Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Hannah Johnston Bailey, 1839-1923

By Gail Gardner, Boston, MA

Peace Advocate and Suffragist

Hannah Clark Johnston was born in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, NY in 1839, the eldest child of David Johnston, a farmer, tanner and Quaker preacher, and Letitia Clark Johnston, who was an active member of the Quaker society, as well. The couple had eleven children, seven of whom survived infancy. The family was deeply religious and Hannah attended both a Friends boarding school and public schools in the town of Plattekill in Ulster County, NY, her home for the first 30 years of her life. In spite of their abiding, non-violent Quaker faith, two of her brothers fought in the American Civil War, their older sister telling them “our Country has called aid your fellow countrymen in putting down rebellion and slavery and instituting freedom and peace in a permanent reign over a land so long noted for its freedom.” Her brother, Joseph, was killed in combat and this family tragedy confirmed Hannah's commitment to not only pacifism but an absolute hatred of war.

Hannah became a school teacher and was passionate about that work, until in 1867 she went on a mission trip to New England with Quaker preacher, Hannah Fry. For six months the two women traveled to numerous almshouses, asylums, prisons, and Friends meetings as well as many non-Quaker churches. Ms. Johnston was not at all confident in public speaking including public prayer. This caused her much anxiety until she came to the conclusion that she could gain strength from God, rather than other human beings, and from that time forward, she was a confident, powerful speaker and advocate for causes that were close to her heart. Shortly after this realization, Hannah attended a Meeting in Winthrop Center, Maine, where she met the recently widowed, Moses Bailey who was 22 years her senior. Mr. Bailey was a fellow Friend and joined Ms. Johnston and Ms. Fry in their travels for next three weeks, during which time Hannah and Moses fell in love. The couple married on October 13, 1868 and moved to Winthrop, Maine, which became her home for the remainder of her life. Moses Bailey was a wealthy businessman who owned a large farm, an oil-cloth factory, and a carpet store. After 14 years of a devoted marriage, Moses died of lung disease so his wife and their only child, Moses Melvin Bailey, inherited his great wealth and ran his businesses.

Following her husband's death, Mrs. Bailey taught Sunday school and was an active member of several Friends committees as well as the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of New England. In 1883 she joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union which, four years later, established a department of peace and arbitration. Hannah Bailey was named superintendent of this bureau and, under her guidance, it became the most active separate women's peace agency in the country. Hannah was passionately devoted to peace and focused much of her time and energy to teaching children to “pledge themselves to keep from quarrelling” and to be kind, helpful citizens. She published a monthly magazine, The Acorn, to encourage children to be her helpers in the cause of “Peace and Arbitration.”

In 1897, the third annual Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration was held at a resort in the Catskills. There, among many other issues, the attendees accepted that gender differences existed and that women, as the country's moral housekeepers, must be leaders in eliminating immorality, poverty, warfare and other evils of mankind. By the time Mrs. Bailey spoke at the conference, women had been recognized as leaders in many reform movements across the country.

Hannah Johnston Bailey believed in the moral superiority of women, which was a viewpoint that she often and resolutely brought up when championing women's right to vote. From 1891-1897 she was the president of the Maine Equal Suffrage Association which she directly linked to her pacifism. In various speeches, she professed that women should be granted the right to vote since they were more law-abiding than men and that women “have more feeling than men and so if in possession of the ballot would vote down the military measures of government. It is simply inconceivable for women to realize how me can heartlessly engage in warfare and discuss its cruelties.” Hannah Johnston Bailey espoused that once women in the United States were given the right to vote, there would be no more war.

Of course, unfortunately, this was not the case but Mrs. Bailey's work for peace made a huge impact on many people and organizations throughout the country. Her health began to fail in 1916 but she continued to welcome many friends to her summer home, the Pine Bluff Chalet on Belle Isle, Maine. She died at the age of 84 in 1923. Her papers are archived in the Swarthmore College Peace Collections.

Photo;, from Wikipedia.



Craig, John M. “Hannah Johnston Bailey: Publicist for Peace" and it is pages 3-16 in Women in World History; A Biographical Encyclopedia, edited by Anne Commire (Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications, 1999), 3-16.

Craig, John M. “Nineteenth-Century Feminist Strategies for Nonviolence” Quaker History 84, #1, (Spring 1995): 3-16.

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