Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Fanny Beatrice Downs, 1865-?
By Giuliana Capobianco, student, SUNY Old Westbury
Faculty Sponsor Carol Quirke, and Reference Support, Christa Devirgilo, librarian, SUNY Old Westbury
Corresponding Secretary of New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, Political Study Club (1893-1905), Moorestown, New Jersey.
Fanny Beatrice Miller was a white English woman born in 1865. Her birth parents were born in England as well. She immigrated to the United States in 1880. Marriage records indicate she was married to William Downs in 1890, who was from Scotland. Fanny was educated and literate. She and her family were members of the Grace Episcopal Church. According to the 1910 U.S. Federal Population Census, her residence was 25 High Street, Orange NJ, Essex County; she lived there while she served in the suffrage movement. The 1940 census showed that she was widowed by 1930. Death records for Fanny Downs could not be located.
Beginning in 1790, single women who owned property (and black men) In New Jersey could exercise the right to vote. New Jersey was the lone state which allowed this. But in 1807, the women of New Jersey lost that right. New Jersey had one of the first statewide women's suffrage organizations, according to the History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. V, founded by Lucy Stone in 1867. A failed 1897 attempt to get women the ballot for school district races hurt the state suffrage cause, according the History (412); Downs was involved in the movement during this weakened period for the state associations. New Jersey supported many women's clubs and suffrage clubs, an important one being the Political Study Club. Mrs. Minola Graham Sexton of Orange, New Jersey founded the Orange Political Study Club and was elected its first president. Mrs. Fanny B. Downs was involved with the Orange Political Study Club, and became the Corresponding Secretary of the New Jersey Women's Suffrage Association (NJWSA) from 1900 to 1905. As a note held at the Schlesinger Library indicates, Downs's position of being a corresponding secretary was to write letters to different women in and outside the organization, to inform women of meetings, listing locations and times, which was critical in promoting members' involvement. As Corresponding Secretary, Fanny B. Downs also helped president, Mineola Graham Sexton prepare the NJWSA report for the 1904 National American Woman's Suffrage Association's convention. At that point, the NJWSA hosted “midsummer meetings” at Ocean Grove, the Methodist camp town, hired an organizer for a month-long speaking tour, and hosted speakers for their “fifteen affiliated clubs.” According to the convention minutes, the “political studies clubs” researched women's taxes, sought oversight of female prisoners' care with the goal of establishing a Woman's State Reformatory, and investigated the legislature for corruption. Downs is also listed in the same position in the 1906 convention minutes. At the age of seventy-nine, she became a U.S. citizen, in 1942.
Ancestry. 1910 United States Federal Census. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv= 1&dbid=61047&h=30007819&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=kfh1&_phstart=successSource
Archives. 1940 Census District 7-83. http://www.archives.com/1940-census/fanny-downs-nj 125958420?FirstName=Fanny&LastName=Downs&MiddleName=b&Location=NJ&folderImageSeq=137
Harper, Ida, The History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920 Volume VI, (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]
History.com Staff. Women's Suffrage. History.com: A+E Networks, 2009. April 17, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/the-fight-for-womens-suffrage.
Letter to Ella Blackwell from Fanny Downs, 1902, at Schlesinger Library, http://schlesinger.radcliffe.harvard.edu/onlinecollections/blackwell/item/48493000/70
National American Women's Suffrage Association, Handbook of the National American Women's Suffrage Association, Thirty-Seventh Convention, February 1904, pgs. 90-92 at https://books.google.com/books?id=gqMLAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA163&dq=Fanny+B.+Downs&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj87_iSkIHdAhUCJt8KHbyBCGoQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=Fanny%20B.%20Downs&f=false
National Park Service, “Did You Know, Women and African Americans Could Vote in New Jersey Before the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments,” at https://www.nps.gov/articles/voting-rights-in-nj-before-the-15th-and-19th.htm
“personal mention,” The Trenton Times, (Trenton, New Jersey), October 24, 1885. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi in/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7884&h=171792789&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=kfh1&_phstart=successSource
Upton, Harriet, Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, (Washington D.C.: Stormont & Jackson, Printers, 1893).