Biographical Sketch of Violet Westcott Morawetz

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Violet Westcott Morawetz, 1878-1918

By Carolyn Mazzu Genovesi, Esq.

Activist in the Suffrage movement. Fundraiser for the Red Cross and the underprivileged.

Violet Westcott Morawetz was born in 1878 in Rochester, New York. She died in December 1918 in Manhattan, New York after suffering with tuberculosis for most of her adult life. Violet's mother Jane Westcott had died in January 1890, when she was 12 years old. Her father Edward Noyes Westcott was a banker and stock broker who wrote the humorous fictional American classic novel, David Harum, A Story of American Life. After Edward Westcott passed away in 1898 his book became a best-seller, leaving a substantial estate to Violet and her two siblings, Harold Westcott (1875-1904) and Philip N. Westcott (1884-1926).

In 1899, Violet appeared in the society pages of national newspapers which noted that she was an active society girl, a good horsewoman and a beautiful young lady. In 1904 after living with her brother Harold in California, where they were both convalescing after contracting tuberculosis, Violet left to live in Europe. In 1908, her brother Harold died from tuberculosis and she did not return for his funeral. In reporting her failure to return to the United States a newspaper remarked that Violet “in spite of being a hopeless invalid knows she cannot recover from her illness and will die like her brother Harold.”

In Europe Violet lived with Marie van Vorst who was an American writer and researcher. Violet maintained a friendship with von Vorst after returning to the United States. Van Vorst cared for the wounded in France's hospitals and wrote letters to Violet from 1912 – 1915. The letters chronicled the dreadful medical conditions during the war and in response, Violet financially sponsored an American nurse, a Miss Lawrence, to serve in the Ambulance Hospital in France. Violet was a member of the France Honors League and the Red Cross Canteen at Calais from 1917-1919. In 1915, Violet was the Patron of the Great Dress Display a fundraiser to aid France's wounded emergency fund. After the United States joined the war she was appointed Vice-Chairman for Manhattan's Red Cross Campaign. Violet was appointed by the New York State Legislature, to act as Vice Chairman of the Social Services Committee of the Red Cross. In addition to her work for the Red Cross, from 1911 through 1918 she fundraised for hospitals and the disadvantaged using her social connections. In 1916, she was the Patron of the Ball at the Ritz Carlton for the Lenox Hill Settlement. She also worked actively for the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, from 1912 through 1917.

In 1910, when Violet was still living in Europe, Mr. Victor Morawetz a millionaire and lawyer visited a friend in Manhattan and that friend was a cousin of Violet's, Mrs. Dunham. In Dunham's drawing room, Victor observed a portrait of Violet, painted by the society painter, Mrs. V. Herter. Victor Morawetz, after seeing the beauty of Violet in the portrait arranged to meet her and ten days later sailed to Paris where she was living. On April 20, 1911, Violet and Victor were married in London. Violet's marriage to Victor was reported nationally, with various romantic story bylines like; “O'er Seas for a Bride. Cupid uses Painting of Miss Westcott's Face as Lure” and, “Millionaire Clubman, Impressed by Beauty in Portrait, Crosses Sea to Win Original.” After their marriage, Violet and Victor returned to the United States and lived in both Manhattan and Long Island. They built a summer home on Long Island called Three Ponds, which is located on South Woods Road in Woodbury, New York. The home has been owned since 1989, by the Town of Oyster Bay, New York.

After returning to New York with her husband, Violet attended many society events with the “Gilded Suffragists” who were from prominent New York families. Violet was an acquaintance of Kathrine Mackay from Roslyn, Long Island. Mackay was at the center of organizing for the suffrage movement in New York and headed The Equal Franchise Society of which Violet was a member. Additionally, both her cousin Mrs. Herter in whose drawing room her portrait hung, and the artist who painted the portrait, Mrs. Dunham, were active in the suffrage movement and influenced Violet's work.

From 1911 through 1918, Violet worked on organizing and fundraising for suffrage. Violet attended the Empire State Campaign Committee for suffrage at the annual convention held from November 30 - December 2, 1916. The New York State Campaign was consolidated under the State Woman Suffrage Party and Violet was on the Executive Committee. She also served on the Entertainment and Education Committee for the National Woman's Suffrage Party. At the State Departmental Work for the National American Convention of 1917, Violet was appointed a Speaker in War Time and Chairman of the speaker's bureau. In February of 1917, Violet held a suffrage experience meeting at the Cosmopolitan Club in New York City with educational lectures that was attended by both supporters and anti-suffragists. After the United States entered World War I, the suffrage movement worked to support the war effort. Violet was on the special committee appointed by the New York City Chairman through the New York State Senate for those enlistment efforts. As a result, in March 1917 the headquarters of the Woman's Suffrage Party on Livingston Street, Brooklyn, New York became an enlistment station, which she helped organize.

The Men's League for Woman Suffrage was comprised of a considerable number of influential men that both spoke and fundraised in support of the woman's vote in New York. The Men's League included Violet's husband, who was the main speaker at a meeting in October 1917 titled “Men's Experience and Why They Believe in Suffrage.”

Woman received the right to vote in New York on November 6, 1917. Immediately after, Violet was charged with organizing a meeting at Metropolitan Opera House where Col. Roosevelt spoke to their victory. But the work to get the vote for woman on the national stage was not over and from December 12-15, 1917 the National Woman's Suffragette Conference was held in Washington D.C. Over 100 women from the New York Delegation braved a severe snow storm to get to Washington; that delegation included Violet who was a speaker.

In 1918, when tremendous efforts to get the national vote for woman were underway, the Woman's Suffrage Party had to combat what they saw as the actions of “militant” suffragists whose headquarters were in Washington D.C. The Washington Suffragists were picketing the White House and attacking President Wilson and other public men. These protesters caused dissention amongst the New York State Woman's Suffrage Party leaders, as some of the protesters also supported the Bolshevik Government in Russian and socialism and the mainstream suffrage leaders feared that the suffrage cause would be damaged. Violet was at the center of making choices about how to handle this division.

At a meeting in January 1918 held at Carnegie Hall to discuss the national vote the militant suffragists who had been arrested in front of the White House, marched into Carnegie Hall and it was reported that Violet refused to applaud and stand for them. At that time, Violet was head of the Suffrage School of Citizenship. The school was newly opened in New York and was conducting classes from January 7-13, 1918. The classes were titled “Simple Course in Citizenship – an Aid to Woman Voters.” Violet, on the heels of the Carnegie Hall meeting, received hundreds of letters from woman in the movement who wanted the Suffrage School to distance themselves from any Socialists. Violet was asked to disallow Mr. Morris Hillquit from teaching because he was a known Socialist. However, Violet stood by her invitation stating that “the aim of these lectures is to teach woman politics... we are to have well-known Democrats to explain the tenets of their party. Republican speakers to elucidate the G.O.P and why leave out the Socialist party? This would be very narrow, and this course must be broad above all things. Mr. Hillquit is our friend: he came out for suffrage very decisively in his Mayoralty campaign.” Violet indicated she made this decision because the final voting figures from previous campaigns proved it was not one party that provided women the right to vote in New York as the “[] largest ‘yes' votes in any one group of men came from the soldiers” and her intention was that those attending the school should learn how to reach every voter.

Violet died on December 15, 1918 at the age of forty (40) before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1920 giving woman the right to vote. Her New York Times obituary stated that Violet was “active in the successful fight for woman suffrage in New York State though not among the ‘militants' and she brought to that campaign her gifts of insight, tact, and judgment and capacity for organization.” An obituary from the Syracuse Herald, reported that she had “inherited a keen sense of humor from her father.” It was also reported that she had “taxed her strength too much” being active in woman suffrage and with her work for the Red Cross and that she was in poor health throughout the Summer and Fall of 1918 and had tried to recuperate at her home on Long Island. Before she died she had intended to go to California to improve her health but was unable to travel. She left an estate of approximately $250,000 to her husband and a legacy of how to overcome obstacles even when limited by physical illness.

SOURCES:

Ancestry.com website

Find A Grave Memorial, Syracuse. Website

Richard G. Case. “The Westcott's and David Harum.” The Courier 10.2 (1973): 3-14.

1904 Violet Westcott Now a Hopeless Invalid. Girl who Shares in “David Harum” Fortune Is in Europe and Unable to Attend Her Brother's Funeral. The Washington Times (Washington, DC) September 1, 1904.

Millionaire Clubman, Impressed by Beauty in Portrait, Crosses Sea to Win Original. Burlington Free Press (Vermont), July 22, 1911.

O'er Seas for a Bride. Cupid uses Painting of Miss Westcott's Face as Lure. Pittsburgh Press, September 12, 1911.

Mrs. Victor Morawetz of New York Payed Expenses for Sarah T. Lawrence Who Volunteered Her Services as a Nurse in an American Hospital in Paris. The Rock Island Argus (Illinois), January 19, 1915.

Van Vorst, Marie. War Letters of An American Woman (Forgotten Books) Letters to Mrs. Victor Morawetz dated September 20, 1915, July 14, 1914, November 11, 1914. (Includes a black and white photo of her portrait by Mrs. Herter).

Great Dress Display to Aid French Wounded Emergency Fund “Bazar de Charitee.” New York Sun, January 16, 1916.

Society for Wheatly Hills, LI – Performance for Nassau Hospital at the Estate of Clarence H. Mackay. The Washington Post, October 19, 1914.

Many NY Society Woman have Consented to be Patronesses of Ball of Fine Arts. The Washington Post, February 20, 1914.

Neuman, Johanna. Gilded Suffragists, The New York Socialites who Fought for Women's Right to Vote. NYU Press (2019)

Blackwell, Alice Stone (December 7, 1918) The Woman Citizen Volume 3, page 578.

The League, Woman and the Military (1928), P 45

History of Woman Suffrage: 1900 - 1920. Edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Brownell Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida Husted Harper (page 519)

“American Woman and the World War Relief Organizations Chapter XXXV Relief for France.” https://archive.org/stream/americanwomenwor01clar/americanwomenwor01clar_djvu.txt

Suffrage Aids Nation – Brooklyn Woman Will Open Enlistment Station. Follow up Action of National Party. Woman's Suffrage Members List Will be Turned Over to Mayor of NYC. The Daily Brooklyn Eagle, March 25, 1917.

Documents of the Senate of the State of New York, Volume 29

Men's Experience Meeting at Carnegie Hall. New-York Tribune, October 2, 1917,

Federal Suffragettes Wins Supporters. Burlington Free Press (Vermont), December 13, 2017.

Col Roosevelt will head list of Victory Mass of Woman's Suffrage Party. Buffalo Labor Journal, November 24, 1917,

YMCA Services Fund. New York Tribune, January 12, 1918.

Suffrage ‘Convict' Pics Seen Hear. March into Carnegie Hall Bearing the Banners Which Caused Their Arrest. The Sun (New York), January 5, 1918.

Woman Protest, but Hillquit is Retained. New York Tribune, January 5, 2018

Death of Mrs. Morawetz, New York Times, December 19, 1918.

Mrs. Violet Westcott Morawetz Dead. Syracuse Herald, December 16, 1918

New York Times, Estate Appraised (May 13, 1919)

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