Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Caroline Taylor (Mrs. James H.) Hughes, 1881-1959
By Gabriella Norris and Alexis Weinkopff, Padua Academy and faculty sponsor, Dr. Colleen Hall, Padua Academy, Wilmington, Delaware
Additional research and editing by Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware
Suffragist, Democratic Party Activist
Mrs. James Hurd Hughes was born Caroline R. Taylor in 1881 in Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Adelaide Upham Taylor and Henry Bowman Taylor. Her father, a Chester merchant, was recorded in the 1880 census as a "gentleman." Caroline attended Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania before marrying Delaware's former secretary of state, James H. Hughes, in an Episcopal ceremony in 1905. Together they had three children: Caroline Hughes Martin Mahon (1906-1992), Mary Adelaide Hughes Hay (1908-1995), and James Hurd Hughes, III (1917-1982).
Marriage to James Hughes immersed Caroline Taylor Hughes in the political life of Dover, the state capital, where her husband's Democratic Party positions and the biennial meetings of the state legislature brought a buzz of heightened activity to the family home at 46 South State Street. By 1915, with her two daughters in school, she could tick off the various organizational memberships expected of a woman of her rank in Dover, including the Dover Tree League (an environmental group) and the Dover Century Club, the most prominent of the city's white women's clubs. Late that year, she turned down her nomination as vice-president of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association. But two months later, in January, 1916, she hosted a meeting at which the Dover branch of the new Congressional Union (CU) was formed. Soon, she was CU vice-chair for Kent County, working with county chairman Mabel Lloyd Ridgely. It seems very likely that it was Florence Bayard Hilles who recruited both women to the CU; all were Democrats, and Hilles was powering the CU through a major organizing drive in both Kent and Sussex Counties, areas of the state that were largely neglected by the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, organized in 1895. When her husband ran as the Democratic Party's candidate for governor in 1916, the campaign played down her political interests and suffrage commitment, preferring to portray her blandly as a "charming young woman, public spirited and benevolent." Hughes lost the election to the Republican candidate, John R. Townsend, Jr., who, at his inauguration, endorsed woman suffrage.
With the birth of her son in 1917 and the start of U.S. involvement in the Great War, Caroline Hughes took a detour from suffrage activism to engage in fund-raising for the Liberty Loan campaigns, for which Mabel Lloyd Ridgely was the state's energetic chairman. Although she remained tangentially involved in the CU, now the National Woman's Party (NWP), by the time the state's suffragists were putting together a ratification drive for the Nineteenth Amendment, she had joined the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association. With Mabel Lloyd Ridgely, also a defector from the NWP, as the group's president, she spoke regularly in Dover and other Kent County venues before and during the General Assembly's special session debating ratification. Along with colleagues, she participated in interviewing fifty-two state legislators in order to determine their views on ratification of the amendment. In the end, the legislature adjourned without ratifying.
After the amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution, the Democratic Party named her to the state committee, along with Mabel Ridgely, Mary Phillips (Mrs. John R.) Eskridge, and Mabel Donohoe (Mrs. Marshall) Derby. She held that position on and off until 1957. During the 1920s, she witnessed intense division within the Delaware Democratic Party over outreach to African-American voters, though it is not clear what position she took on the issue. In the fall of 1922, she organized a Women's Democratic Club in Dover, and in 1924 served as an alternate delegate to the Democratic Party's national convention. Like many former suffragists, too, she joined the League of Women Voters. In 1934, she took an unpaid position as a member of the New Deal's Temporary Emergency Relief Commission for Kent County.
James Hughes's election to the U.S. Senate in 1936 (he served one term, 1937-1943) brought Caroline Hughes to Washington, D.C. during the heady times of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration. Hughes was an ardent New Deal supporter but by most lights an undistinguished senator. Defeated for re-nomination and suffering from the ill effects of a hip fracture, he retired to Dover, where he died in 1953. Throughout the couple's Washington years, Caroline Hughes divided her time between the capital and Delaware, and was a stalwart supporter of the Rehoboth Art League. She died in 1959, and is buried at Lakeside Cemetery in Dover, Delaware.
Genealogical information on the Taylor and Hughes families can be gleaned from the vital records, decennial censuses, and genealogical materials found on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. Local newspapers digitized via ChroniclingAmerica.org and newspapers.com, along with documents available on HathiTrust.org provide useful details on Caroline Hughes's suffrage work, civic commitments, and personal life. An obituary appeared in the Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, September 12, 1959, p.48.
On James Hurd Hughes, see Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H000926 and Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, August 29, 1953, p. 1; and obituary in the Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, August 29, 2953, p. 1.
A photo of Caroline Hughes appeared in the Wilmington Every Evening, February 26, 1916, p. 9.
For details on her role in the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, see the Minutes of the Association's Executive Committee, 1916-1919, Mabel Lloyd Ridgely Collection, Woman Suffrage Records, Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware (#9200 R09, 002, folder 1).
The following secondary works provide significant context on Delaware's suffrage story: Mary R. de Vou, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Delaware," in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marion Björnson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947), I: 349-70; and Carol E. Hoffecker, "Delaware's Woman Suffrage Campaign," Delaware History, 20:3 (Spring-Summer, 1983): 149-67.