Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Melinda Scott, 1876-1954
By Kelsey Brow, Curator, King Manor Museum, Jamaica, New York
President, New York Women's Trade Union League
Melinda Scott was born on October 18, 1876, in Stockport, England. She worked as a hat-trimmer in Manchester, England, before immigrating to Newark, NJ, in 1896. In the early twentieth-century Scott fought for worker's rights and was active in the labor union movement. She was a leader of the Organized Hat Trimmers of Newark, a group that investigated factory work conditions and hazards. The Organized Hat Trimmers sought to prevent fires like the one on November 26, 1910, that killed nearly 30, mostly women, workers.
In 1907, Scott organized the English-speaking workers of the New York Women's Trade Union League. She was later elected President of the League. She also held positions in the National Women's Trade Union League, including Treasurer (1911-1913) and Vice President (1913-1919). Scott worked with unionizing and striking workers in New York and New Jersey, including Perth Amboy, Trenton, and Bound Brook. She also participated in the 1911 New York laundry workers strike.
Scott believed that women's suffrage would enable women to vote for laws giving them safer working conditions. In 1914, she joined a delegation of trade union women presenting to President Wilson. In her presentation she argued, “We hear about the sacredness of the home. What sacredness is there about a home when it is turned into a factory, where we find a mother, very often with a child at her breast, running a sewing machine? Running up third-seven seams for a cent?” Scott wanted better working conditions and quality of life for working women.
Scott worked with various organizations promoting working women's rights and women's suffrage. In 1912, she vouched for the importance of suffrage before the New York Legislature, and in 1915 she presided over a mass suffrage meeting at Cooper Union, New York. During World War I, Scott pursued new opportunities that would continue to allow her to support working women. She joined the American Labor Mission to Great Britain and France, and, in 1918, she was appointed Assistant Director of the Woman's Branch of the Employment Service in the War Labor Department.
Scott, like many other working women, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In 1923, she argued before a Senate Judiciary Committee that, “the National Woman's Party does not know what it is to work 10 or 12 hours a day in a factory; so, they do not know what it means to lose an eight-hour-day or a nine-hour day law. The working women do know.” Trade unionists like Scott believed that the ERA would cause working women to lose special gender-based working and wage protections. Disagreement over the ERA was a major cause of friction between working women and club women.
Scott continued public work long after the 19th Amendment passed; she was employed at the Newark City Tax Office when she passed away in August 1954.
Hopkins, Mary Alden. “1910 Factory Fire,” McClure's Magazine, Volume 36, Number 6. April 1911. https://www.oldnewark.com/histories/factoryfirearticle.php
“Needle Girl Strike Wins Suffrage Aid,” New York Times, February 11, 1916, pg. 21. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1916/02/11/100190396.pdf
National American Woman Suffrage Association. History of Woman Suffrage 1900-1920, (JJ Little & Ives Co. New York, 1922), pgs. 419, 422. [LINK]
Steiner, Gilbert. Constitutional Inequality: The Political Fortunes of the Equal Rights Amendment, (Brookings Institution Press, Washington D.C., 2011), pg. 7. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0815714297
Dodyk, Delight W., "Education and Agitation: The Woman Suffrage Movement in New Jersey," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, 1997). pp. 698-703
United States Congress, Congressional Record: Containing The Proceedings and Debates of the Sixty-Third Congress Second Session, Volume II. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1914, 858.
“Deaths in New Jersey,” Courier Post (Camden, N.J.) August 11, 1954, p.4.
“Malinda Scott: in the 1920 United States Federal Census” Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. (NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C. For details on the contents of the film numbers, visit the following NARA web page: NARA. Note: Enumeration Districts 819-839 are on roll 323 (Chicago City)
“Melinda Scott: in the U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Roll #: 695; Volume #: Roll 0695 - Certificates: 62000-62249, 06 Feb 1919-07 Feb 1919
“Melinda Scott: in the 1910 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. Year: 1910; Census Place: Harrison Ward 1, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: T624_885; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0035; FHL microfilm: 1374898
“Melinda Scott: in the New Jersey, Naturalization Records, 1878-1945,” Ancestry.com. New Jersey, Naturalization Records, 1878-1945 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Petitions for Naturalization from the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey at Newark, New Jersey, 1924-1945; Series Number: M2123; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; NARA Microfilm Number: 003