Biographical Sketch of Celia B. Whitehead

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Celia B. Whitehead, 1844-1932

By Flora Boros, Independent Historian and Curator

Celia B. Whitehead was a well-known non-conformist writer, pamphleteer and speaker on social and economic issues such as dress reform, woman's suffrage and virtually every battle over human rights for over sixty years. A Christian, feminist and supporter of the Greenback Party, Whitehead was an active, and sometimes radical, reformer.

Born on October 13, 1844, in Naugatuck, Connecticut, Celia Josephine Baldwin was one of fourteen children of Methodist abolitionist minister, Lucius Baldwin, and his wife Maria Willard. Likely inspired by her father, Celia became interested in social and economic injustices when studying the Civil War at age of fifteen. In March 1869 she married Emory J. Whitehead, a commercial lawyer. Their two sons, Rufus Baldwin and William Carleton, were born in Connecticut in 1871 and 1877 respectively.

After the birth of their second son, the Whiteheads moved to New Jersey, settling in Bloomfield. By 1889 the family moved to Westfield, where Whitehead became an active member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In November 1894 she presented a report on the WCTU of Westfield at the annual meeting of the New Jersey Woman's Suffrage Association (NJWSA). Soon she became active in the local women's issues and the suffrage movement. She was a member of the Westfield Woman's Club, and served as Vice President of The Direct Legislation League of New Jersey until 1899. Together with Estella B. Broakaw and Frances E. Russell, in 1896 Whitehead organized a symposium highlighting the “Single Taxation By Representative Women.” In 1897, she delivered an address to the Elizabeth Chapter of the WCTU entitled “Citizenship to Human Brotherhood” and was a featured speaker at the state-level NJWSA meeting.

Earlier, in 1807, suffrage was "unconstitutionally" withdrawn for the women of New Jersey. In protest, Whitehead led a local petition, leveraging 220 citizens of Bloomfield to ask the New Jersey Legislature for the restoration of full suffrage. On February 13, 1884, a special committee of the New Jersey Assembly granted them a hearing. The Committee was presented with a 1776 copy of the State Constitution, wherein the words “all inhabitants” was substituted for those of “male freeholders” in the suffrage clause, thereby granting suffrage to women and men of color. Although the Committee favorably heard the measure, it was defeated 27 to 24 votes.

Whitehead published under her own name, as well as under various pseudonyms, including Elizabeth Josephine Jackson and Henrietta James. Under the latter, Whitehead published a “Another Chapter of The Bostonians” (1887), a twenty-seven page pamphlet extended a Henry James' 1886 anti-suffragist novel. In the closing chapter she addressed the problematic closure of a marriage between a talented suffrage orator and a violent, conservative anti-suffragist husband. Here, Whitehead makes the novel's implied message for female activists explicit: the political is always personal.

Under her married name, Whitehead's various anti-establishment reform writings and letters to the editor were published and circulated in papers across the country. Whitehead's voice was especially prominent in New Jersey, due to her position as editor of the “Woman's Sphere” section in The Union County Standard of Westfield throughout the 1890s. She admonished the “poor authorities” sustaining Newark's gendered division of “worthy” and “unworthy”community members in the following manner: “This woman was not worthy; therefore I knew you would not take care of her.” In her local critique of New York City's extensive economic divide, “And Life is Cheap,” (1896) Whitehead argued against anti-suffragists by quipping, “Are you not afraid that some of us women will begin to think that men, ‘Don't know enough to vote?' ”

In defiance of Comstock Laws, Whitehead also regularly contributed to The Word: A Monthly Journal of Reform and Lucifer, The Light Bearer a collection of anarchist free love periodicals openly discussing sexuality, reproduction and contraception. In support of a plain speech policy Whitehead was openly offended by the practice of naming footballs after women's reproductive organs and functions, calling the practice a “grave and disgusting mistake” that was “like smoke to the eyes or vinegar to the teeth.” Just as controversially, she argued against the idea of contraception on the grounds that women would be taken advantage of by men because they would have no excuse for refusing. Likewise, “I do want to have it understood,” she declared in one of her many letters to the editor, “that a woman is something more than a procreating machine,” and that motherhood involves something more than an act of conception.

On October 27, 1894, editor Henry Browne Blackwell chose to publish Whitehead's “Class Legislation Never Safe,” a letter described by Blackwell as “another brief and forcible argument against limiting the demand for woman suffrage by an educational qualification, or by any limitation not required of male voters.” Eschewing anti-suffragist rhetoric, Whitehead claimed that, “an educated class could not be trusted with the interests of the illiterate; that each must speak for itself.”

Following the example of Amelia Bloomer forty years prior, Whitehead was an enthusiastic proponent of women's dress reform. She practiced what she preached, regularly wearing short and knee-length dresses with elasticized pants, “gymnasium outfits,” as well as un-skirted bloomers. Whitehead advocated for all women to wear shorter, lighter and looser dresses, and championed the cause in op-eds, poetry, speeches and pamphlets. For instance, she read an original poem entitled, “A Defeated Dress Reformer” at the first annual meeting of the Rainy Day Club, a New York group organized to give moral support to women wearing “rainy day skirts” reaching the tops of their shoes.

In 1883, she spoke at the Institute of Heredity in an address entitled “An Object Lesson in Dress Reform,” connecting dress reform with libertinism, noting how a woman “fails to see that she is defrauded by her rights in marriage, in the home, in the state, in the pocket-book, because her dress has held her in weakness, and ignorance, and fear, so that she neither knows her rights nor dares to maintain them.”

Likewise, she penned “What's the Matter?,” (1884) a small volume that was excerpted and cited in newspapers across the country. Whitehead declared that trousers were the only proper dress for women, and when interviewed on the subject said: “A dress which takes into account the fact that women have ‘limbs,' ‘lower limbs' as well as upper limbs, and as they are necessary for use it cannot be really unwomanly to adapt a dress to them, and their use in the dress that must come before the horrors caused by compressed waists and burdened shoulders and fettered legs will be don away. ‘That means trousers!' We may ridicule and hesitate, and squirm and evade and compromise, groan, suffer and die as long as we like; we may study and invent, only to find at last that a two-legged animal wants a two-legged dress, if any, and that it would be just as absurd to insist on making a coat of one immense sleeve for both upper limbs as to make a dress of one immense skirt for both ‘lower limbs' and not a whit more so.”

Unusually for the time, Whitehead lived apart from her husband after October 1897, choosing to instead reside with her youngest son, who was attending law school at Columbia University in New York. In the fall of 1899, at age fifty-five, Whitehead officially left her husband, and moved with her son, William Carleton, to Denver, Colorado. She was defended by her son during the bitter divorce proceedings that followed her departure from New Jersey. On October 11, 1900, her husband was granted an absolute divorce on the grounds of his wife's desertion “without cause.” Court records pointedly noted her “queer practice” of wearing of bicycle bloomers and that her “aim in life was not in accordance with the views of her husband.”

In Colorado, Whitehead cast her first vote for a U.S. President, and went on to become involved in local politics as a prominent Socialist, human rights advocate, and a pacifist during World War I. After her death at age eighty-seven on February 4, 1932, she was eulogized by the Rocky Mountain News as “one of the outstanding liberal figures in three generations of American life,” who was “known to every important leader of liberal movements in the country in her times.”

Sources:

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Boston University, School of Education. “The Magazines.” The Journal of Education, Volume 43. Vol. XLIII, No. 3. Boston, Massachusetts: School of Education, Boston University, 1896. pg. 50. https://books.google.com/books?id=K6hPAQAAMAAJ

Celia Baldwin Whitehead: October 13, 1844—February 4, 1932. Denver, Colorado: Frank J. Wolf Publishing House, 1932. pg. 1-19.

Dodyk, Delight W. “Education and Agitation: The Woman Suffrage Movement in New Jersey.” PhD Dissertation, Rutgers University, 1997. pg. 609-11.

“His Wife Wore Bloomers: One of the Causes of Differences Which Appear in a Divorce Suit.” The New York Times(New York, New York)September 27, 1900, pg. 12. https://www.nytimes.com/1900/09/27/archives/his-wife-wore-bloomers-one-of-the-causes-of-differences-which.html?

James, Henrietta [Celia B. Whitehead]. “Another Chapter of ‘The Bostonians.'” Bloomfield, New Jersey: S. Morris Hulin, 1887.

“Local Paragraphs.” The Union County Standard (Westfield, New Jersey) October 16, 1900, pg. 5.http://www.digifind-it.com/westfield/DATA/newspapers/Union%20County%20Standard/1900/1900-10-16.pdf

“May Women By Ugly.” The Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) January 1, 1898, pg. 26. https://archive.lib.msu.edu/DMC/tribune/trib01301898/trib01301898026.pdf

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“Miscellaneous.” Elizabeth Daily Journal (Elizabeth, New Jersey) May 1, 1897, pg. 6. http://www.digifind-it.com/elizabeth/_1872-1909/1897/1897-05-01.pdf

“Mother and Son Vote Together.” The Tuskaloosa Gazette (Tuskaloosa, AL) January 19, 1901, pg. 4.

National Direct Legislation League. Direct Legislation Record, Volumes 1-10. New York, NY: J.W. Sullivan, 1894-1901. pg. 1, 3, 17, 25, 56.https://books.google.com/books?id=WOQ5AQAAMAAJ

“Notes – “What's the Matter?” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) September 28, 1884.pg. 9.

Petty, Leslie E. “Romancing the Vote: Feminist Activism in American Fiction, 1870-1920.” PhD Dissertation, University of Georgia, 2003. pg. 243-248. https://getd.libs.uga.edu/pdfs/petty_leslie_ellen_200305_phd.pdf

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“Queer Causes for Divorce.” The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, Colorado) September 28, 1900. pg. 1.

Russell, Frances E. “Dress Reform Movements in America.” The Arena, Vol. VI. Boston, MA: The Arena Publishing Company, 1892. pg. 335-336. https://books.google.com/books?id=vpVEAQAAIAAJ

Shrady, John, ed. The College of Physicians and Surgeons New York and Its Founders, Officers, Instructors, Benefactors, and Alumni, A History. Vol II. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903. pg. 262. https://archive.org/details/collegeofphysici02shra

“Socialist News.” Appeal to Reason (Girard, Kansas) June 20, 1903. pg. 4.

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“The Clothes that Kill.” The Wahpeton Times (Wahpeton, North Dakota) July 7, 1877, pg. 5.

The Next Revolution or Woman's Emancipation from Sex Slavery, No. 2., Valley Falls, Kansas: Lucifer Publishing Company, 1890. http://www.iapsop.com/ssoc/1890__anonymous___the_next_revolution_or_womens_emancipation.pdf

“The Rainy Day Club.” The New-York Tribune(New York, New York) January 7, 1897, pg. 5.

Tooley, J.H.W. “Mrs. Whitehead's Address: An Object Lesson in Dress Reform.” The Institute of Heredity and its Third Annual Convention. Boston, MA: Institute of Heredity, 1883. pg. 18-20 http://bir.brandeis.edu/bitstream/handle/10192/30904/623%20p-6.pdf

“Trousers for Women: Mrs. Celia B. Whitehead Gives Good Reasons for a Change in Feminine Attire.” The Saint Paul Daily Globe (Saint Paul, MN), June 16, 1889, pg. 12.

Weingartner, Andrea M. “Sex Radicals in America's Heartland: Redefining Gender and Sexuality, 1880-1910.” PhD Dissertation, University of Missouri-Columbia, 2013. pg. 110-11, 180, 249-50.

“Whitehead Marries Again: The Well Known Westfield and Takes a Second Wife.” The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey) April 15, 1901. pg. 1.

Whitehead, Celia B. “A Question for Remonstrants.” The Woman's Column, Vol. XI, No. 24, December 1898. pg. 4. https://archive.org/details/WomansColumn189

“An Open Letter to Warren.”Lucifer, the Light Bearer (Valley Falls, Kansas)October 18, 1889, pg. 2.

“And Life is Cheap.” The Modern Light (Columbus, Kansas) April 30, 1896, pg. 1.

“Another Chapter of ‘The Bostonians.” (1887). In Treacherous Texts: U.S. Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946, ed. Angela Mills and Mary Chapman. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012.)pg. 100-107.

“Celia B. Whitehead's Critique.” The Word: A Monthly Journal of Reform(Cambridge, Massachusetts) October 1889, pg 3.

“Celia B. Whitehead Writes Again.” The Union County Standard (Westfield, New Jersey) July 28, 1899, pg. 4. http://www.digifind-it.com/westfield/DATA/newspapers/Union%20County%20Standard/1899/1899-07-28.pdf

“Class Legislation Never Safe,” Woman's Journal, 27 October 1894.

“Ladenburg's Plan.” Modern Light (Columbus, Kansas) April 16, 1896, pg. 1.

“Letter to the Editor.” The Alpha, v. XI, 1February 1886, pg. 15.http://www.iapsop.com/archive/materials/alpha/alpha_v11_n6_feb_1_1886.pdf

“Letter to the Editor.”Lucifer, the Light Bearer (Valley Falls, Kansas) March 27, 1885, pg. 5.

“Letter to the Editor.”Lucifer, the Light Bearer (Valley Falls, Kansas) August 3, 1888, pg. 6.

“Mrs. Whitehead to Elmina.”Lucifer, the Light Bearer (Valley Falls, Kansas) June 25, 1886, pg. 2.

“Non-Resistance.” Twentieth Century, Volume IV, No. I, 02 January 1890. pg. 15. https://archive.org/details/twentiethcentury04unse

“Out-door Work.” The Savannah Courier (Savannah, Tennessee) February 6, 1890, pg. 4.

“The Deportation of Anarchists (Dec. 1, 1901).” In Anarchist Periodicals in English Published in the United States (1833-1955) by Ernesto A. Longa. Toronto, Canada: Scarecrow Press, 2010. pg. 89, 154. https://books.google.com/books?id=zHljnvvToEcC

“The ‘Undeserving' Poor.” The Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) November 9, 1915, pg. 12.

“Various Voices – Celia B. Whitehead of Denver, Colorado.”Lucifer, the Light Bearer (Valley Falls, Kansas) January 22, 1903, pg. 6-7.

“What's the Matter?” Southington, Connecticut: C.B. Whitehead, 1880.

“Woman's Sphere.” The Union County Standard (Westfield, New Jersey) June 6, 1896, pg. 5. http://www.digifind-it.com/westfield/DATA/newspapers/Union%20County%20Standard/1896/1896-06-06.pdf and Ross Winn. “How Will A Free Society Come, and How Will It Operate?” Free Society, Vol. IX, No. 6, February 9, 1902, pg. 5. http://fair-use.org/free-society/1902/02/09/how-will-a-free-society-come-and-how-will-it-operate

“Woman's Club to Select Board: Many Westfield Ladies Anxious to Become School Inspectors.” The New York Journal and Advertiser (New York, New York) April 23, 1897, pg. 12.

“Women and Evolution: Interviews with Noted Female Reformers Concerning Their Sex's Future Habiliments.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) March 2, 1980, pg. 2.

“Women's World and Work.” The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) June 16, 1899, pg. 16.

Yardly, Margaret Tufts. New Jersey Scrap Book of Women Writers. Vol. II. Newark, NJ: Advertiser Printing House, 1893. pg. 401, 408. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433074788427

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