Biographical Sketch of Clara Kingsley Fuller

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Clara Kingsley Fuller, 1861-1941

By Dr. Linda Janke, Instructor of U.S. History, Anoka-Ramsey Community College

Clara Kingsley was born in 1861 (estimated) in Illinois and later moved to Little Falls, Minnesota where she married Wheaton Fuller in 1894. Wheaton struggled with deteriorating eyesight and eventually died in the hospital where he had, as his obituary noted, “gone to secure relief after a nervous breakdown.” After his death in 1908, Clara Fuller assumed Wheaton's role as editor and publisher of the Transcript Publishing Company. During this period she also authored a two-volume history of Morrison and Todd Counties, published in 1915.

Fuller became an activist in the suffrage movement and attended the national meeting of NAWSA and the Congressional Union in Washington D.C. in 1915. She returned to Washington D.C. in 1917 where she joined six other suffragists from the National Woman's Party who were picketing the White House on August 23. They carried banners which quoted President Wilson, including “I tell you solemnly, Ladies and Gentlemen, we cannot postpone justice any longer in these United States.” They were arrested on the charge of obstructing traffic. In court, Fuller pleaded her case to Judge Pugh:

I am the editor, owner, and publisher of a daily and weekly newspaper in Minnesota. I pay taxes to this government, yet I have nothing to say in the making of those laws which control me, either as an individual or as a business woman. Taxation without representation is undemocratic... I went on the picket line and did my bit towards making democracy safe at home, while our men are making democracy safe for the world.

The Suffragist later reported that Judge Pugh disliked sentencing “ladies of standing” to jail and offered to strike their sentences if they would agree to stop picketing. They rejected his offer: “In the face of the dead silence that followed, he pronounced sentence: A fine of twenty-five dollars or thirty days at the Occoquan Workhouse.” The women were released on $25 bail while their case was under appeal.

While out on bail, Fuller returned to the picket lines on August 28 and was again arrested. The suffragists' attorney argued that they should be tried under the jurisdiction of a federal court since they were behind the tree line on Pennsylvania Avenue, which the judge described as “so absurd as to test the patience of anyone.” The Washington Post reported the women declared their willingness to “go down to Occoquan and do their bit for the ‘cause.'” Despite their readiness to serve time in the workhouse, they were again sentenced to $25 or thirty days and were released on bond pending appeal. After this second arrest, her hometown paper, the Little Falls Herald, hailed her as a “double martyr.” However, Fuller's activities were not always appreciated back in Minnesota. The editors of the Princeton, MN paper opined they would not be sending her a congratulatory bouquet of flowers as they “strongly denounce[d] the treatment to which the president is being subjected by a horde of she-insurrectionaries.”

While her case was under appeal, Fuller returned to Minnesota with her fellow suffragists, where they received a chilly reception from the local woman's club, whose leaders refused to host an October 1917 reception in their honor as they “preferred not to encourage what they regarded as unpatriotic conduct.” One of the leaders of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association called the picketers “traitors to the government” and local suffrage leaders acknowledged that a split within the movement would soon follow. An attorney for Fuller and the suffragists appeared in court in January 1918 and a decision was handed down on March 4, 1918. The judge reversed the decision of the police courts, stating that "Every white house suffrage picket was illegally arrested, illegally convicted and illegally imprisoned."

After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Fuller remained active within the National Woman's Party and traveled to Washington D.C. to attend their national conference in 1921. Fuller died in 1941 and is buried in Little Falls, Minnesota.

SOURCES:

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), December 1, 1915; Friday October 19, 1917; Saturday, October 20, 1917, January 17, 1921.

Little Falls Herald (Little Falls, MN), November 9, 1908, August 31, 1917.

The Princeton Union (Princeton, MN), August 31, 1917.

The Washington Times (Washington, D.C.), August 29, 1917.

The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), August 30, 1917, January 9, 1918

Buffalo (NY) Evening News, March 5, 1918.

Irwin, Inez Hayes. The Story of the Woman's Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1921).

“Morrison County Influentials,” Morrison County (Minnesota) Historical Society, http://morrisoncountyhistory.org

United States Census, 1910, 1930, 1940, accessed on Ancestry.com.

Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

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