Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Gertrude Watkins, 1884-1938
By Megan Holman, student, Arkansas Tech University, Russellville, AR
Organizer in Women Voters League Function of Arkansas
Gertrude Watkins was born in Arkansas in 1884. Her parents were Mildred Farley Watkins and Dr. Claiborne Watkins, who was a prominent physician in Little Rock. Her grandfather was Arkansas chief justice George Watkins. She had two sisters, Annie and Mary. Gertrude resided in Little Rock for much of her life before moving to Manhattan, New York City, and she also traveled frequently to organize political activities in her home state and beyond.
Watkins participated in the widely publicized 1914 suffrage rally at the Old Statehouse in Little Rock, afterward organizing clubs and support for women's political activity, speaking to crowds of men and women in courthouses all over the state. Watkins publicly discussed the resistance she and others met in her effort to organize suffrage societies in Arkansas, including being called an anarchist. Among other activities, she held study meetings of the Political Equality League in Little Rock at her home on Cumberland and Capitol Avenue.
Watkins engaged in political organizing across the nation as well, including extensive work in New York in 1915. Among other tasks, she organized the polling of residents there on their opinions of the idea of woman suffrage. Watkins traveled the country, organizing in places like Chicago, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas. In 1916, she served as a delegate to the NAWSA meeting in Atlantic City.
Watkins continued to stay active in her home state, serving terms as Vice President and President of the Little Rock Women's Political League. In 1918, she was one of the 17 women who the Democratic Party of Pulaski County, Arkansas nominated to their convention, sitting on the congressional and railroad commissions. Watkins continued to speak to various organizations within Arkansas, such as the Lion's Club, women's professional clubs, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, always advocating the Women's League and pushing for women's political activity generally.
After the vote was granted to women, Watkins collaborated with national leaders to encourage women to exercise their new right. During a speech she gave in Pine Bluff, Watkins explained, “The problem today is to reach men and women and to make them really understand the things we are endeavoring to accomplish.” Watkins particularly paid attention to policy that affected education and remained concerned about illiteracy among Arkansans. Watkins organized events, bringing in national speakers like the president to the League of Women Voters to Little Rock, and presided over membership drives for the Pulaski County chapter.
Gertrude Watkins never married. She died in 1938 in New York City.#x200e
Arkansas Democrat. July 30, 1918 p. 5; January 8, 1922 p.3; January 15, 1922 p.2. Newspapers.com.
Arkansas Gazette. October 10, 1915, p. 17; May 20, 1916 p.7; May 28, 1916 p. 4; October 28, 1917, p. 41; June 4, 1918 p.5; October 15, 1921; January 25, 1922. Newspapers.com .
#x200eBatesville Daily Guard. April 26, 1916 p.1. Newspapers.com.
Cahill, Bernadette. Arkansas Women and the Right to Vote: The Little Rock Campaigns, 1868-1920. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2015.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage Vol. VI. National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. Pp. 19, 22, 436, 492, 530, 594. [LInK]
Hays, P.V. “Gertrude Watkins.” Find a Grave, accessed April 5, 2019, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/91579797/gertrude-watkins.
New York, NY, Extracted Death Index, 1862-1948. Provo, UT. Ancestry.com
Osceola Times. May 18, 1917 p.1. Newspapers.com.
Pine Bluff Daily Graphic. June 26, 1917 p.3; January 11, 1922 p.3. Newspapers.com.
U. S. Census. FamilySearch. accessed April 5, 2019, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/find/name?search=1&gender=female&birth=%7C1882-1884%7C0&self=Gertrude%7CWatkins%7C0%7C0&parent2=Mildred%7C%7C0%7C0%7Cfemale.