Biographical Sketch of Frances Butler Ayer

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Frances Butler Ayer, 1885-1970

By Anna Assogba, Research Librarian, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Society woman; member of Woman's Club of Wisconsin; woman's radio program commentator

Frances Butler Ayer (also known as Eleanor Frances Butler) was born on August 2, 1885, at Crooked Lake Farm, in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin to John Ammi and Frances Louisa (née Dana) Butler. Her father was the founder and first president of the City Club of Milwaukee, an organization aimed at reforming municipal life. John Ammi was the son of Ammi Ruhamah Robbins Butler, mayor of Milwaukee, 1876-1878. Frances had two older sisters, Mary and Katharine. She attended the seminary at Milwaukee Downer College for the academic year 1901-1902. She married Frederick (Fred) Rollins Ayer from Bangor, Maine on February 4, 1909, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After the wedding, they settled in Bangor and went on to have four children: Frederick Wellington, John Butler, Dorothy Frances, and Winslow Bartlett. Their second son, John, passed away in 1942 while serving in the American Eagle Squadron of the Royal Air Force.

Both Frances and Fred came from high society homes. Fred attended Harvard, graduating in 1902, and worked in paper production, first in Ontario, Canada, and then in his father's Bangor-based paper production operation, Eastern Manufacturing Company. When his father stepped down from the presidency, Fred inherited the role and served for 10 years, until moving to the Brightwater Paper Company. Fred also served in World War I, from 1917-1919.

Frances became involved in the woman suffrage movement in Bangor, signing a petition for the woman's vote at a special election held September 10, 1917. At some point between 1917 and 1920, the Ayer family moved to Milton, Massachusetts. Frances moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the children in late 1929 or early 1930, prior to her divorce from Fred, which happened sometime between 1930 and 1933. She took up employment as a milliner in Milwaukee. In 1933, Fred married again, to Frances Goodwin Johnson, who passed away in 1935. Fred married a third time, to Letitia May, before his death on September 24, 1936.

Frances was a regular contributor on a weekday morning woman's radio program out of the Milwaukee radio station WTMJ in 1934. She was also a member of the Massachusetts Society of Colonial Dames of America, for women who could prove their link to a colonial ancestor. In Frances's case, she was related to William French. Frances also belonged to the Woman's Club of Wisconsin.

Frances passed away in Needham, Massachusetts, on September 22, 1970.


“1934 Press Photo Frances Butler Ayer, Widely Known Milwaukee Society Woman.” eBay. Accessed July 10, 2018.

American Ancestry: Giving the Name and Descent, in the Male Line, of Americans Whose Ancestors Settled in the United States Previous to the Declaration of Independence. Vol. IX. Albany, NY: Joel Munsell's Sons, 1894. 1930 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT, USA. Maine, Death Index, 1960-1997. Provo, UT, USA. New Hampshire, Marriage and Divorce Records, 1659-1947. Provo, UT, USA. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990. Provo, UT, USA

“Ayer, Frances Butler,” Milwaukee Journal (Milwaukee, WI), September 24, 1970, sec. Death Notices.

Cutler, Samuel, Jr. “A. R. R. Butler, Milwaukee's Centennial Mayor.” Historical Messenger of the Milwaukee County Historical Society 32, no. 2 (Summer 1976): 56–57.

“Eleanor Frances Butler. b. 2 Aug 1885 Oconomowoc, Waukesha County, Wisconsin d. 1970 Needham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts: Our Family History.” Our Family Genealogy Pages. Accessed August 9, 2018.

Francis, Charles. “John Butler Ayer, American Eagle.” Dirigo Flyer 6, no. 9 (September 1998).,%20No.%209,%20September%201998.pdf.

“Fred Rollins Ayer.” Paper Trade Journal 103, no. 14 (October 1, 1936).

“Fred Rollins Ayer: Sales Manager of Bright Water Paper Company Was 56.” New York Times, September 25, 1936, sec. Amusements.

Keeran, Roger. “Milwaukee Reformers in the Progressive Era: The City Club of Milwaukee, 1908-1922,” Thesis (M.A.), University of Wisconsin--Madison, 1969.

Milwaukee Social Register and Directory. Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Social Register and Directory Co, 1936: 50.

Milwaukee-Downer College. Annual Catalogue of Milwaukee-Downer College 1901-1902.

Milwaukee, WI: Burdick & Allen, 1901. “Radio: Radio Chatter - Wisconsin.” Variety (Archive: 1905-2000) (Los Angeles, CA), September 18, 1934: 48.

Register of the Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America, 1893-1944. Boston, MA, 1944.

Secretary's Report/Harvard College, Class of 1902. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1922.

“Society.” Milwaukee Daily News (Milwaukee, WI), February 4, 1909.

Suffrage Referendum League of Maine, "Suffrage Petition Bangor Maine, 1917" (1917).

Penobscot County Suffrage Petitions. 27.

White, James Terry, and George Derby, eds. The National Cyclopædia of American Biography: Being the History of the United States as Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, and of the Men and Women Who Are Doing the Work and Moulding the Thought of the Present Time. New York: J. T. White & Company, 1939.


Back row: Katharine Butler Brown, Mary Butler Hinkley (Frances' two older sisters)

Front row: Frances Butler Ayer, John Ammi Butler (Frances' father)

Taken from a public photo album on Google: “Butlers Crooked Lake Farm and Milwaukee.”


Ammi R. R. Butler (Frances' grandfather), Mary Butler Hinkley (Frances' sister), Frances Butler Ayer, and John Ammi Butler (Frances' father).

Taken from a public photo album on Google: “Butlers Crooked Lake Farm and Milwaukee.”


A 1934 press photo of Frances Butler Ayer. Taken from an eBay listing:

back to top