Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Frances Graham, 1857-1940
By Ann Marie Linnabery, assistant director, History Center of Niagara
This essay was originally published March 3, 2018 as “Niagara Discoveries: Frances Graham, professional temperance advocate” in the Lockport (N.Y.) Union-Sun & Journal. Reprinted by permission.
(“What are you going to write about this week?”
That question often comes up and frankly sometimes there is no definite answer from yours truly. But it is uncanny how some things come out of the blue (or in the mail, or through the door) and suddenly a column is born. That happened this week when an envelope arrived in the mail from Georgia containing an original copy of the Woman's Temperance Work newspaper, subtitled the Official Organ of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, State of New York, from February, 1898. This monthly publication was published in Lockport by Frances W. Graham, an early and active member of the WCTU, from 1897 to her election as president of the New York state chapter in 1903.
At the time Graham edited and published the newspaper, Frances and her husband, Almon, lived at 355 Market St. [in Lockport]. WCTU was founded as the result of a woman's temperance crusade that took place in Fredonia in 1873. A year later, the New York State WCTU was founded in Syracuse, a month before the National WCTU was organized in Cleveland. Frances joined the Lockport chapter as soon as it was opened and thus began a 60-year affiliation with the organization.)
Frances Hamilton was born in Lockport in 1857. Frances had been active in youth temperance movements since she was a young girl. In 1880, she married Almon Graham, who had a wood and coal business on Van Buren Street. Like Frances, Almon was active in temperance groups so he supported her work in the WCTU. The couple belonged to the First Congregational Church in Lockport and Mrs. Graham was the solo soprano from 1881 to 1894, when her responsibilities with the New York WCTU began to demand more of her time.
Graham's first official role with the state WCTU started in 1890 when she was appointed a state reporter for the national WCTU's quarterly publication, Union Signal. A year later, she was elected “corresponding secretary” at the state WCTU Convention in New York City. (In 1888, the state convention was in Lockport, the first of three to be held in Niagara County).
The 1890s were a busy time for the state and national WCTU as well as for Mrs. Graham. Among other things, both organizations fought to close establishments that sold liquor, or offered other types of amusement, on the Sabbath, and sponsored a state law that prohibited women from working as barmaids in saloons. As corresponding secretary, it was her duty to send and receive petitions, contact (and sometimes confront) state legislators, and answer all official mail for the state organization.
At the state convention in 1893, Graham was commissioned to co-write a 20-year history of the New York WCTU for the annual convention the following year, the first of three histories she would write for the organization. It may be because of her extensive writing ability that Graham was appointed, in 1897, to edit and publish the New York State Woman's Temperance Work newspaper.
Started in 1884, Woman's Temperance Work had a subscriber base of about 1,300 when Graham began her six-year editorship. During those years, she not only elevated the journalistic standards of the paper but increased its financial viability as well. Moving the publication of the paper from New York City to Graham's Lockport home substantially reduced the cost of production. At the end of her tenure, the subscription base had increased to 6,000 and the paper ended with a $500 surplus in the budget.
In 1903, Graham reluctantly relinquished her role at the paper due to her election as president of the New York WCTU. Again serving for a period of six years, Graham's most important accomplishment during this time was the establishment of the “Headquarters' Fund” to secure and maintain a permanent site for the state WCTU. Offices were opened at 156 5th Ave. in New York City (the building is still there but the state offices no longer are).
Following her election as NYS president, Frances Graham began to take a more active role in the women's suffrage movement. In September of 1904, she was one of several speakers from the Suffrage Association to address the topic of women's voting rights in the Women's Building at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. A month later, she attended the NYS Suffragist Convention in Auburn where she again spoke and lent her vocal talents for the occasion. Her address followed a very passionate rebuttal by Rev. Anna H. Shaw denouncing remarks made by Rev. W. J. Herbison, who had declared that women's suffrage was “a curse to the state.” It was reported that “to offset this turbulent hour, Mrs. Frances W. Graham of Lockport, president of the New York State W.C.T.U., was introduced and greeted the delegates on behalf of that organization. She also rendered a vocal solo and responded to an encore which was one of the most enjoyable numbers on the program.” A few months later, in February of 1909, Graham joined 300 other women in Albany to confront the NYS Legislature on the question of women's suffrage. She was one of the women named who “would swoop down on the NYS Senate's Judiciary Committee next Wednesday afternoon” and “that same evening there will be a meeting held in the Assembly Chamber so that women may hear the reasons advanced for the extension of the franchise to them. This meeting will be addressed by the Rev. Anna H. Shaw, Mrs. Frances Graham, and others.” It was reported that Mrs. Graham “pleaded for the ballot as influence against saloons.” Her activities and support for the cause continued through the next decade. At the annual NYS convention of the W.C.T.U. held in Binghamton in October of 1919, Frances Graham was again elected vice president, a post she had held since 1909. It was noted that the “jubilee session of the convention was held this afternoon, celebrating prohibition and women's suffrage.”
In 1909, Graham declined re-election but served as vice president from that year until 1921. For three years, 1918 to 1921, she held the role of alongside resuming the editorship of Woman's Temperance Work.
Graham retired from her administrative duties with the New York WCTU in 1921, but it would be remiss not to mention the position she held as New York and National WCTU Musical Director from 1894 to 1929. Her signature song was the “Victory Song,” written and composed for her in 1893. It was sung by her at every state and national convention (and four world conventions) from 1893 until 1929 when she retired from that post.
Graham died on Aug. 19, 1940, one month before her 83rd birthday. She is buried in Glenwood Cemetery.
Gardenier, Georgianna, and Frances W. Graham. Two Decades: A History of the First 20 years' Work of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of the State of New York, 1874-1894. N.P. 1894.
Graham, Frances W. Sixty Years of Action: A History of Sixty Years of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of the State of New York. Lockport, NY, 1934.
Souvenir History of Niagara County: Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Niagara County Pioneer Association. Lockport, NY, 1902.
“Building for Women.” The Buffalo Express No date on paper: no page number.
“Discussion On In Albany For and Against Suffrage.” The Elmira Gazette February 24, 1909:1.
“How Suffrage Battle Was Waged in Albany.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle February 25, 1909:5.
“Let Women Themselves Decide.” The New York Evening World February 19, 1909: no page number.
“Mrs. Frances W. Graham, Temperance Worker, Dies.” Lockport Union-Sun & Journal August 19, 1940: no page identified on photocopy.
“Mrs. Tenney Treasurer of W.C.T.U. for 33rd Term.” The New York Herald October 14, 1919:2:2.
“Programme the Women Give at the Fair.” The Syracuse Herald August 29, 1904:5.
“Suffragists Have Arranged a Week Crowded With Business and Pleasure.” The Buffalo Courier October 12, 1908:5.
“Suffragists in Auburn.” The Syracuse Herald September 22, 1904:7.
“Suffrage Leaders to Invade Albany.” The New York Herald February 27, 1909:7.
“We'll Buy Our Hats if You Give Us the Ballot, Says Woman Lawyer.” The New York Evening World February 15, 1909:8.
“Woman Suffrage Convention Soon.” The Buffalo Courier October 8, 1910:5.
“Woman Suffragist.” The Jamestown Evening Journal October 24, 1904:5.