Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1898-1920

Biography of Clara Schlee Laddey, 1856-1932

By Sandy Perlin, Student at SUNY College at Old Westbury, Old Westbury, New York. Faculty Sponsor Carol Quirke

President of New Jersey Women's Suffrage Association (1908-1912), Chairman of Civics Club of Arlington (1905-1908), Finance Chairman, Women's International League of Peace and Freedom (1931-2).

Clara Schlee Laddey was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in April 1856, to Adolf T. Schlee and Pauline Steimie. She studied instrumental and vocal music in Stuttgart, Germany, and attended finishing school in Fribourg, Switzerland. On May 8th, 1875, she married Victor H. G. Laddey. Together they had three children, Erich, John, and Paula. The family emigrated to the United States in 1888, settling at 493 Summer Avenue, in Essex, New Jersey. In New Jersey, Clara sang in a Hoboken synagogue and served as the leader of a Glee Club.

Laddey's interest in women's issues began in Germany. At the age of seventeen, she attended a meeting for the organization of Stuttgart's first women's club. After arriving in the United States, she became interested in the “new woman.” In the 1890s, she was involved with the “Rainy Day Club.” This club supported women wearing short skirts (six to eight inches from the ground), in inclement weather.

Laddey's work for women's rights was tied to her civic work. In 1908, she endorsed the nomination of a woman to the local school board. She argued that, “women should have the same place in the management of the schools as of the home. The school is really an extension of the home.” From 1905 to 1908, Laddey served as the president of the Civic Club of Arlington, where she developed and became chairman of a joint campaign committee between the Woman's Literacy Club, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the aid societies of the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches.

In 1908, Laddey was elected president of the New Jersey Woman's Suffrage Association (NJWSA). As NJWSA president, she visited local leagues, spoke before societies, and gathered 9,000 signatures supporting the federal suffrage amendment. Laddey re-animated New Jersey's suffrage movement, taking the organization out of its “doldrums.” She held and supported suffrage rallies in public spaces, encouraging women's access to the public, political sphere. For example, in 1909, Laddey and the NJWSA joined New York women at Palisades Park for an outdoor meeting for women's suffrage. Under Laddey's leadership, the NJWSA agreed to work with the Equal Franchise Society, an organization of elite women, and the American Federation of Labor agreed to endorse women's suffrage.

Laddey enhanced the NJWSA's outreach efforts by establishing committees on Church Work, Industrial Problems, Endorsements, and Education. Laddey believed that granting women suffrage would constrain political corruption, child labor, and intemperance. She believed that women could use the vote to improve their working conditions, enter into new professions, and fight for equal pay for equal work. She argued that, “suffrage was a necessity for the common welfare.”

In 1911, Laddey spoke at public events at the Trenton Civics Club, at Newark's Military Park, and at the Plainfield Equal Suffrage League (PESL) headquarters. At the PESL headquarters' opening, Laddey and other suffragists paraded with white, green, and purple umbrellas, representing the colors of radical British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst's organization. In 1911, Laddey also became a member of the Joint Legislative Committee of Women's Suffrage.

In 1912, Lillian F. Feickert succeeded Laddey as NJWSA President. Yet, Laddey continued to advocate for women's suffrage and women's rights. She spoke in Racine, Wisconsin in 1912, in support of their constitutional amendment, and in Pennsylvania and Michigan in 1913, on behalf of state suffrage amendments. In Pennsylvania and Michigan, Laddey directly addressed German immigrants who had ties to immigrant communities, strong “liquor interests,” and opposed women's suffrage. Laddey was known for her eloquent speeches, where she showed her master of history, taking her listeners, “back to historic times when women headed her family.”

In 1912, Laddey also testified at public hearings in support of a suffrage ballot initiative to voters before the New Jersey Legislature. In 1913, she attended the New Jersey Conference on Charities and spoke on child labor and women's domestic labor. She was also present at the creation of New Jersey's League of Women Voters, in 1920.

Laddey believed state-wide, national, and international organization was important. In 1909, she joined Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Florence Kelly, and Carrie Chapman in Seattle at the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) Annual Convention. She remained a high-level and consistent donor to the National Woman's Party Two Million Dollar Fund. In 1912, she marched at the head of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage delegation in the first suffrage parade in New York City. In 1913, she served as an American delegate to the International Women's Suffrage Congress held in Budapest, Hungary. Laddey believed that, “the majesty of the [suffrage] movement” connected New Jersey suffrage organizing with international mobilization in twenty-three nations.

After the 19th amendment passed, Laddey continued her civic and political activism, becoming particularly interested in peace issues. In 1931, while serving as the Finance Chairman of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), she went on a speaking tour of the western United States with her colleague Katherine Blake. Blake and Laddey visited Lincoln, Salt Lake City, Reno, and ended in Los Angeles, where the national disarmament convention was being held. Laddey addressed the convention in a speech entitled, “Unromantic Aspects of the Women's International League.” She argued that nations of the world spent $5,000,000 annually for war, while people starved. The convention addressed U.S. imperialism in Hawaii and the Philippines, and ended by sending a twenty- five state caravan carrying petitions to President Herbert Hoover for U.S. disarmament. In memoriam of her work in the peace movement, a peace scholarship was created in Laddey's honor for the students of New York City schools.

Laddey's husband, Victor, died in 1929, and Clara died three years later, on April 11, 1932, at the age of 76, in Alton, New Hampshire. Their daughter, Paula, a Newark attorney, continued her mother's work for women's rights, serving as President of the Bryn Mawr Equal Franchise Society. Paula also collected information on the legal status of New Jersey's married women, presenting her preliminary findings to the NJWSA in 1910, and her final report to the League of Women Voters in the 1930s. Paula believed that marriage laws, property laws, wills, divorces and guardianships indicated that women had legal equality with men. Like Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, she maintained protective legislation should not be offered only to women.


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Photo of Clara Schlee Laddey from Scannells New Jerseys First Citizens and State Guide by Sackett, W. E., John James Scannell, and Mary Eleanor. Watson. Scannells New Jerseys First Citizens and State Guide ... Genealogies and Biographies of Citizens of New Jersey with Informing Glimpses into the State's History, Affairs, Officialism and Institutions, (Paterson, NJ: J.J. Scannell, 1917), pg. 316.

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