Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Esther Gracie Ogden, 1866-1956
By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian
Esther Gracie Ogden, born on April 19, 1866, was the most notable suffragist in her family. She was the second of four children born to Dayton Ogden and Esther Gracie. On her mother's side, she was a descendant of the well known Gracie family of New York. She was the great-granddaughter of Archibald Gracie (1755-1829), a Scottish merchant whose home is now the New York City Mayor's residence. Her mother's cousin, Archibald Gracie IV (1858-1912), survived the sinking of the Titanic. On her father's side, she was a descendant of Aaron Ogden (1756-1839) who was: a staff officer of the New Jersey Brigade, a captain of a light infantry company under Lafayette during the Revolutionary War, a prominent lawyer, and a New Jersey Governor (1812). Ancestor, John Ogden (1640-1682), was a prominent citizen of Elizabethtown, NJ was known as “The Pilgrim”.
Esther and her siblings: Elizabeth Gracie, Dayton Jr., and Archibald Gracie, grew up in Elizabeth, N.J. Her father Dayton was a lawyer by trade and attended Burlington College. She attended the School of Social Work from 1908-1909 and Columbia University from 1909-1910. In 1897, her occupation was listed in as “clerk.” By 1914 she was working full time at the National Women's Publishing Company and moved to New York City in 1917.
In 1912 she joined the suffrage movement and by 1913 she was president of one of the two suffrage leagues in Elizabeth, N.J. One, named the Elizabeth Suffrage League, stated that its purpose “was to educate its own members that they may now be intelligent suffragists and later intelligent voters.” The members set up booths, gave speeches, and distributed suffragist literature at local meetings and events. At the July 1915 meeting of the executive board of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, she gave a speech titled “The Importance of Canvassing Every Vote,” and was elected the chair of the Literature Committee. In 1916 she did field work in Colorado and California trying to interest women in holding demonstrations and conventions. She enthusiastically spoke about the suffragist automobile tour across the country made by Alice Snitzer Burke and Neil Richardson saying, “They set out to make a circuit of the United States with the same determination that we all have set out to win our enfranchisement and they will not give up until the circuit is made.” At the September 1916 NAWSA convention, she was elected third vice-president. She attended the Republican National Convention in Chicago as a New Jersey delegate in 1916. Sometime in 1917 she moved to New York City and continued her suffrage work from there. She was elected to the board of directors of NAWSA in 1916-1917 and 1919-1920.
She was most interested in assisting the suffrage movement by publishing suffrage literature. By 1914, Miss Ogden had joined the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company (NWSPC) as the Treasurer and was its President from 1916-1920. NWSPC was a company established to publish and distribute suffrage literature. She wrote about the NWSPC saying, “We exist for two purposes- to serve the suffrage cause throughout the country and to prove that we can serve that cause and also develop a successful business.” In addition to supplying suffrage literature across the United States, it also sent materials to Great Britain, Canada, South America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. During the 1915 New Jersey referendum campaign, she was the chairman of the New Jersey Suffrage Press Committee which was affiliated with the Committee of One Hundred. The Press Committee “sent out plate matter to the country papers, as well as news bulletins and telegraphic stories; put advertising cards in the trolleys and cars of the Hudson Tunnels System; paid for illuminated signs and street banners for several cities, and for a quantity of newspaper advertising.” In addition to supplying printed fliers, leaflets, books, posters, and suffrage maps across the United States, the NWSPC also produced playing cards, stationary, calendars, postcards, and parasols printed with “Votes for Women”. During the New York campaign of 1917, NWSPC published and distributed over 10,000,000 pieces of suffragist material for that state alone. It was said that NWSPC, “journals provided ways to keep members informed, to offer them arguments to use in their own work, and to reinforce their sense of purpose and progress.” In 1920, the NWSPC was dissolved after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. At the Victory Convention in 1920, Miss Ogden reported that the company had printed and distributed 50 million pieces of suffrage literature that had gone to almost every state as well as many countries overseas. A complete set of its publications is housed in the American Library in Rome.
After woman suffrage became law, Miss Ogden utilized her organizing skills to promote democracy, serving in official capacities with many political and social justice organizations. She was Vice Chairman of the Women's Bureau for the Democratic National Convention in 1920 and Assistant Secretary at the 1924 convention. She became Membership Secretary and the general Secretary of the Foreign Policy Association in 1921, its Managing Editor in 1923, and was a member of the Board of Directors until 1937. Additionally, she was a member of the board of trustees of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and of the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War. In 1935 she was a delegate to the Women's International Congress in Istanbul.
In a 1940 letter to one of her nieces she wrote, “As you know my tiny part in the struggle for woman suffrage covered only the last eight years 1912-1920, but they are the years of my long life which to me were the most worthwhile. I often think of how you as a very little girl used to ride in my Model T Ford adorned with Votes for Women pennants. It added much to the satisfaction I felt in being a cog in the campaign machinery that we were working for something for you when you should come of age. Now (Thanks be!) the struggle is an old story and woman suffrage is a matter of course in this country but I want you girls to have this record.”
After a long illness she died at home in New York City on January 13, 1956. She remained single her entire life and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, NY.
Ida H. Harper, ed., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 [LINK]
Mary Ritter Beard, Florence Woolston, The Woman Voter- Volume 7-8, (New York: Women's Suffrage Publishing of New York City, 1916)
Delight W. Dodyk, Education and Agitation: The Woman Suffrage Movement of New Jersey, (unpub. dissertation, Rutgers University, 1997), pp. 672-74.
Wendy B. Sharer, Vote and Voice: Women's Organizations and Political Literacy, 1915-1930 (Carbondale, IL, Southern Illinois University Press, 2007), pp. 28-29.
Kenneth Florey, Women's Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2013), p. 226. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0786472936
Emily Newell Blair, Bridging Two Eras: Autobiography of Emil Newell Blair, 1877-1951 (Columbia, MO., University of Missouri Press, 1999), p. 165. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0826260926
William Ogden Wheeler, The Ogden Family in America, Elizabethtown Branch (Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott, 1907), pp. 28-31, 374. https://books.google.com/books?id=L3JVAAAAMAAJ
Institute for Research in Biographies, Who's Who Among Association Executives, 1935 (New York, Institute for Research in Biographies Incorporated, 1935), p. 403. https://books.google.com/books?id=dXJkAAAAMAAJ
“Colored Suffrage Society Organized at Cranford,” Daily Home News, June 19, 1913, p. 7.
“Suffrage Workers From all over the State Coming to New Brunswick Friday,” Daily Home News, January 1, 1915, p. 2.
“Esther G. Ogden, Suffragist Dies: Former Secretary of Foreign Policy Association Served Woodrow Wilson Group,” New York Times, January 15, 1956, p. 92.
Timothy Abbott- personal blog with entries on family member Esther Gracie Ogden http://greensleeves.typepad.com/berkshires
Find a Grave- www.findagrave.com
- NJ State Census, 1895
- Federal Census: 1870, 1880
- US Cities & Directories, 1822-1995
Mrs. Esther Ogden (center) of the women's division of the National Democratic Headquarters explaining ballot to Miss Louise Foote (left) and Mrs. J.C. Taylor at Grand Central – from Getty Images Plahttps://www.google.com/search?q=Miss+Esther+Ogden&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwigz_qh6Y7YAhVp54MKHXvmCYg4ChD8BQgLKAI&biw=1252&bih=562&dpr=1.09#imgrc=qvRJlckz3130DM:za
Picture of the 1916 officers of NAWSA from the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society
Picture of Esther Gracie Ogden courtesy of Timothy Abbott (from personal photographs)
Photograph of article about Esther Gracie Ogden from personal collection of Timothy Abbott
Photo of 1916 printed literature from the NWSPC under the direction of Esther Gracie Ogden from the Indiana University-Purdue University digital archives https://archives.iupui.edu/bitstream/handle/2450/926/mss60-8.pdf?sequence=1