Biographical Sketch of Cecilia Gaines Holland

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Cecilia Gaines Holland, 1860-1943

By George Robb, Professor, William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey

President, New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs

Cecilia Gaines was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on January 12, 1860 to Henry Gaines and Jane Beatty. The family soon moved to Jersey City, where Henry worked as a customs inspector and Cecilia attended the city's public schools. In 1887 Cecilia organized the Odd Volumes Club to bring women together for the study of social and political issues. This was the beginning of a long career as a clubwoman.

Gaines was the founder and first president of the Jersey City Woman's Club. Under her guidance, the group spearheaded a number of civic initiatives, such as establishing the first kindergartens in Jersey City and creating travelling libraries to serve rural communities. Most famously, the women organized a movement that rescued the New Jersey Palisades from development, preserving it as a public park. In recognition of Gaines's work, the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs elected her president in 1897.

In 1899 Cecilia Gaines married John Arnold Holland, a physician who had emigrated from England to study medicine in the United States. The couple's only child, Cecilia, was born in 1902. They moved to Cold Spring, New York, where John practiced medicine and Cecilia founded a domestic training school for girls. In 1910 the Hollands moved to Montclair, New Jersey, where they were to live for the rest of their lives. Cecilia became active in the Woman's Club of Upper Montclair, establishing a Civic Department for the group.

Cecilia Gaines Holland's various civic campaigns were conducted at a time when women had no political power. She had often encountered male skepticism, which convinced her that women could accomplish even more if they had the vote. Upon moving to Montclair she joined that town's newly formed Equal Suffrage League. Holland and her fellow suffragists took part in parades and street demonstrations and canvassed for the cause door to door. They also invited suffrage leaders, like Anna Howard Shaw and Harriet Stanton Blatch, to speak in Montclair. Holland frequently represented Montclair at statewide meetings of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, as when she acted as toastmistress at a fundraiser in Jersey City in 1912. When women finally got the vote in 1920, Holland urged them to use this power to improve their communities.

In addition to her social and political activities, Cecilia Gaines Holland had a strong interest in the arts. She wrote poetry, short stories, and magazine articles as well as song lyrics and librettos for musicals. When her husband died in April 1943, Cecilia went to stay with her daughter in California. She died there on June 30, 1943. In 1944 the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs named its annual service award in her honor.

Sources:

Leonard, John William, “Cecilia Gaines Holland,” Woman's Who's Who of America (New York, The American Commonwealth Company, 1914), pg. 397. [LINK]

“Cecilia Gaines Holland,” The Bulletin (April 1938), pgs. 6-7.

“Mrs. John Holland,” Montclair Times, July 8, 1943.

“Recollections of the Montclair Equal Suffrage League by an Old Timer,” Montclair Public Library, Local History Collection

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