Biographical Sketch of Cora D. Lewis

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Cora D. Lewis, 1854-1942

By George and Christina Legg, Rolling Hills Estates, California

Anna Cora Deal was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 5, 1854, to Charles and Helen Finch Deal. Cora Deal claimed heritage to Samuel Chase, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. As a teenager, her family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and she later lived in New England before relocating to Los Angeles in 1901.

Cora Deal married George Melville Smith in 1874, and they had three children. Mary Cora Smith, born 1876, died in infancy in 1877; Clifford Albert Smith, born 1881, died as a teenager in 1896; Avery Chase Smith (Helm), born 1882, survived her parents. Melville Smith died August 11, 1887, leaving Cora Smith a widow. She married Frank Witham Hale in 1889, but he died the next year. In 1893, Cora Deal Smith Hale married again, this time to James Danforth Lewis. Cora and James Lewis had a daughter, Anna Cora “Nancy” Lewis, born in 1897. The Lewis marriage, however, appeared to have been somewhat stormy; they sued each other for divorce in 1906 with each of them making scandalous accusations against the other. Apparently unconvinced by their testimony, the court declared the contest a “tie” and denied their divorce petitions; they remained married until James Lewis's death in 1923.

Cora Deal Lewis had a long and distinguished career in public service, civic affairs, and political life in Southern California from the early 1900s up to her passing in 1942. She served as the chair of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Commission, as a Los Angeles City Health Department Housing Commissioner, as a Public Welfare Commissioner for Los Angeles County, and as a member of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. Her County Public Welfare role led to her serving as a member of the California State Senate and California State Assembly Public Welfare Subcommittees. Lewis also served on the executive committee of the California State Conference of Social Agencies in 1916, and she participated in U.S. Congressional hearings on labor rights and free speech in 1936. She was an executive committee member of the Southern California Civil Service League, and she was considered as a candidate for appointment to fill a vacant Los Angeles City Council seat in 1913.

In addition to public service, Cora Deal Lewis was deeply involved in various civic associations in Los Angeles, including the Friday Morning Club, founded by abolitionist and suffragist Caroline Severance, a close associate and friend of Susan B. Anthony. This club was considered to be the largest and most influential woman's club organization in California and was credited with founding the first public kindergarten and first juvenile court in the United States. Lewis was also the founder and president emeritus of the Los Angeles Civic Association.

Cora Deal Lewis was involved in the Republican Party as a member and officer of the Los Angeles Woman's Republican Club and as a member of various political clubs established to support candidates for public office. In 1912, she allied with Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party when it broke away from the Republican Party to support Roosevelt for President, largely because the Progressives supported equal suffrage. She was a board vice president and a member of the executive and campaign committees for the California Progressive Party for the 1912 election.

In addition to supporting the Progressive Party's efforts towards suffrage, Cora Deal Lewis was active in the campaign for equal suffrage in California. She was a member of both the Votes for Women club, founded by Clara Shortridge Foltz, and the Political Equality League of Los Angeles, founded in 1910 to mobilize prominent men to support equal suffrage. On behalf of Votes for Women, Lewis attended the 1910 Republican State Party convention to promote its inclusion of an equal suffrage plank in the state party platform. The Political Equality League played a significant role in the success of the October 1911 vote that enfranchised the women of the state. Lewis's efforts on behalf of the 1911 vote included hanging a prominent banner supporting equal suffrage across South Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. She also crisscrossed the rural counties of Southern California on horseback, proselytizing for equal suffrage. It was the so-called “cow counties,” whose votes in favor of suffrage turned the tide in the measure's favor.

Cora Deal Lewis also supported the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was a member of the Non-Party 50, a group of business, professional and clubwomen established by prominent Los Angeles women to promote equal suffrage and put forward female candidates for public office.

Cora Deal Lewis passed away in Los Angeles on August 4, 1942, and she was interred in the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery there.

 

CAPTION: Cora Deal Lewis, 1912, with red bandana on left arm in support of Theodore Roosevelt.
CREDIT: “Mrs. Cora D. Lewis Wearing Insignia of the T.R. Party.” Los Angeles Evening Herald. June 24, 1912, p.20. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Biographical Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside.

SOURCES:

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Binheim, Max, ed. “Lewis, Cora Deal.” In Women of the West, 1928 ed., p.61. Los Angeles: Publishers Press, 1928. InternetArchive.

Cage, Crete. “Spirit of Colonists Inspires Cora Lewis.” Los Angeles Sun. September 12, 1937, Part IV, p.13. Newspapers.com.

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“Civil Service Men Elect New Officers.” Los Angeles Evening Herald. February 16, 1921, p.A4. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Biographical Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside.

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Lewis, Roselle M. “Venerable Friday Morning Club Pulls Up Stakes.” Los Angeles Times. November 17, 1985, Part VI, pp.22-23. Newspapers.com.

Martin, John H. (Minute Clerk and Acting Chief Clerk). Journal of the Assembly during the 43rd Session of the Legislature of the State of California, 1919. Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1919. Archives, California State Assembly Journals, Office of the Chief Clerk, California State Assembly (https://clerk.assembly.ca.gov).

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“Mrs. Cora D. Lewis Wearing Insignia of the T.R. Party.” Los Angeles Evening Herald. June 24, 1912, p.20. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Biographical Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside.

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New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston MA; Massachusetts Vital Records 1840-1915. Ancestry.com.

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“Posted Letters Startle Court.” Los Angeles Herald. February 2, 1906, p.11. Newspapers.com.

“Says Posted Letters Are Not Genuine.” Los Angeles Herald. February 3, 1906, p.6 Newspapers.com.

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“Suffrage Head Arrives in L.A. Tonight.” Los Angeles Evening Herald. November 26, 1919, pp.B1, B6. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Biographical Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside.

“Suffragists and Male Allies Ply Lobby at Dinner.” Los Angeles Herald. December 17, 1910, p.1. Newspapers.com.

Violations of Free Speech and Assembly and Interference with Rights of Labor, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor, United States Senate, Seventy-fourth Congress, Second Session [Seventy-sixth Congress, Third Session] Pursuant to S. Res. 266, Volume 21, Parts 66-68. Washington, D.C: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1936.

“Women to Take Secret Vote on Council Candidates.” Los Angeles Evening Herald. February 21,1921, Section 2, p.1. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Biographical Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside.

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“Wrote Sugary Letters.” Los Angeles Times. February 2, 1906, Part II, p.2. Newspapers.com.

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