Biographical Sketch of Mrs. Walter Wright

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mrs. Walter Wright, 1867-1942

By Elisa Miller, Associate Professor, Rhode Island College.

Suffragist, Newport County Woman Suffragist League

Sadie Stella Crane was born in East Providence, Rhode Island on February 29, 1867 to Michael and Mary Crane. Her name takes numerous forms in census and newspaper reports, at times at Saida, Sadia, Saidie, and Sarah. Michael and Mary Crane had both emigrated from Ireland and he was employed in working-class jobs including laborer, engineer, and teamer. Sadie Crane married Walter Augustus Wright on October 10, 1899. The couple did not have children, settled in Newport, Rhode Island, and belonged to the Channing Memorial Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Walter Wright worked as the manager of the Newport branch of the Providence Telephone Company, later named the New England Telephone Company, and served as a councilman for Newport in the early 1900s.

Sadie Wright, usually going by Mrs. Walter A. Wright, was a supporter of woman suffrage as a member of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League, an organization affiliated with the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association and the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Wright served as secretary and treasurer of the League at various points in the 1910s. Her suffrage work was part of a group of activists in the East Bay region of Rhode Island, including the towns of Newport, Portsmouth, and Middletown. The History of Woman Suffrage called this network one of “the nerve centers of suffrage activity in Rhode Island.” Other prominent local suffragists in this group include Cora Mitchel, Sarah J. Eddy, Julia Ward Howe and her daughters Maud and Florence, Emeline Eldridge, Mrs. Oscar Miller, and Mrs. Barton Ballou. The History of Women Suffrage celebrated the suffragists of the Newport League, stating that they “all rendered priceless service to what was then an unpopular and unfashionable cause...It took some courage in fashionable Newport to ‘come out' for woman suffrage.”

In 1912, the Newport League held an event to celebrate the opening of its new permanent headquarters. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont had overseen the building project and gave a speech at the event, as did Maud Howe Elliott, a prominent suffragist and daughter of author and activist Julia Ward Howe, and Elizabeth Upham Yates, president of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association. At the event, Wright was in charge of selling “Votes for Women” buttons and reportedly did quite well at the task. In addition to her work in Newport, Wright supported the cause by signing several petitions from Rhode Islanders to the United States Congress urging them to support woman suffrage. Her husband, Walter Wright was also a supporter and added his name to congressional petitions for woman suffrage in 1915 and 1918.

During World War I, like many NAWSA suffragists, Wright engaged in voluntarism for the war effort. In 1917, she was trained and worked as an enumerator for the Rhode Island military census to document the status of war-age men in the state. She also served on a committee for the War Library Fund, a campaign led by the American Library Association to raise money to create libraries for American soldiers.

The Newport League passed a resolution in 1919 about the woman suffrage constitutional amendment. It read:

Resolved, That the Newport County Woman Suffrage League earnestly urges His Excellency the Governor of Rhode Island to call a special session of the General Assembly at the earliest possible date for the sole purpose of ratifying the proposed amendment to the United States Constitution enfranchising women.

Following the resolution, Wright and other Newport suffragists lobbied Rhode Island state senators and representatives to encourage them to support the special session for the suffrage amendment. Wright also visited Mrs. Edward S. Moulton, chairman of the woman's Republican committee of Rhode Island to try to gain her support the special session and ratification of the suffrage amendment. When the suffrage amendment passed in 1920, the Newport League held a victory event at Sarah J. Eddy's studio in Bristol Ferry that was attended by Rhode Island Governor R. Livingston Beeckman. Wright was in charge of organizing 200 invitations to the event.

As the woman suffrage amendment neared ratification, Wright became an original member of the Newport County Women's Republican Club in 1919. Wright had previously shown support for the Progressive Party, serving on the publicity and information committee for a 1913 celebration in Newport in honor of the party's 1912 electoral victories. Besides her service to the woman suffrage movement, Wright was a member of the Newport Historical Society, the Art Association, and the Unitarian Church's Unity Club. The Wrights' house in Newport was partially destroyed by fire in 1923 and she had to be rescued by firefighters from the balcony. Following Walter Wright's retirement from the telephone company, the couple moved to Providence and Sadie Wright died in there on November 17, 1942.

Sources:

Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922), 577-578. [LINK]

Sadie Stella Crane Wright, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/173933935/sadie-stella-wright, accessed June 27, 2019.

Manual with Rules and Orders for the Use of the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island, 1903 (Providence: E.L. Freeman & Sons, State Printers, 1903), 287.

Manual with Rules and Orders for the Use of the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island, 1905 (Providence: E.L. Freeman & Sons, State Printers, 1905), 291.

Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Sixty-Third Congress, Third Session (Washington, 1915), 81, 82.

Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Sixty-Third Congress, Second Session (Washington, 1913), 728.

Extending the Right of Suffrage to Women, Hearings before the Committee on Woman Suffrage, House of Representatives, Sixty-Fifth Congress, Second Session on H.J. Res. 200, January 3, 4, 5, and 7, 1918 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1918), 263.

“Suffrage Quarters Opened,” The Providence Journal, July 19, 1912.

“Enumerators Sworn,” The Newport Mercury (Newport, RI), July 8, 1917.

“Work of Year Reviewed,” The Newport Mercury, November 1, 1918.

“Suffragists Meet with Governor To-day,” The Providence Journal, July 17, 1919.

“Local Matters, Women Organize,” The Newport Mercury, November 22, 1919.

“Newport Suffrage League Has Jubilee Celebration,” The Providence Journal, August 18, 1920.

“Mrs. Walter A. Wright Dies in Providence,” The Newport Mercury, November 20, 1942.

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