Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Anna Bathsheba Fisher (Mrs. Willard S.) Morse, 1857-1956
By Constance J. Cooper, Chief Curator, Delaware Historical Society, retired
In 1920, Mrs. Willard S. Morse joined with fellow Seaford, Delaware, suffragist and officer in the League of Women Voters Mrs. John R. Eskridge to use her newly-won political rights to work for the defeat of James E. Lloyd and Joseph B. Lord, two strongly anti-suffrage members of the Delaware House of Representatives. Although details about this effort are scarce, it is documented that neither man ever served again in the Delaware General Assembly. Each served only one term. While Anna Morse was a Republican, as were Lloyd and Lord, in this case suffrage trumped party.
Mrs. Morse's involvement in suffrage began in at least 1915, when she and her husband loaned their cars to a suffrage drive down the New Jersey coast. In 1919 she was the chair of a suffrage club organized in the second half of the year in Seaford and that November was elected second vice president of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association.
The sixth of nine children of Isaac M. Fisher (1817-1875) and Sarah Jane Vaughan Fisher (1822-1907), Anna Bathsheba Fisher was born on the family farm in Sussex County, Delaware, on June 14, 1857. The family had moved to Seaford by the late 1860s, so she experienced both farm life and town life as she grew up. Little else is known of her childhood or education except that she attended Wesleyan Female College in Wilmington as a boarding student in 1874. However, she is not listed as a graduate of the school, nor is it known how long she attended.
Anna Morse came from a family with deep roots in southern Delaware and nearby Maryland. Her father was a prosperous farmer and businessman with interests in banking and railroads. He was also involved in politics. Beginning in the 1860s, he was active in the Union, later Republican, Party. This was a minority position in strongly Democratic, Southern-leaning Sussex County during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Fisher was certainly a strong supporter of Lincoln and the Union, but his stand on slavery is unknown. He is not known to have owned slaves.
In 1879, Anna married Willard S. Morse (1856-1935), a native of Massachusetts who went to Denver as a young man to seek his fortune. She probably met him through her brother, who moved to Colorado shortly after his marriage around 1875. The Morses had one child, a son Willard V. Morse, born in Seaford in 1880. He died in 1932.
Marriage took Anna Morse far from Seaford. She lived in Denver for many years. Although her husband had several different positions early in his career, he found his true calling in the mining industry. In 1896 he joined the Guggenheim mining interests, which became the American Smelting and Refining Company. This often took him far from home, and there were times when the Morses lived in Mexico or Chile. At other times Anna Morse may have returned to Delaware while her husband was away. For example, the 1900 census lists her as living with her mother on a farm in Sussex County.
Anna Morse moved to New York in 1906 because of her husband's transfer when he became a member of American Smelting's executive committee. At some point the Morses bought a house in Seaford, Delaware.
Beginning in 1912, Anna Morse maintained strong connections in Seaford for about ten years through frequent visits and involvement in community activities. She joined two women's organizations, the Acorn Club and Sorosis. In 1919, as Willard Morse retired, the couple gave up their home in New York and made Seaford their primary residence. However, they sold their Seaford home in June 1921. But the Morses still continued to visit Seaford, with her last known visit coming in 1937.
After leaving Seaford, the Morses returned to New York and began to spend their winters in California, first in Los Angeles, then, after 1926, in Santa Monica, which became their permanent home. In retirement, Willard Morse devoted himself to collecting books and manuscripts. After his death in 1935, Anna Morse devoted much time and energy to disposing of his collection, primarily through sale. Willard Morse's collections of various authors are now in many libraries.
Anna and Willard Morse shared an interest in their families' colonial heritage. She belonged to the Daughters of the American Revolution and several other lineage societies. The Morses also traveled extensively, for both business and pleasure.
Anna Morse died on February 8, 1956 in Santa Monica, California. She is buried in Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado.
Basic information on Anna Fisher Morse is available through censuses, city directories, vital records, and genealogies found on Ancestry.com and familysearch.org.
Digitized newspapers from chroniclingamerica.loc.gov, Historic American Newspapers, and newspapers.com provide helpful details on her life.
Willard Samuel Morse: A Great Collector by Henry R. Wagner (The Ward Ritchie Press, 1939) provides biographical information on her husband and some useful mentions about Anna Morse.
However, there are major gaps in the documentation of her life. Neither she nor her husband can be located in U.S. censuses for 1880 and 1910. Seaford newspapers from the suffrage period do not survive. While Wilmington, Delaware, newspapers provide extensive documentation of her involvement in Seaford, corresponding information does not exist for her residence in Denver, New York, or California, where she probably participated in community activities as well. Except for the one New Jersey reference, it is not currently known whether she was involved in suffrage outside Delaware .
Two important primary sources on suffrage in Delaware are Folders 3 and 4 in Emalea P. Warner Papers, Box 97A, and Delaware Equal Suffrage Association Minutes, 1916-1919, (photocopy of original in papers of Mabel L. Ridgely at the Delaware Public Archives), both in collections of the Delaware Historical Society, Wilmington, Delaware.
For historical context on the Delaware suffrage struggle, see Carol E. Hoffecker, “Delaware's Woman Suffrage Campaign,” Delaware History 20 (Spring-Summer 1983): 149-67; and Mary R. de Vou, “The Woman Suffrage Movement in Delaware,” in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marion Björnson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947), 1: 349-70.