Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Laura Runyon, 1863-1932, and the Warrensburg Suffrage League
By Dr. Elyssa Ford, Northwest Missouri State University
Laura Runyon was born in Springfield, Illinois, to John Calvin and Harriett Chase Runyon in 1863. She never married or had children and instead devoted her life to teaching and pushing for women's rights.
Laura earned her Bachelor and Master's degrees at the University of Chicago and from 1898 to 1903 taught history at the Laboratory School, an experimental elementary school at the university. She worked closely with the school's founder John Dewey and wrote and edited publications about the school. Laura left to take a faculty position at the Normal School in Warrensburg, Missouri.
In 1911, Laura organized a women's suffrage club in Warrensburg, originally called the Political Equality Club, with fifty members, made up of other female faculty and students, though men were welcome from its inception. The Warrensburg group was the second suffrage club in the state, preceded by one in Kansas City and soon followed by one in Webster Groves, in the St. Louis area. Once the three groups were established, they held a convention in the spring of 1911 and organized as the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association, wrote a constitution, and elected officers.
In 1913, Laura represented the women of Missouri at a congressional hearing on suffrage in Washington, D.C., and she was active at home by helping the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association gather signatures to initiate a suffrage vote at the state level. Though successful in the petition, the vote failed in the state legislature. In the summer of 1914, Laura and other women distributed suffrage literature at the state fair, and in 1915 she was a contributing editor to The Missouri Woman, a publication created by the state organization to promote suffrage. From 1916 to 1919, she served as the congressional district chairperson for Johnson County. The districts aligned with the state political divisions and were used by suffrage groups to better organize.
The work of suffragists across the country was successful when the nineteenth amendment passed U.S. Congress, and Laura was involved in Missouri's ratification. In July 1919, the state legislature met for a special session to vote on the amendment. The night before, in a final attempt to sway the legislators, the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association hosted a banquet, and Laura personally escorted the governor. Missouri ratified the woman suffrage amendment on July 3, making it one of the earliest approving states.
After gaining suffrage, the state group reorganized as the Missouri League of Women Voters. Laura was one of three women who drafted the constitution of the new organization. Just a year later, she participated in a meeting where they adopted a platform that demanded a number of state-level changes, including a new state constitution, protective legislation for women and children, and better schools and teacher salaries. This was given to the state Republican and Democratic meetings in 1920, and politicians appeared to listen. In 1922, the state held a meeting to revise the Missouri constitution for the first time since 1875, and Laura was appointed by the governor as the only woman in a group of six people tasked with gathering information to aid the convention delegates.
Throughout, Laura remained active with the Warrensburg group. They met once or twice a month, focused on educating the local community on suffrage, and brought in speakers, including Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, a prominent suffragist. They also held a local suffrage parade and published two suffrage editions of the Warrensburg Daily Star newspaper. Their final action as a suffrage group was to hold a School of Citizenship in the fall of 1919 to help transition women into their newly gained political rights, after which they reorganized as a part of the League of Women Voters.
Due to poor health, Laura resigned from her faculty position in 1930, and she died just two years later. Despite her important and unending focus on suffrage and women's rights, her obituary failed to include her suffrage work and instead emphasized her much more limited involvement in the Daughters of the American Revolution and her work during World War I with liberty bonds and the Red Cross.
Photograph of Laura Runyon, The Daily Missoulian (Missoula, Montana) 07 June 1914, p.9.
Laura Runyon's suffrage work is detailed in contemporary publications by Mary Semple Scott, editor, “History of Woman Suffrage in Missouri,” Missouri Historical Review, XIV:3-4 (April-July 1920) published by the State Historical Society of Missouri and by Ida H. Harper, “Missouri,” in The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 6 (1922), published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. [LINK]
Newspapers including: The Hays Free Press (Hays, Kansas), St. Louis Dispatch, St. Louis Star and Times, Jefferson City Post-Tribune (Jefferson City, Missouri), Springfield News-Leader (Springfield, Missouri), Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune (Chillicothe, Missouri), The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), The Daily Missoulian (Missoula, Montana) also highlight Runyon's suffrage involvement. Her professional work as an educator and her contributions to suffrage are included in Ewing Cockrell's History of Johnson County, Missouri (Topeka, Kansas: Historical Publishing Company, 1918). Runyon herself wrote on teaching theory and practice. Her publications include “Elementary History Teaching in the Laboratory School,” The Elementary School Teacher IV (July 1903-June 1904) by the University of Chicago Press and her Master's thesis “The Teaching of Elementary History in the Dewey School” (1906) from the University of Chicago.
Laura Runyon, The Daily Missoulian (Missoula, Montana) 07 June 1914, p.9.