Biographical Sketch of Charlotte Rhodus

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Charlotte Rhodus, 1872 – 1948

By Chad Leitch, Brittany Borowski, and Shelby Hummel, BA students, and Monica Burney, MA Student, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois

President, Woman's Party of Cook County

Charlotte Catherine Christ was born on July 7, 1872, in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, to William and Charlotte Christ. She married Thomas Nelson Rhodus III on October 3, 1895. They had three sons: William, Thomas, and Richard Rhodus. In the 1940 census she was listed as married and living Chicago, Illinois. She died later that decade on November 26, 1948.

Charlotte Rhodus was an integral figure in the movement for women's rights in the Chicago area. Early on, she was an extremely vocal and active member of the Women's Party. However, in 1912, she came to believe that the organization was being run arbitrarily, and she went to Springfield to register a second organization known as the Woman's Party of Cook County with the intention of ousting the original party's leader, Myra Strawn Hartshorn. However, following a very vocal and public discussion between the two organizations, which the Cleveland Plain Dealer labeled a “riot,” Rhodus and her followers were removed from the original organization and continued on under the name of the Woman's Party of Cook County.

Rhodus was very active as the leader of the Woman's Party of Cook County and advocated for many causes. Newspapers throughout the country covered the activities of Rhodus and her organization. The Salt Lake Telegram, for one, reported on her support for sex education for not only women but men as well. However, above all, Rhodus championed both improved voting practices and the right of women to vote. Rhodus successfully petitioned to have illegal names removed from the voting register. Additionally, she worked to improve voting conditions: the Dallas Morning News reported on a protest that Rhodus led to stop people from smoking and spitting on the floors at polling booths. Rhodus led the Woman's Party of Cook County in a large parade for suffrage on May 2, 1914. The parade was well-received, garnering praise from the mayor of Chicago Carter Harrison Jr.

In addition to parades, Rhodus employed multiple—sometimes inflammatory—tactics to advocate for women's suffrage. She also participated in a telephone brigade to petition the Speaker of the Illinois State House of Representatives to bring the bill on women's suffrage to a vote rather than allow a third reading of it. A cadre of women called the Speaker every fifteen minutes for three days straight from Saturday to Monday and sent him a deluge of letters so when he returned to Springfield on Tuesday morning, he announced that it would be brought to final action on June 11.

Additionally, the Chicago Tribune reported on an incident in which Rhodus narrowly avoided arrest after attempting to force an election judge to allow a woman full voting privileges. The woman in question had previously had full voting privileges in Colorado, and Rhodus argued that not giving her full voting privileges would be unconstitutional because it would deny her the privileges she enjoyed in another state. She continued to make her claim even as the election judge threatened to call the police. Rhodus was also very vocal in her opposition to anti-suffrage movements and was once joined in her opposition by the wife of former United States President William Howard Taft.

Sources:

“Suffragists Riot till Police Come,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 25, 1912

“The Warning!,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 28, 1916

“Illinois Women Seek Reform,” Dallas Morning News, December 22, 1913

“Suffragists Win Victory Illegal Names Erased,” Anaconda Standard, February 15, 1914

“The Greatest Suffrage Day,” The Suffragist, May 9, 1914

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Gage, Harriot Stanton Blatch, and Ida H. Harper, The History of Women's Suffrage, vol. 6 [LINK]

“Mrs. Taft Stirs Anger,” The Oregonian, April 26, 1914

“Women Try to Vote,” Chicago Tribune, November 9, 1910

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