Biographical Sketch of Janet Richards

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Janet Richards, 1859-1948

By Corey Fabian-Barrett, independent historian

Janet Elizabeth Hosmer Richards (born in Granville, Ohio in 1859), known as “The Living Newspaper” for her thorough knowledge of current affairs, was a prominent lecturer in the early twentieth century. She also wrote for The Washington Post. Her father was lawyer and journalist William Richards and her mother Helen Ralston Richards of Vermont.

Richards became well-known from New York to Washington, D.C. for her lectures on history, travel, and politics. Her career as a lecturer on current affairs began in 1895 when she started offering classes in Washington, D.C. to the wives of prominent officials.

Starting in 1911, she began to give lectures specifically about “votes for women” after experiencing increased interest in the subject during her other lectures. By 1914, she was reportedly delivering 800 lectures a year. Richards preferred to think of these lectures as “classes,” where women could learn about the world regardless of their socioeconomic status. Throughout her years as a traveling lecturer, Richards lectured as part of mass meetings organized by various local suffrage chapters.

Richards established herself in Washington, D.C., with a home in Chevy Chase and an apartment in the city proper, where she lived with her companion Emma Cornelia Cran(e)s. Cranes was described as her “friend and secretary” by the press and as Richards's “private companion” in the 1940 U.S. Census.

Richards worked hard as a leader of the suffrage movement, serving as a delegate to the International Women's Suffrage Alliance at Amsterdam in 1908, Stockholm in 1911, and Rome in 1923.

In addition to her lecture circuit, Richards was also a charter member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Richards could trace her ancestry back to Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene and later served as the honorary chairman of the DAR's golden jubilee committee in 1940. Richards was also a member of the Women's League, the National Geographic Society, and the Audubon Society.

Richards's charisma and talents are adoringly described in a profile that appeared in The New York Sun in 1914: “She talks with charming naturalness, directness and spontaneity, in a voice of wining sweetness and carrying power, holding the attention of her large audiences, and thrilling crowds with the conviction that what she says is true.... She is gifted in so many ways that she might have shone in any one of several careers.” Her lectures were extremely popular and were widely advertised in the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast.

Richards's diaries and personal papers are held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Another collection is found at Gerorgetown University. She died in 1948 at her home in Washington at the age of 89.

Sources:

Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. IV (1883-1900). Rochester, N.Y., 1902. [LINK]

“Inventiveness Their Key To Success,” The New York Sun, May 17, 1914, pg. 16.

Logan, Mrs. John A. The Part Taken by Women in American History. Wilmington, DE: Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, 1912.

U.S. Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth census of the United States, 1940-Population, AncestryHeritageQuest.com (website).

“Who Says A Woman Cannot Explain Politics?” The New York Tribune, November 28, 1913, p. 7.

“Women's Suffrage Leader is Dead,” The Buffalo Courier Express, April 5, 1948, p. 1.

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