Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth M. Barr

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Elizabeth M. Barr, 1878-1950

By Kailee M. Garibaldi, Undergraduate Student, Rhode Island College

Treasurer, Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association and Rhode Island Women's Party; Librarian, Rhode State Library

Elizabeth M. Barr was born in Providence, Rhode Island on June 30, 1878 to Thomas N. Barr and Belle M. McIntosh. Her father was born in Scotland and her mother was born in Canada to Scottish immigrants. He worked as a machinist and she was a homemaker. The family moved to Worcester, Massachusetts at some point after 1885 and Barr attended school there. At twenty-two years old, in 1900, Barr worked as a stenographer in Worcester. The family returned to Providence by 1910 and she worked as a private teacher to families. Soon after, though, she began a long career as a librarian at the Rhode Island State Library. She worked at the library for nearly forty years and her position as reference librarian reportedly made her “well-known to the state's leaders and members of the General Assembly.” Barr never married and lived with family members until the 1930s.

In addition to her work as a librarian, Barr became active in the Rhode Island woman suffrage movement. The first report of her support was 1916 when she attended meetings of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA). By 1917, Barr became an officer of the organization serving as its treasurer, a position she continued until the suffrage victory in 1920. She served on a committee to organize the 50th anniversary of RIESA (which had been named the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association until 1915), an event at which Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, attended and gave a speech. For her service, RIESA made Barr an honorary vice president in 1919. As the ratification of suffrage approached in 1919, Barr became a charter member of the Rhode Island branch of the League of Women Voters, which replaced the RIESA organization.

Following the suffrage victory, as with many other suffragists, Barr became involved in American political parties. She became a member of the Women's Republican Club of Rhode Island in 1920 and remained active in the Republican Party for many years. She also remained committed to the cause of women's rights. In 1923, several prominent former suffragists founded a Rhode Island branch of the National Woman's Party to work for legal equality for women beyond suffrage. Barr was an original member of the new organization and served as its treasurer, as she had for the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association previously. Years later, in 1938, the defunct Rhode Island Women's Party was resurrected to fight for the cause of equality for women and the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. Barr joined the organization, serving as treasurer once again, and The Providence Journal referred to her as an “crusader for the emancipation of women.”

Besides her women's rights work, Barr was active in the community as a member of the Providence Plantations Club, a prominent organization that offered intellectual, social, and physical activities for women. She also was a member of a district of the Providence School Committee. A number of other suffragists also participated in these organizations. On May 21, 1950, Elizabeth M. Barr died following a long illness and was buried at the North Burial Ground in Providence, RI.

Sources:

Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922), 570. [LINK]

Reports Presented to the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, 1916, Part 1 (Providence: E.L. Freeman Co., State Printers, 1916), 305-307.

“Osborne's Prison Methods Defended,” The Providence Journal, April 1, 1916.

“Suffrage Association to Celebrate Its 50th Year,” The Providence Journal, November 9, 1918.

“State House Brevities,” The Providence Journal, April 2, 1919.

“A Half Century of Suffrage,” The Providence Sunday Journal, June 1, 1919.

“Suffrage Association,” The Providence Journal, December 6, 1919.

“Women's Club to Meet,” The Providence Sunday Journal, October 3, 1920.

“Ten Women Launch New R.I. Woman's Party on Its Course,” The Providence Journal, March 7, 1923.

“Plantations Club Open New Home,” The Providence Journal, November 9, 1927.

“RI Woman's Party Organizes Again,” The Providence Journal, December 15, 1938.

“Elizabeth M. Barr, 71, Librarian, Dies,” The Providence Journal, May 22, 1950.

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