Biographical Sketch of Frances Nacke Noel

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Frances Nacke Noel, 1873-1963

By Sherry J. Katz, Department of History, San Francisco State University

Founder, Wage Earners' Suffrage League, Los Angeles, 1911
Delegate to Los Angeles County Equal Suffrage Central Committee, 1911

Frances (Franziska) Nacke Noel was born on January 5, 1873, in a small village in Saxony, Germany, to Edward Nacke (a factory inspector) and Ida Miller Nacke. She settled in Los Angeles, California in the early twentieth century and married Primrose D. Noel in 1903. Their son Francis was born in 1906. Noel died on April 24, 1963.

As a teenager, Noel studied to be a kindergarten teacher at a school influenced by Friedrich Frobel. In 1893, she left Germany “as an adventure loving woman” to “see the world,” and settled in the United States. In the mid-1890s, Noel became an ardent socialist-feminist and devoted the rest of her life to political activism, especially on behalf of wage-earning women. During the Progressive Era, she sought to bring activist women together across lines of difference, and she championed a multilateral program for women's emancipation that included women's suffrage, female unionization, protective labor legislation, mothers' pensions, legal contraception, and the gender integration of political parties and the state. Noel was a key member of an influential network of left-feminists in California that facilitated feminist coalition building and championed women's economic independence as central to the feminist project.

After moving permanently to Los Angeles in 1902, Noel made achieving women's suffrage one of her principal priorities. In 1908, as she became the most influential woman in the Los Angeles labor movement, Noel worked to build support for suffrage within the state's labor and socialist organizations. She was also visible within the mainstream women's movement, joining prominent women's clubs (Friday Morning Club and Women's City Club) by 1910. In the victorious 1911 suffrage campaign, Noel emerged as an important leader, organizer, and propagandist, experimenting with new forms of militant agitation. In June 1911, Noel founded the Wage Earners' Suffrage League (WESL), which led the working-class and labor wing of the Los Angeles County Equal Suffrage Central Committee. As a delegate to the county committee, Noel helped to build a successful cross-class coalition and to devise outreach to working-class, immigrant, labor, and socialist communities. In addition, Noel pioneered outdoor mass meetings and street speaking in the 1911 campaign. In July 1911, the WESL sponsored the first open-air meeting of the California campaign in Hollenbeck Park, located in an ethnically mixed, working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles. The meeting was innovative because outdoor meetings had not been part of conventional suffrage organizing and because the WESL had to circumvent a city ordinance prohibiting political speeches in public parks by singing arguments for the ballot. Excellent press coverage encouraged suffrage activists throughout the state to organize similar public events. The WESL also “broke the way” for street speaking, so that by the end of the campaign middle-class suffragists dared to mount sidewalk platforms themselves. In the last three weeks of the campaign, the league's 100 members conducted daily street speaking in unionized wards of Los Angeles, canvassed working-class neighborhoods as part of a countywide coordinated effort, visited factories and saloons, and wrote and distributed labor-oriented suffrage literature. Noel reported being out every night of those last weeks, speaking to working-class audiences or attending planning meetings. When the California electorate enfranchised women on October 10, 1911, Noel celebrated the victory but was also thrilled that the California suffrage campaign brought progressive women “regardless of class, color, or creed” more closely in contact and coalition.

Sources:

“Behold the Advent of the Woman Orator.” Los Angeles Tribune, October 20, 1911. This article contains the quote on Noel's street speaking.

Katz, Sherry J. “A Politics of Coalition: Socialist Women and the California Suffrage Movement, 1900-1911.” In One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, 245-262. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995.

Katz, Sherry Jeanne. “Dual Commitments: Feminism, Socialism, and Women's Political Activism in California, 1890-1920.” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1991.

Katz, Sherry J. “Excavating Radical Women in Progressive Era California.” In Contesting Archives: Finding Women in the Sources, edited by Nupur Chaudhuri, Sherry J. Katz, and Mary Elizabeth Perry, 89-106. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Katz, Sherry. “Frances Nacke Noel and `Sister Movements': Socialism, Feminism, and Trade Unionism in Los Angeles, 1909-1916.” California History LXVII: 3 (September 1988): 180-189, 207-210.

Noel, Frances Nacke/Job Harriman Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California. For Noel's characterization of herself as a young woman, see Frances Noel's handwritten obituary for P.D. Noel [1943] in this collection.

Noel, Frances Papers (Collection 814), Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles. See Frances N. Noel, “A Word to Socialist Voters,” California Social-Democrat, September 2, 1911 in Box 1, Folder 7 for quote about cross-class coalition building.

Noel, Frances Recollections (Collection 100, box 98), Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles [oral history interview].

For more information and primary sources on/by Noel consult my dissertation and articles.

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