Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Fannie Wolfson, 1851-1938
By Hallie Borstel, historian
Fannie Wolfson was born about 1851, probably in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, where both her father and mother would soon purchase public domain land according to the Land Act of 1820. Fannie was the fourth of their seven children. Her father, Jacob Abraham Wolfson, was a jewish immigrant from Rogasen, Prussia (now Rogoźno, Poland) who had immigrated to the United States in 1834, when he was in his early twenties. Her mother, Caroline Lorch, was also an immigrant. Born in Bavaria around 1821, Caroline had immigrated to the United States when she was around eight years old. Jacob supported the family as a dry goods merchant and lawyer. During the Civil War, when Fannie was a young adolescent, Jacob served in the Confederate Army. He also served as postmaster of the town of Campti, Natchitoches Parish, from 1846 to 1863.
Fannie spent her childhood in Natchitoches Parish and in Coushatta, Red River Parish in northern Louisiana. By 1860 the Wolfsons had a large agricultural enterprise that utilized slave labor. In 1864, the family home in Campti was burned by Yankee soldiers on their way out of town. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the family's 480-acre property was seized and sold at auction. By 1880, Fannie was living in New Orleans, Louisiana with her parents, older sister Bertha, and younger brother Charles. This move may have been due to Jacob's decision to sell the dry goods business in Natchitoches to his son Joseph in 1877. In 1900 Fannie and Caroline were back in northern Louisiana, living in Red River Parish with Fannie's brother Benjamin, probably due in part to the death of Jacob in 1887.
While in New Orleans, Fannie had been active with the Hebrew Young Ladies' Sewing Society, serving as its president in 1892. Her social activities and club memberships picked up back in northern Louisiana, where she joined the Oak Leaf Club, a literary society. Fannie served as the Oak Leaf's president in the early 1900s, and also acted as a delegate from that club to the Louisiana Federation of Women's Clubs. She continued to be involved in the Federation, serving on the Committee of Resolutions in 1908.
Fannie was a public figure in the suffrage movement by 1915. In that year, she was elected auditor of the Louisiana State Women's Suffrage Association and was the organizer of local meetings in Coushatta. Fannie then moved back to New Orleans where, in 1917, she served as third vice-chairman of the Equal Rights Party.
Throughout her life, Fannie spoke out for the causes in which she believed. In addition to women's suffrage, she was noted by contemporary newspapers as championing other types of "civic work." During the First World War, she was a member of the Navy League and served as the special commissioner of registration in Louisiana. The latter was a position to which she was appointed by the governor and was seen as crucial to avoiding food shortages in the state. The position took her to Washington, DC in 1918.
From Washington, she worked for the war effort while continuing her activism in the suffrage movement. She was the Louisiana chairman of the National Woman's Party. However, Fannie disagreed with the more militant tactics of the NWP and cut her ties with the party in the fall of 1918 after "the burning by picketers of President Wilson's note," as reported by the Times-Picayune. The bond was not completely broken, as she appears to have rejoined and continued working with the party for many more years. A 1925 article reported that she had been appointed chairman of the party after "working for the last ten years with legislative work of this national organization."
Beginning in the summer of 1919, Fannie's civic engagement was largely centered on the Women's Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC. That July, she was named president of the organization, which "operated along the lines of the United States Chamber of Commerce" with aims of "financial and educational uplift of women and children." The 1920s also saw Fannie fighting against the high cost of living in DC and sitting on the executive board of the League of American Pen Women.
Fannie's social and community service activities dwindled as she grew older. She died on March 5, 1938, and was buried at Hebrew's Rest Cemetery in New Orleans. Her headstone reads "To her vision she stood fast / Her long life given now peace at last."
1850 US Census
1860 US Census
1860 US Census - Slave Schedule
1870 US Census
1880 US Census
1900 US Census
The Abbeville Progress
The Bossier Banner (Bellevue, La.)
The Evening Start (Washington, DC)
General Land Office Records, Bureau of Land Management
The Natchitoches Times
The New Orleans Item
The New Orleans States
The People's Vindicator (Natchitoches, La.)
The Semi-Weekly Natchitoches Times
The Shreveport Semi-Weekly News
The St. Tammany Farmer (Covington, La.)
The Times (Shreveport, La.)
The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, La.)
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, La.)
The Washington Herald
The Washington Post
The Washington Times
Will of Jacob Abraham Wolfson, Louisiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1756-1984