Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Caroline J. Cook, 1863-1947
By Anna Hagg, B.A. graduate in History and Political Science, Simmons College
Caroline J. Cook was born in Evansville, Indiana born in 1863 to parents Henry A. Cook and Caroline Judson Cook. She used her law degree and her position as an accomplished lawyer to advance the cause of women's suffrage. Cook graduated from Wellesley College in 1884 and then from Boston University School of Law in 1899. Despite already possessing a law degree, Cook still applied to Harvard Law School in 1900 in order to deepen her training. Even though Harvard Law's admission guidelines changed in the last decades of the nineteenth century to promote meritocracy, lingering discrimination towards women contributed to her rejection; as then president of Harvard Charles Eliot reasoned, Harvard “was not prepared to admit women to the instruction of the law school” at that time. Cook gained admittance into the Massachusetts Bar Association in 1900, becoming the first woman to be bar certified in two different states, as she also gained admittance to Indiana's bar association.
Cook's first involvement with the suffrage movement came in 1889 when she edited a suffrage column in Evansville, Indiana. One of Cook's most visible contributions to the suffrage movement is her involvement in the Boston Equal Suffrage Association of Good Government, which was one of the biggest suffrage organizations in Massachusetts. She acted as the director of the group's nominating committee in 1916. In addition to being a member of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association, Cook also belonged to the Massachusetts Civic League and the Massachusetts Equal Suffrage League. Cook accompanied other members of the Equal Suffrage League around the state of Massachusetts to promote the cause of female suffrage. For example, she participated in a two-week expedition to Brockton in 1910 in order to educate women on how to demand their equal rights for suffrage.
Beyond her membership in pro-suffrage organizations, Cook used both her writing and speaking skills to advance the cause of female suffrage. From the period of 1900 to 1918, Cook wrote various articles ranging from business advice to women to constitutional defenses of female suffrage. The latter article she wrote in 1909 for the Boston Globe and argued that writers of the Constitution wrote the document with the intention of female suffrage being adopted one day. Cook's myriad speaking appearances included the State Federation of Women's Clubs, Roxburghe Club, and the Massachusetts State House. While advancing the cause of women's suffrage, Cook taught law and business methods at both Wellesley College and Simmons College in addition to being a practicing lawyer. The Boston Daily Globe reported that she won a divorce case in 1907. In that case, Cook represented Emma Parker and won on the grounds of desertion in a time where both female lawyers and divorce was less common than a century later. The article further reports that she was the first female lawyer in that court in five years. Cook also served as the chairman of the legislative department of the Massachusetts State Federation and gave a lecture on the program of legislative work at the mid-winter meeting of the Federation in Attleboro in 1907. In 1910, Cook acted as the president of the Industrial Credit Union in Boston and she also served as the clerk of corporation for the Italo-American Credit Union in Boston. In 1913 Cook drafted the first minimum wage law in Massachusetts, showing another example of how her commitment to bettering her community transcended the cause of female suffrage.
There is little information on Cook's life and activities after the nineteenth amendment passed. In 1923, she served as a board member on the legislative committee for the Massachusetts Civic League. She continued her work as a lawyer in the 1920s, being recognized in 1929 at a twenty-fifth anniversary dinner celebration for the Association of Women's Lawyers since she was the organization's first ever president. Cook died on August 7, 1947 in Boston, Massachusetts and her funeral service was held at the Church of the Good Shepard, where she used to be the treasurer.
“Caroline J. Cook.” Helen Temple Cook Library. Accessed 9 Feb 2018.
Caroline Jewell Cook.” Find a Grave. Accessed 18 Jun 2018. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/124800787
“Dr. Edwin B. Goodall: Memorial Service Held for Boston Eye Specialist.” Daily Boston Globe. 10 Aug 1947. [Includes Caroline J. Cook's obituary]
“How Would Women Suffrage Affect Government?” Boston Daily Globe. 7 Mar 1909.
Law Notes: April 1900. Long Island: Edward and Thompson Company, 1900. Page 217.
“Massachusetts Federation of Women's Clubs.” General Federation Bulletin 2 1907.
“Massachusetts Suffrage Hearing.” Woman's Journal. 19 Feb 1910.
“New Campaign Plan.” Boston Daily Globe. 9 Jul 1910.
Randall, Mercedes M. Improper Bostonian: Emily Greene Balch. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964.
“Report of the Superintendent of the Press.” Woman's Journal, 9 Nov 1889.
Secretary of the Commonwealth. Public Documents of Massachusetts: Public Officers and Institutions for the year 1911, Vol. VI. 1911.
“Says Prisons Cost More than Schools: Burdette G. Lewis Praises Bill of Civic League.” Boston Daily Globe. 20 Jan 1923.
“Suffragists Elect.” Boston Daily Globe. 18 Mar 1916.
“Woman Wins Case.” Boston Daily Globe. 14 May 1907.
“Women Lawyers to Meet Tomorrow.” Daily Boston Globe. 11 Mar 1929.