Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Anna Cootsman (Mrs. F. E.) Bach, 1858-1931
By Hannah Weile and Ruhi Khan, Students, Newark Charter High School, Newark, Delaware
Edited by Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware
Suffrage and League of Women Voters Leader, Educator
Mrs. F. E. Bach was a prominent suffragist in Delaware history. Her contributions as president of the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association and representative to the women's section of the Republican National Committee were integral to the women's suffrage movement in Delaware. She began by involving herself in both politics and education due to her work as a teacher at Wilmington Friends School. She soon realized she could do more and began getting involved with the women's suffrage movement. In addition to supporting the movement, she was involved in the Wilmington community. She gave a substantial amount of service to the community and to those who needed it through the New Century Club. She worked to make Delaware a better place.
Anna Eden Cootsman was born on June 27, 1858 in New Jersey and later moved to Wilmington, Delaware with her parents, William J. and Sarah Cootsman. In 1876, she married Frederick E. Bach at the Emanuel United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. Between 1879 and 1882, she taught in the primary school at Wilmington Friends School, where her husband served as head from 1879 to 1881. She then taught history and math until 1887. Although teaching at a Quaker school and married in a Methodist church, Mrs. Bach joined Wilmington's First Unitarian Society in the 1880s and remained a devoted member throughout her life. By 1891, she had been chosen Clerk of the congregation, the first woman to serve in that capacity. In the congregation were a number of women with whom she worked, first in the New Century Club, founded in 1889, and then in the suffrage movement. They included Emalea Pusey Warner, Mary R. de Vou, Gertrude Nields, Mary Clare Brassington, and Alice Gertrude Baldwin, the only African American member of the Unitarian congregation in the early years.
As a married couple Fred and Anna Bach were both socially and politically prominent in Wilmington. Frederick E. Bach was a Republican Party activist over many years, studied law with Delaware Senator Anthony Higgins, and then became a journalist, working first as writer for the Wilmington Morning News and later founding and editing the Evening Journal. The 1900 census found the family in Havana, Cuba, where Fred, as a journalist, was reporting on the aftermath of the war with Spain. He also devoted time and energy to the establishment of rural free postal delivery in the United States, and held elective office as Register of Wills from 1902 until 1907. During her marriage, Anna Bach bore three daughters: Ethel Eden, who married Emalea Pusey Warner's son Charles in 1900; Winifred, who married Samuel M. Shallcross in 1923, and Barbara S. Bach, who married Edgar Phipps in 1973. Fred E. Bach died in 1907 of Bright's disease (nephritis) at the age of 52. Anna Bach died due to a prolonged illness on January 9, 1931 and was buried in the family plot at Riverview Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.
Anna Bach's suffrage activism emerged from her ties to other activist women within the Wilmington New Century Club and the First Unitarian Society's Women's Alliance. By 1910, she had become president of the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association, a position she held throughout the decade leading up to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. When the Congressional Union (CU) first began organizing in Delaware in 1913, she participated in its activities, including attending a reception for the controversial British suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, during a visit to Wilmington. She also marched in the CU-sponsored 1914 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. But her loyalties remained with the NAWSA-affiliated Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association and when the CU took a separate path to suffrage, she chose not to follow its lead. By 1916, she was serving on the Executive Committee of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, first as auditor and then as secretary. In the latter capacity, she kept the committee's minutes and carried on much of its correspondence, including drafting lobbying and fund-raising letters. During this time, she was also helping to support herself by offering lessons from her home, in conjunction with her daughters Winifred and Barbara, both “graduates of Wellesley College,” as she noted in a newspaper advertisement seeking pupils. At the time of her death, however, she left a tidy estate, worth $30,000, most of it in real estate investments on Wilmington's east side.
In March, 1920, as the Delaware General Assembly was beginning a special session to consider whether to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, she made a speech expressing confidence “in the eventual success of the suffrage issue.” Her comments reflected something of her own experiences, as she commended the men of the state for their willingness to do “justice” to women, and reflected upon the needs of “clever women everywhere who have been earning a living for themselves and for their families.” “Nowadays,” she continued “unless the man or men of the household receive good incomes, the women are compelled to work, also, in most cases, as faithfully and efficiently as do the men. Such women as these (and their name is legion) must not only struggle under an unfair competition in business, they must somehow manage to do the housekeeping necessary to make a home. It would be a travesty on justice (sic) if these workers should continue to wear the shackles of suffrage deferred.” Moreover, she noted, “many of the women seeking the franchise are widows, and a very large number are heavy taxpayers.” The legislature rejected the amendment on June 2, 1920. Delaware's rejection, however, did not stop the persistence of other suffragists, as on August 18, Tennessee ratified the amendment. The Delaware General Assembly belatedly ratified the Amendment in 1923.
After the ratification of the amendment, Bach ontinued her involvement in political activities. In September, 1920, she joined other Republican women in organizing Wilmington, ward by ward, in order to register women voters and educate them on the issues in the upcoming election. The group drew upon their experience as suffragists, surprising some local observers with “their knowledge of election technique.” But she also joined the non-partisan League of Women Voters, serving as president of the Wilmington League, and getting into a dispute over partisanship with her former suffrage co-worker, Mabel Lloyd Ridgely, in October, 1920. Through the League and the New Century Club, she also gave time to the Women's Joint Legislative Committee, which in the 1920s concerned itself particularly with issues regarding women's and children's welfare.
Anna Bach remained an avid member of the Wilmington New Century Club, and showed her commitment to other causes as well as working with other female members of the community to promote change, just as she did in the suffrage movement. Throughout her life, she worked within a community of women, through multiple outlets such as clubs, churches, and families. Those connections and contributions were her legacy.
Biographical details for Anna Eden Bach and the Cootsman and Bach families can be traced through censuses and other vital records found on Ancestry.com. Local newspapers digitized on newspapers.com offer specific details regarding her activities in suffrage, politics, philanthropy, education, and women's club work. Mr. Terry Maguire provided us with information regarding her teaching career as found in the archives at the Wilmington Friends School. Her speech on the ratification of the 19th amendment appeared in the Wilmington News Journal, March 13, 1920, p. 2. Her obituary appeared in the Wilmington Morning News, January 09, 1931, p. 8. Her will can be found at the New Castle County Register of Wills Office, file #14560.
A photograph appeared in the Wilmington Morning News, March 20, 1920, p. 8.
For her role in the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, see the Equal Suffrage Association's Minutebook, 1916-1919, Mabel Lloyd Ridgely Collection, Woman Suffrage Records, Delaware Public Archives, #9200 R09, 002, Folder 1. For her membership in the First Unitarian Society, see the First Unitarian Society of Wilmington Records, Delaware Historical Society.
For general context on the woman suffrage movement in Delaware, see Carol E. Hoffecker, “Delaware's Woman Suffrage Campaign,” Delaware History, 20 (Spring-Summer 1983): 149-67; and Mary R. de Vou, “The Woman Suffrage Movement in Delaware,” in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marion Björnson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947), I: 349-370.
See also Dorothy Gardner Downs, 101 Years of Volunteerism (Delaware State Federation of Women's Clubs, 1990).