Biographical Sketch of Judith Hyams Douglas

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Judith Hyams Douglas, 1875-1955

By Rusti P. Liner, Geography Instructor and GIS Professional: River Parishes Community College, Gonzales, LA

Attorney, philanthropist, civic leader and activist in the Suffrage movement

Judith Hyams Douglas was born in New Orleans, LA on February 14, 1875 and died in New Orleans on June 24, 1955 at the ripe old age of 80. Her parents were Henry Michael Hyams (Attorney) and Augusta Louise Montgomery Hyams. A native New Orleanian, Judith was educated in the city school system and attended Tulane Law School. Friends and family recall that she studied law in order to recover some property that she claimed was rightfully hers. She eventually won her case and set a precedent for civic law regarding land ownership.

She married Rordan (or Royden) Douglas, six years her senior, in 1896 and in 1910 they had no children and he was said to be president of an electric company. They continued to live in New Orleans in 1920, boarding together in a boardinghouse with more than 30 other residents. Rordan at this time was recorded as an electrical contractor and the couple still had no children.

Some of Judith's most notable activities included: organizing the Le Petit Salon and the Stuart Clan, writing the charter for the Orleans Club, serving for 10 years as the head of the Children's Bureau and promoting the cause of peace during World War I.

In 1911, Judith served as President of the Era Club, an elite socialite New Orleans women's club dedicated to charitable fundraising, regulation of child labor, improving public services, and women's rights. Though the group was small in number, its influence stretched the whole of the politics and religious leaders of the South. Between 1900 and 1913, the Era Club was the only organization in Louisiana working for women's voting rights. Judith also served as corresponding secretary of the State Suffrage Association between 1908 and 1913 and was known to speak at various gatherings in Mississippi on behalf of the suffrage movement.

A feisty female, Judith was known for breaking molds and standards as they applied to women of her time. Ladies were not supposed to dine in restaurants unless they had a male escort around the turn of the 19th – 20th century. She promptly walked into a prominent New Orleans restaurant for lunch one day during a non-peak time period, noticing that the restaurant was quite empty. When the host waiter noticed that she was alone, he stated that they could not seat her. Undeterred by his unwelcomed greeting, she walked right past him to seat herself. After many minutes of waiting and not having even a single server stop by, she stood up on top of the table and shouted, “Yoo-hoo, over here! You seemed to have overlooked me!” As the story goes (told by nephews and great-nieces), “Aunt Judo” was never left waiting again. In fact, she was treated like royalty from that day forward in every restaurant that she entered.

An avid bible reader, Judith used scripture to defend the rights of women. She analyzed the readings like a forensic scientist. Every strand of ‘biblical DNA' was purposely examined for clarity and justification. She was a true scholar and intellect. The following passage below is a prime example of such exchanges from a speech she delivered during the 1908 Women's Suffrage Convention:

"Mrs. Douglas, a brilliant young speaker from New Orleans, new to the suffrage platform, took up the resolution, 'Woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned to her,' and said in part:

"Only one thing can make me see the justness of woman being classed with the idiot, the insane and the criminal and that is, if she is WILLING, if she is SATISFIED to be so classed, if she is contented to remain in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her. It is IDIOTIC not to want one's liberty; it is INSANE not to value one's inalienable rights and it is CRIMINAL to neglect one's God-given responsibilities. God placed woman originally in the same sphere with man, with the same inspirations and aspirations, the same emotions and intellect and accountability.... The Chinamen for centuries have taken peculiar means for restricting women's activities by binding the feet of girl babies, and yet there remains the significant fact that, after centuries of constraint, God continues to send the female child into the world with feet well formed, with a foundation as substantial to stand upon as that of the male child. As in this instance, so in all cases of restriction put upon women—THEY DO NOT COME FROM GOD BUT FROM MAN, beginning at birth.... For thousands of centuries woman has heard what sphere God WANTED her to move in from MEN, God's self-ordained proxies. The thing for woman to do is to blaze the way of her sex so thoroughly that sixteen-year-old boys in the next generation will not DARE ask a scholarly woman incredulously if she really thinks women have sense enough to vote. Women can enter into the larger sphere her great Creator has assigned her only when she has an equal voice with man in forming public opinion, which crystallizes customs; only when her voice is heard in the pulpit, applying Scripture to man and woman equally, and when it is heard in the Legislature. Only then can be realized the full import of God's words when He said, "It is not well for man to be alone." (Women's Suffrage Convention of 1908)

SOURCES:

Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. IV (1883-1900). Rochester, N.Y., 1902.

Anthony, Susan B, and Ida H Harper. HISTORY OF WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE Trilogy – Part 2. Vol. 2, e-Artnow, 2017.

Flora68, F. “When New Orleans Learned It's NOT a Good Idea to Ignore Mrs. Judith Hyams Douglas.” Judith Louise Hyams Douglas, 2 Mar. 2014, auntjudo.blogspot.com/.

Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage. Vols. V and VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]

Keller, Rosemary Skinner and Rosemary Radford Ruether, eds. Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America. Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 2006.

Nahm, N. “Judith Louise Hyams Douglas.” Findagrave.com, 25 Feb. 2010, www.findagrave.com/memorial/11893989/judith-louise-douglas.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth census of the United States, 1920-Population. Ancestry.com website.

Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill. New Women of the New South: the Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States. OUP USA, 1994.

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