Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Laura Cromwell Poe, 1866-1950
By Hayley Crum, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park
Laura Lee Cromwell was born in Albany, Georgia, to Dr. B.M. and Louisa Cromwell on December 29, 1866. She was the oldest of five children. Her father, B.M. Cromwell, was born around 1835 in Louisiana and worked as a physician. In addition to his contributions in the medical field, Cromwell was also a Civil War veteran, having served as a major in the Confederate Army under Generals Jackson and Lee. Louisa Cromwell was born around 1837 in Virginia to an elite family.
After the Civil War, the Cromwells relocated to Cumberland, a small town in Western Maryland, so B.M. Cromwell could take a position with a coal mining company. Concerned about the impact that moving would have on her young children, Louisa sent Laura Cromwell to a finishing school in Virginia. During her time at school, Cromwell enjoyed fox hunting, and she spent significant time with her aunts, who resided in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1900, Laura Lee Cromwell married S. Johnson Poe. The couple met in Frostburg, Maryland, when his National Guard regiment was called to Cumberland to put down a strike around 1895. S. Johnson Poe was born in Maryland around 1864. He was a former Princeton University athlete and later worked as a lawyer in Baltimore. In addition to serving as an officer in the Maryland National Guard, Johnson Poe would also serve as a commander in the First World War. The couple moved to Baltimore shortly after they married and had two children.
Laura C. Poe had a long career in the women's suffrage campaign and electoral politics. She was involved in a wide array of civic and suffrage enterprises. Her early years in the movement were spent lobbying for equal suffrage bills that would grant women the right to vote in municipal elections. She also gave numerous lectures and speeches and participated in parades to advance the suffrage cause. In January 1915, she was named temporary secretary for the new Woman Suffrage Party of Maryland and was also appointed to a temporary legislative committee to help draft the party's constitution and by-laws. She would later refuse the nomination to be treasurer of the party. Poe also served as vice president for the Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore under the league's president, Elizabeth King Ellicott. In 1915, she served as executive secretary of the Equal Suffrage League, one of the few paid positions in Maryland's suffrage organizations.
In 1921, Laura Poe's political career underwent a dramatic shift when she turned her focus from local to national politics. Poe was inspired to enter the national political realm by then Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson. Poe considered Wilson a close friend and staunchly supported his policies and ideals. It was in support of Wilson that she decided to expand her political influence. She helped to organize the Democratic Women's Club in Baltimore and served as president of this organization until 1927. Because of her work as president of the Democratic Women's Club, Poe was named as Democratic National Committeewoman at the 1924 Democratic National Convention. Poe's appointment to this position was at the center of a heated debate in Maryland and was met with staunch resistance by other women leaders in the state. This conflict stemmed from the manner in which Poe was appointed to the position. Women such as Mrs. Mortimer M. West, president of the Federation of Democratic Women in Baltimore, argued not only that female delegates felt their solicited opinions in regard to Poe had been ignored, but also that they were underrepresented at the convention. West stated to the Baltimore News-American: “I do not recognize Mrs. Poe as committeewoman because she was not elected by the Maryland delegates to the convention, as the rules of the party require. The national committee men and women must be elected by the votes of the delegates.” Despite this high-profile resistance, Poe did serve as the Maryland National Committeewoman until 1928.
Laura Poe's role in politics was powerfully influenced by her family. Although many of her views were liberal, Poe was considered a conservative reformer. She was not interested in militant tactics. She largely attributed this to her Southern upbringing. Poe was not only influenced by her Southern heritage, but also by her husband. Johnson Poe was also active in the suffrage movement and worked with his wife in lobbying for the passage of the federal Nineteenth Amendment. He was a dedicated member in the Men's League for Equal Suffrage of Maryland.
Laura Poe's community interests and involvement were not limited to politics. In 1916, Poe served as chairman of the Lyceum Tent Committee, a group dedicated to improving the condition of Maryland soldiers. Poe was appointed as a trustee of the Baltimore Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Baltimore that focused on improving education, neighborhood revival, and building leadership skills. In 1928, she co-founded the Woman's City Club of Baltimore with Mrs. William J. Funck and later became club president. Poe described the newly formed club in the following manner to the Baltimore News-American: “This club is planned to be the clearing house for all women's interests and activities in the city, as well as a home where they can enjoy the companionship of interesting women who are keeping abreast of the times.” Poe continued to serve as club chair until after the death of her husband in 1933.
Laura Poe was also an avid traveler and an active member of the Vagabond Players theatre group in Baltimore. She served in the American Red Cross during the Spanish American War and World War I. Poe was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Colonial Dames of America.
Laura Lee Cromwell Poe died on September 21, 1950, at the age of eighty-four at her home in Princeton, New Jersey. Poe had moved to Princeton in 1945 to be closer to her children. She is buried at St. Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery in Owings Mills, Maryland.
CAPTION: Laura Cromwell Poe, Baltimore, ca. 1920s.
CREDIT: Swann, Rita. “10—Mrs. S. Johnson Poe.” Baltimore News-American, June 29, 1930. Poe Envelope. Morgue of the Baltimore News-American. Special Collections, Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.
“Can Teach Male Bosses.” Baltimore Sun. February 19, 1915, p.12. ProQuest Baltimore Sun Historical.
“Delegates to Elect Mrs. Poe on Committee: Head of Feminine Democratic Club Here Will Be New Committeewoman.” Baltimore News-American. June 28, 1924. Poe Envelope. Morgue of the Baltimore News-American. Special Collections, Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.
“Fair Lobbyists There: Baltimore Women Explain Suffrage Bill to Governor.” Baltimore Sun. January 28, 1910, p.11. ProQuest Baltimore Sun Historical.
Find a Grave. “Laura Lee Cromwell Poe.” Accessed June 10, 2019. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/85681976/laura-lee-poe.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. “Maryland,” chapter XIX in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, pp. 258-76. [LINK]
Laura Poe (Lyceum Tent Committee) to Merchants and Manufacturers Association of Baltimore, Baltimore, October 30, 1916. In Baltimore 10, no. 2 (November 1916): 10. HathiTrust.
“Mrs. Laura C. Poe Dies In Princeton: Former Women's Democratic Leader Here Was 84.” Baltimore Sun. September 22, 1950, p.32, 20. ProQuest Baltimore Sun Historical.
“Suffragists Plan Lectures.” Baltimore Sun. December 29, 1910, p.9. ProQuest Baltimore Sun Historical.
Swann, Rita. “10—Mrs. S. Johnson Poe.” Baltimore News-American. June 29, 1930. Poe Envelope. Morgue of the Baltimore News-American. Special Collections, Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.
“Suffragists Combine.” Baltimore Sun. January 28, 1915, p.12. ProQuest Baltimore Sun Historical.
“To Hold a Big Fair: Daughters Of The Confederacy To Arrange For One Today.” Baltimore Sun. May 1, 1901, p.10. ProQuest Baltimore Sun Historical.
United States Census 1870, 1880, s.v. “Laura L. Cromwell, Albany, GA.” HeritageQuest.
United States Census 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, s.v. Laura Poe, Baltimore, MD.” HeritageQuest.
“Women Balk At Honors.” Baltimore Sun. October 23, 1915, p.9. ProQuest Baltimore Sun Historical.
“Women Mass as Foes of Mrs. Poe: Baltimore Democrats Join Those in Montgomery in Protesting.” Baltimore News-American. July 22, 1924. Poe Envelope. Morgue of the Baltimore News-American. Special Collections, Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.
“Women Organize Party: Suffrage League Combine to Influence Elections.” Baltimore Sun. February 2, 1915, p.5. ProQuest Baltimore Sun Historical.