Biographical Sketch of Belle Randolph Van Horn

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Belle Randolph Van Horn, 1863–1946

By Rebecca Kelley, librarian: Louisiana State University, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, LA

Teacher, activist in the Suffragist movement

Belle Randolph Van Horn was born in Alabama in December 1863 and died in New Orleans, Louisiana on March 17, 1946 at 82 years of age. Her parents were Thaddeus D. Van Horn, born in Mississippi, manager of The Crescent (a leading New Orleans newspaper) and a captain in the Confederate Army, and Margaretta Law, born in Missouri. She graduated from McDonogh High School (aka Upper Girls' High School) in New Orleans in 1880. She then successfully passed the competitive exam to teach in public schools in 1881 and began her teaching career. Van Horn received a bachelor of arts in education in 1913 from Teachers' College at Tulane University. She retired from teaching in 1936 after a career which spanned fifty-five years.

As a teacher, Van Horn was active in local educational organizations. She was a member of both the New Orleans Historical Association of Teachers and the New Orleans Educational Association. In 1895 she was appointed chairwoman of committees with each association to seek feedback from local teachers on how to simplify the language of history textbooks for grammar school students and then present revision recommendations to the textbook publishers. In 1915 Van Horn served as associate editor of The Forum, a journal published by the Associate Teachers' League.

Van Horn was a member of the Portia Club, a forerunner in the push for suffrage in New Orleans. In 1896, she withdrew from the Portia Club to become a founding member of a new suffrage club, the Era Club, in an effort to better advance the cause of suffrage. Van Horn was elected the first president of the Era Club in May 1896. Within ten years, the membership of the Era Club numbered in the hundreds. It became the most active group in the state on behalf of women and the cornerstone of the women's push for a state suffrage amendment in Louisiana. When the Era Club disbanded in June 1921, it listed among its major accomplishments: securing the vote for women; a successful campaign for sewerage, drainage and clean water in New Orleans; the admission of women to Tulane University's medical school; the legalization of a woman's signature; securing an enforceable child labor law; and the establishment of a juvenile court system.

In November 1896, members from the Portia Club and the Era Club met to organize the State Woman Suffrage Association, where Van Horn was elected recording secretary. The Era Club campaigned in 1898 to amend the Louisiana State Constitution to include woman's suffrage. The Constitutional Convention ultimately declined to give women the right to vote in general elections, but taxpaying women were granted the ability to vote on tax measures. The Era Club encouraged women property owners in New Orleans to vote for the first time in support of a sewerage and drainage bond issue in June 1899.

In 1910, Van Horn addressed the joint suffrage committee hearing in the Louisiana House of Representatives to amend Article 210 of the state's constitution. She was again elected Era Club president in 1918 in a symbolic vote, as the leadership and members believed state suffrage was imminent and intended to disband once it was obtained. They expressed confidence that the state of Louisiana would approve the 1918 state suffrage amendment for women. At this same meeting, the club voted unanimously to withdraw its membership from the State Federation of Women's Clubs in protest of the General Federation of Women's Clubs for adopting a resolution requesting Congress to pass a federal woman suffrage amendment. According to the Times-Picayune (May 26, 1918), the club argued that "a measure of such importance should have been submitted to the states constituting its membership, and they be given a chance to express an opinion first before general action was taken."

In 1918, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune (November 25, 1918), thanking the paper for its support of their campaign to pass the state's constitutional amendment that would give women the right to vote and the power to hold office. The public ultimately defeated the amendment, which fell short by approximately 2,000 votes. In her letter, Van Horn expressed her disappointment in the outcome and that she was "ashamed of the men" who voted against it, but emphasized the campaign had gained new supporters due in part to the press it received. She also stated that "fresh impetus has been given the women's battle for justice, righteousness and true democracy."

In March 1932, she chaired a committee to participate in the International Congress of Women at the 1933 Chicago Exposition, hosted by the National Council of Women. Van Horn worked to gather 24,000 signatures from New Orleans women as part of a nationwide campaign to obtain one million signatures. Each member organization would receive exhibition space at the exposition to depict the progress of women in the previous century.

Van Horn was also active in the temperance movement. She was elected president of both the Orleans District Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Orleans Parish Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1931 and 1932. In this capacity, in May 1932, she presented two resolutions to the Louisiana State Senate and House of Representatives in opposition to any legislative effort to repeal the Hood Enforcement Act (Louisiana's state prohibition law). Additionally, she wrote several letters to the editor about the dangers of intoxication, supporting prohibition, and touting its success.

In addition to her suffrage and temperance activism, she was an active member and officer in a variety of organizations, including the Louisiana State Sunshine Society, the Fourteenth Ward Civic League, Inc., the Ladies' Confederate Memorial Association, and the Stonewall Jackson Chapter and Louisiana division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Van Horn was a member of Trinity Episcopal Church and upon her death willed her properties (valued at $31,500 in 1946) to the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. She was interred at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, a historic cemetery in the Garden District neighborhood of New Orleans.

SOURCES:

Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. IV (1883-1900). Rochester, N.Y. 1902. [LINK]

Carter, Hodding and Betty Werlein Carter. So Great a Good: A History of the Episcopal Church in Louisiana and of Christ Church Cathedral, 1805-1955. N.p.: University Press, 1955.

"Era Club Elects Miss B. Van Horn 1918 President: Miss Gordon Tells Members State Suffrage." Times-Picayune. May 26, 1918.

Harper, Ida Husted. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). New York, NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]

"Letters to the Editor." Times-Picayune. November 25, 1918.

Lindig, Carmen Meriwether. The Woman's Movement in Louisiana: 1879-1920. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas, 1982. Dissertation at University of North Texas Libraries Digital Library https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc331463/.

Merrick, Caroline E. Old Times in Dixie Land: A Southern Matron's Memories. New York: Grafton Press, 1901.

"Retired Teacher Dies at 82 Years." Times-Picayune. March 18, 1946, page 2.

"The Role of Women's Clubs in the Suffrage Movement: From the Parlor to the Podium." Times-Picayune. March 18, 1984, page 81.

Smith, Armantine M., "The History of the Woman's Suffrage Movement in Louisiana." Louisiana Law Review. Vol. 62, no. 2, 2002.

Times-Picayune. Articles from the following issues: January, 29, 1881, June 24, 1894, February 22, 1895, May 26, 1895, May 17, 1896, March 21, 1907, June 5, 1913, April 18, 1915, December 12, 1915, June 19, 1921, November 23, 1930, March 26, 1931, March 6, 1932, March 23, 1932, March 27, 1932, May 28, 1932, June 24, 1933, August 31, 1936, May 18, 1938.

United States Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900 Population. Ancestry.com website.

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