. At that meeting the Jacksonville League members agreed to affiliate with the state Association and to pay it a per capita tax. In turn, they were allowed to send delegates to the statewide annual meeting the following month. The League also agreed to drop Florida from its name becoming the Jacksonville Equal Franchise League. Katherine was one of the delegates elected to attend the state conference.
Katherine is mentioned in 1917 news reports as part of suffrage delegations to lobby elected officials. After that there are no further reports on her women's rights activity. Katherine died June 20, 1933 at her daughter's country home in Hopewell, New Jersey. A brief obituary in The New York Times described her as a “sponsor of many altruistic and patriotic undertakings.”
Crooks, James B. (1984). “Changing Face of Jacksonville, Florida: 1900-1910.” The Florida Historical Quarterly, 62(4), 439-63.
”Daughters in Town: Delegates to Annual Congress of Patriotic Women.” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 1902 February 17, p. 13.
Davis, Thomas Frederick (1925). History of Jacksonville, Florida, and Vicinity, 1513 to 1924. Jacksonville, FL: Florida Historical Society.
“Equal Franchise League Elected Officers Tues. Mrs. S. Dial, President.” The Miami News (Florida), 1916 January 14, p. 11.
“Florida Women After Ballot: Equal Suffrage League Is Formed: Jacksonville Suffragettes to Show the Way-Will Organize the State.” The Tampa Times (Florida), 1912 July 10, p. 5.
“How the Woman's Club Organized in Jacksonville.” The Lakeland Evening Telegram (Florida), 1912 June 27, p. 3.
“Interesting Article by Prominent Florida Lady.” The Tampa Tribune (Florida), 1902 March 30, p. 12. (Includes Katherine Livingston Eagan, ”Bright Women at Close Range.”)
“Lady from Ocala Will Be a Suffragette Leader.” The Ocala Evening Star (Florida), 1912 June 21.
“Miss Safford Addressed Suffrage Workers.” The Orlando Sentinel (Florida), 1916 January 26, p. 5.
“Mrs. Dennis Eagan.” The New York Times, 1933 June 22, p. 19.
“Mrs. Katharine Livingston Eagan, D.A.R. of Jacksonville, Florida.” (1894). Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, 4, 307-08.
Obituary. The Palatka News and Advertiser (Florida), 1902 June 19.
“Suffs Come with Winning Smiles: Try for Florida With Persuasiveness.” The Tampa Morning Tribune (Florida), 1913 April 25.
Taylor, A. Elizabeth. (1957). The Woman Suffrage Movement in Florida. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 36(1), 42-60.
“They Are Willing to Straddle: Florida Republicans Indorse McKinley's Lack of Financial Views.” The New York Times, 1896 May 25, p. 3.