Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Jessie Fremont Waite Wright, 1857-1952
By Maria Christina C. Mairena, PhD, Thomas Balch Library, Library-Archives Associate, Leesburg, VA
Suffragist from a Young Age:
Born in 1857 in Chicago, Illinois to Charles Burlinghame Waite (29 June 1824-25 March 1909) and Catherine Van Valkenburg (31 June 1829-9 Nov 1913), Jessie Fremont Waite grew up watching her parents support the women's suffrage movement and anti-slavery movement. Charles and Catherine Waite were both attorneys and founding supporters of the first suffrage convention in Illinois. Charles B. Waite was a Federal Judge and Illinois Supreme Court Justice under his life-long friend and fellow lawyer, President Abraham Lincoln. Waite was also an author who was best known for his book on the History of the Christian Religion to the year Two Hundred which was published by his wife's own publishing house in multiple editions, languages and was warmly reviewed by Cady Stanton. Catherine Waite, as mentioned above, was also an attorney, a publisher, and editor of the Chicago Law Times. She was elected in 1888 to be the first president of the Women's International Bar Association.
At age sixteen, Jessie entered the University of Chicago and graduated in 1877 with her B. Phil. By 1880 she was living in Washington, D. C. and identifying herself in the 1880 census as a “correspondent” but she worked also as a clerk at the U. S. Treasury Office. According to the society pages of the Washington Evening Star, Jessie was
. . .a charming young lady and has won a host of friends during her stay in Washington. She is accomplished, entertaining, and charmingly strongminded.
That same year she attended her first NWSA convention and at the 1881 convention, she spoke and impressed Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
The number of new faces on our platform was a most encouraging feature of this convention. . . Miss Jessie Waite of Chicago, just in her teens,[actually Jessie was 24 at the time] made a beautiful appeal for girls to enroll themselves in this grand work for women's freedom.
But this was not Jessie Waite's first public speech in the defense of the suffrage movement.
In January 1880 while the Twelfth Annual Convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association met at Lincoln Hall in Washington, D.C., Congress had just returned from its winter break and was resuming legislative business. Forty-Seven senators read 250 petitions with over 12,000 signatories on the floor of the Senate. The House received over 300 petitions “from law abiding, tax-paying women, praying for the removal of their political disabilities.” On January 23-24, the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary met and heard from various members of NWSA, including, Jessie Fremont Waite, who said in part:
Mr. Chairman, and Gentlemen of the Judiciary Committee: In the State of Illinois we have attained almost every right except that of the ballot. We have been admitted to all the schools and colleges . . . Women must have the ballot that they may have protection in getting bread for themselves and their families, by giving to the party that looks for their support some substantial evidence of their strength. Experience has demonstrated, how fruitless are all their efforts while the ballot is withheld from their hands. They have prayed, they have petitioned; they have talked; they have lectured; they have done all they could do, except vote; and yet all avails them nothing.
By 1885, Jessie Waite was married to George Hardiman Wright (1858- 1930) and settled in Forest Glen in Montgomery County, Maryland. A doctor, George H. Wright established the Carroll Springs Sanitarium which specialized in homeopathic treatments, a point of view shared with Jessie, as she was a founding member of the Washington, D. C. Homeopathic Society in 1888. Jessie worked at the sanitarium in a managerial and secretarial capacity and maintained the sanitarium after George's death. But even with her work at the sanitarium and raising their five children, neither Jessie nor George neglected their work for women's suffrage.
Jessie was a regular attendee to the NAWSA conventions, presenting reports on the state of the suffrage movement in the District of Columbia, hosting receptions and working on the convention's hospitality committees, participating in debates on the suffragist movement, and also acting in the various offices of several local suffrage clubs and associations. She was the President of the Equal Suffrage Association of the District of Columbia (1908-1909), where she worked closely with Helen Rand Tindall; President of the Equal Suffrage League of Montgomery County (1914), Vice-President of the Interstate Suffrage Club (1917), and President of the Equal Suffrage League (1917) which combined the Montgomery County Suffrage Association and the Women Suffrage League of Montgomery County.
Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, Jessie Waite Wright continued her work, with her focus on education, homeopathic remedies, and written articles for the Theosophical Society. Her involvement in the Theosophical Society of Washington, D.C. led to her being voted a Trustee in 1940. After the 1940 census, there are no more mentions of Jessie Waite Wright nor of any of her social and political activities in the local papers. But a date of death or death notice are not necessary for Jessie Waite Wright. Her lifetime's work and legacy, inspired by the examples of her parents for the suffragette and anti-slavery movements of equality for all, is seen in the passage of the 19th Amendment.
An image of Jessie Waite Wright can be found in The Washington Post, 31 October 1909.
Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Vol. IV, pp 40-44, “When Clowns Make Laws for Queens” 1880-1887. Ann D. Gordon, Ed. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1997.
Waite, Jessie. “Testimony at a Hearing of The House Committee on the Judiciary, January 24, 1880” in E. C. Stanton, History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 3, pp 161-162. [LINK]
See Also: The Evening Star (Washington D.C.), 24 January 1880.
17 May 1908 The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) (lists HR Tindall and meeting of DC Women's Suffrage Association.
National American Woman Suffrage Association. Enclosure: 40th Annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Buffalo, New York, October 15-21, 1908. Online Text. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller003989/. P 6 Jessie Waite Wright
8 Nov 1908 Letter to the Editor of the Evening Star.
President of the Equal Suffrage Association of the District at Meeting of the Political Study Club, 26 May 1909.
Washington Post, 25 March 1914.
31 March 1914, The Evening Star (Washington, DC).
31 May 1940, The Evening Star (Washington, DC).
Wright, Jessie W. “ Beethoven: A Study in Karma,” The Theosophist, October 1916- March 1917, Vol XXXVII, Part 1.
Report of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, 1890, p. 214. Listing names of the active members of the Homeopathic Free Dispensary.
16th Annual Catalogue of the University of Chicago: Officers and Students for the Academic Years 1874-1875. Chicago, Printed for the University at Birney Hand & Co's Steam Printing house, 111 Madison Street, 1875. P. 21
17th Annual Catalogue of the University of Chicago including the Union College of Law and the Rush Medical College. Chicago: Lakeside Press, Clark and Adams Street, 1876.
19th Annual Catalogue of the University of Chicago including the Union College of Law. Chicago: H.C. Tiffany & Co., Printers and Stationers, 151 & 158 Fifth Avenue, 1878.