Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Isabel Camblos de Rivera, 1848-1943
By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian
President of the New York Equal Suffrage League, New York delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention
Isabel Camblos, known as Belle, was born on March 15, 1848 to Henry S. (1823-1911) and Catharine Isabel (Patton) Camblos in Philadelphia, PA. Belle was educated at the Emma Willard Seminary in Troy, NY from 1864-5. Her family was of French and Scottish heritage. Henry Camblos served in the Civil War for three years (1861-1863) as a 1st Lieutenant and Regimental Quartermaster. After leaving the service, he moved the family to the New York City area. There he became a successful stockbroker and had a seat on the New York Stock Exchange for 46 years.
On February 7, 1877 she married John de Rivera in New York City and they had a daughter Henrietta (1878-1963). Her husband, born in Puerto Rico, was an insurance broker with his father's company Joseph de Rivera & Co. which he left in 1906 after a forgery scandal. Unexpectedly John de Rivera died of a hemorrhage in 1909. In 1912, Belle moved to New Jersey purchasing property in the town of Mountain Lakes. She died in 1943 and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Boonton, New Jersey.
Belle de Rivera was instrumental in organizing the New York City Federation of Women's Clubs in 1903 and was its president from 1905-1907. She served as president again from 1909-1911 and later was elected honorary president for life. After her move to Mountain Lakes, NJ, she organized the Women's Club of Mountain Lakes and became its first president in 1914.
She was very interested in improving the conditions for working girls. In 1906, as one of the projects when president of the New York Federation of Women's Clubs, she helped found a working girls hotel in New York City with the purpose of providing good lodgings for working women at moderate charge. She served as president on its board for many years. At a 1907 meeting of the Equal Suffrage League at the Hotel Astor, suffrage activist Minnie Sniederman addressed the group to talk about the housing needs of working women. She said that, “The working girl is not looking for charity; she only wants a square deal.” De Rivera then addressed the group saying, “The lodging houses the City Federation is starting for working girls will not be run for profit, but to give the girls a clean and comfortable home for the money they are able to pay.” In 1908, de Rivera organized the Woman's League of New York State (of which she became its president) which focused on making industrial training of girls the focus of its work.
Belle's suffrage involvement began by at least 1893 when she was a New York delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention. Her next documented suffrage activity was at the 1904 NAWSA convention, where she presented a program highlighting important women in history including Sappho, Margaret of Navarre, and Vittoria Colonna. She was a member of many suffrage organizations and was often asked to speak at women's events. In March of 1905 the New York County Woman Suffrage Association was formed and de Rivera became it's vice-president at large. Then in June of 1906 she spoke at the thirteenth annual convention of the Kings County Women's Political Equality League in Brooklyn. During her speech she said, “There is no reason to be discouraged. In the early days of suffrage there were special injustices that needed to be wiped out; practically to-day women are very well protected by law. The cause is now on a spiritual plane, the hardest kind of cause to uphold. We will not be discouraged till all women are free, let the miserable anti-suffragists go along as they will singing their requiem.”
On the more radical side of the suffrage movement, she also was a member of the Equal Suffrage League of New York City, serving as its president for seven years. Rivera attended the 1907 “Presidents Day” (a gathering of all the presidents of all the women's clubs) at the Woman's Press Club in New York. While there she, wore a large corsage bearing the words: VOTES FOR WOMEN from Mrs. Boorman Wells, a radical suffragist from England (whom she supported). Wells was in New York promoting an open-air suffrage meeting to be held in Madison Square. Although many at the Presidents Day meeting were advocates of the suffrage cause, most were not for a suffrage movement in the US. In the New York Times, Rivera is quoted, “During the past ten or fifteen years the suffragists have accomplished nothing. The best work Susan B. Anthony ever did was to go to the polls and vote, though she was arrested for it. I shall not speak at the meeting unless the Suffrage League, of which I am President, consents.” It is not known if Rivera was allowed to speak at the rally or not. Even into 1910 there was a still lot of sentiment against speaking publically about suffrage. But in February of 1910, Rivera, who was still President of the City Federation of Woman's Clubs was given permission by Mrs. Gilbert Jones, an Anti, to “talk on woman suffrage as much as she likes” according to a New York Times article.
In addition to her suffrage work, she was active in many civic groups including the Daughters of Pennsylvania, Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Minerva Club, the New York Theatre Club, and the Society of New York State Women. Rivera also publically lent her name to support the Gledhill-Foley Bill, proposed to the New York State Legislature in 1909, which advocated for equal pay for female teachers. Though it passed both the NY Senate and Assembly, it was vetoed by the Mayor McClellan.
- US Cities Directories 1822-1995
- Federal Census 1880, 1910, 1920
- NY State Census 1905
William E. Sackett, ed., Scannell's New Jersey's First Citizens, (Paterson, NJ: J.J. Scannell, 1917), pgs. 129-130. https://books.google.com/books?id=vdgDAAAAYAAJ
Strachan, Grace Charlotte, Equal Pay for Equal Work, (New York: B.F. Buck, 1910), pg. 230. https://books.google.com/books?id=K4tUsoCQ7usC
“Club News,” The Standard Union, (Brooklyn), June 10, 1906, pg. 17.
“$50,000 Forged Stamps,” The New York Times, July 29, 1906, pg. 1.
“Women Suffragists Not All in Harmony”, New York Times, December 29, 1907, pg. 13.
“DeRivera Dies Suddenly,” The New York Times, March 2, 1909, pg. 1.
“Mrs. De Rivera Unmuzzled”, New York Times, February 9, 1910, pg. 3
Picture of Belle de Rivera from Scannell's New Jersey's First Citizens