Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Julia Burnelle “Bernie” Smade Babcock, 1868-1962
By Kaye Lundgren, Archival Assistant, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Center for Arkansas History and Culture
Liaison, International Organization of Women; Honor Roll recipient, National American Woman Suffrage Association; first Arkansas woman to be included in Authors and Writers Who's Who; founder of the Arkansas Museum of Natural History; founding member of the Arkansas Historical Society; first president of the Arkansas chapter of the National League of American Pen Women.
In 1868, Julia Burnelle “Bernie” Smade was born the first of six children to Hiram Norton and Charlotte “Lottie” Elizabeth Burnelle Smade in Unionville, Ohio. Coincidentally in this same year, Arkansas started its long march to women's suffrage when Miles Ledford Langley of Clark County proposed women's enfranchisement at the Arkansas Constitutional Convention.
Babcock's parents moved from Unionville, Ohio, and settled in Russellville, Arkansas, when Bernie was three years old. No doubt unconventional for rural Arkansas, Babcock was exposed to opinions from her Ohio parents as they “encouraged her free spirit and creativity.” Babcock's mother, Lottie, embodied this sentiment as founder of the Pope County chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a chapter of the national organization created in 1874 that promoted alcohol reform to counter what they saw as liquor's threat to the family structure. Bernie embraced her mother's crusade, and at the age of 15, she read an essay she authored at the WCTU Conference. The crusade against alcohol was a protest by women, in part because of their lack of civil rights and voting privileges, since women could not vote to prohibit alcohol in their communities. They also lacked control over their property and could not assume custody of their children in case of divorce.
As a consequence of these frustrations, the members of the national WCTU and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, formed in 1890, joined forces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work jointly to abolish alcohol and to secure the vote. These national concerns of temperance and suffrage were also states' concerns as voiced by Anne Jones, Arkansas WCTU president, when in 1889 she stated “that permitting women to vote was ‘the only means to further the temperance movement and protect the youth of the country.'”
Julia Smade attended Little Rock College for one year, then married William Franklin Babcock in 1886. After living briefly in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the couple returned to Little Rock, where William Babcock died on March 16, 1898. Even as a widow with five children, Babcock increased her activism and became a dynamic leader involved in both the temperance and suffrage crusades.
In the late 1890s, Babcock joined forces with several prominent Little Rock women to lobby against the establishment of a brewery and beer garden on Little Rock's arsenal grounds (now MacArthur Park). These women worked with Congressman William Terry to encourage him to bring the measure before the U. S. Congress. Babcock furthered her temperance campaign with the publication of anti-alcohol pamphlets and books. In 1900, she wrote the The Daughter of the Republican and The Martyr, her “temperance novels” that described the suffering inflicted on society and families by liquor abuse. Bacock's writings were credited with helping to bring about the national prohibition amendment in 1920.
In the early 1900s, Babcock served as the editor of The Arkansas Democrat's society page, then eventually became a feature and main editorial writer for the newspaper. Babcock's suffrage work included contacting foreign countries to find which ones had equal suffrage. She did this in her capacity as liaison for the International Organization of Women. On February 16, 1920, Babcock was awarded a certificate from the National American Woman Suffrage Association, signed by Carrie Chapman Catt, noted suffrage leader, which placed Babcock “on the Honor Roll of the brave army of men and women who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of Woman Suffrage in America.”
The 19th Amendment, ratified by the U.S. Congress on August 18, 1920, represented the enfranchisement of half the population. Arkansas's struggle took almost fifty-two years, from 1868 to 1920. During these decades, suffragists and WCTU members realized that they had strength in numbers and could mutually support one another's causes.
At the age of ninety-four, in 1962, Babcock died in her home at the top of Petit Jean Mountain. Babcock, along with other identified suffragists and WCTU members such as Clara McDiarmid and Kate Cunningham, are buried in Oakland Fraternal Cemetery in southeastern Little Rock.
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Camp, Marcia. “The Soul of Bernie Babcock,” Pulaski County Historical Review, vol. 36, no. 3 (Fall, 1988), 50-52.
“National American Woman Suffrage Association Certificate,” File 8, Box 1, Series 1, Bernie Babcock Collection, 1855-1966 UALR.MS.0092.
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Teske, Steve. Unvarnished Arkansas: The Naked truth about Nine Famous Arkansas, (Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2012), 117, 118.
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Wilkerson, Jane Ann. Little Rock Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1888-1903, (Little Rock: University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2009).