Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Sarah Van Der Vort Emery, 1838-1895

By Hala Alazzawi and Destiny Flowers-Fayad, students, University of Michigan, Dearborn

Sarah Van Der Vort Emery (1838-1895) was a speaker, writer, and suffragist of the 1880's and '90s. Emery, the seventh of nine children of Ella and Thomas Van Der Vort, was raised with a strong emphasis on education and religion. Van der Vort was from Phelps, in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Her father was a farmer and a businessman, and he also influenced Sarah in her activism. At the age of 28 in 1866, Van der Vort moved to Midland, Michigan. One of the defining factors to this move was that Michigan was the first state to eliminate capital punishment. Seven years later, Sarah married Wesley Emery, a widower, former teacher, bookstore owner, and father of Archibald Martell Emery.

Emery was a supporter of the Greenback Party in the 1880's and later became a Populist. Emery's passion lay in economic reform and financial aid to farmers and government-owned transportation networks. Emery was critical of the two-party system, which, in her view, facilitated, implemented, and perpetuated "a state of servitude and serfdom."

The couple lived in Lansing. The house that Emery conducted her activism from was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The "Emery Houses" are two duplexes located at 320–322 and 326–328 West Ottawa Street in Lansing. Sarah and Wesley Emery had common interests in teaching, reading, and economics, as Sarah Emery was also a teacher. In 1880, Wesley and Sarah had a daughter, Effie. There is some speculation about Effie's early death, as she is not mentioned in Sarah's work. Wesley supported his wife in her work, including 1884 when Sarah Emery became a Michigan delegate to the National Greenback Labor Party.

Sarah Emery's leadership was influenced by her religious and educational background—evident in her leadership of the Lansing Universalist Sunday for fifteen years. The rhetoric of the Populist party at the time claimed to be influencing government on behalf of God. Christ was referenced to wage slaves, and Emery joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1884. Emery was critical of the ignorance of the masses. In her book, Imperialism in America: Its Rise and Progress, Emery states that "Never in the history of the world have the means for imparting information been conducted on such an extensive and magnificent scale as at the present time; yet never have the masses been more ignorant of their real condition, or more mystified as to the real cause of their afflictions."

In 1887, Emery wrote her first work—Seven Financial Conspiracies. The book explains the story of the Greenback Party during the Civil War. Emery argued that the working class suffered due to the currency contraction that the gold standard created. Her conspiracies were centered around the demonetization of silver in 1873. In the book, Emery attributed the Civil War to an infamous plot of capitalists to absorb the wealth of the country. The book received criticism: John Sherman (an Ohio politician), made an effort to refute every argument made by Emery.

The Worldcat Identities website lists several significant works by Emery. In addition to the works mentioned above, Emery has also written the book titled Populist Assault. Throughout the course of Populist Assault, Emery centers her argument around economic and social inequalities that existed within government policies. In addition, Emery also sheds light on the ways in which societal gendered views, along with low economic opportunities, hindered women's fight for their rights at the time. Furthermore, this significant work also examines the connection between Emery's views on the economy and her feminist activism. Other books written by Emery include The Conspirators and Gold and Silver in the Presidential Campaign of 1896.

Emery was also a strong supporter of the woman suffrage movement during her lifetime. In the early 1870's Emery served as corresponding secretary of the Michigan affiliate of the National Woman Suffrage Association. She joined calls for woman suffrage with appeals to the Michigan state legislature in 1874 and 1891. In a regular column she wrote in The Corner Stone, she repeatedly lent strong support for woman's suffrage.


Adams, P., & Thornton, E. S. (1982). A Populist Assault: Sarah E. Van De Vort Emery on American Democracy, 1862-1895. Popular Press.

Department of the Interior. National Park Service. (3/2/1934 - ) (1993). Michigan MPS Emery (TR-0079-2015-0508). Retrieved from:

Edwards, R. (1997). Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era. Oxford University Press.

Emery, S. E. V. D. V. (1892). Seven Financial Conspiracies which Have Enslaved the American People (No. 1). Reynolds.

James, E. T., James, J. W., & Boyer, P. S. (1971). Notable American women, 1607-1950: a biographical dictionary (Vol. 1). Harvard University Press. [LINK to Emery sketch in vol. 1]

Patricia Heyden. [Cadlvideos] (10 May 2017) .Meet your City: Sarah vandervort Emery (MYC44) [Video File] Retrieved from

The Corner Stone. Lansing, MI, 1893-1895, 13 issues.

"Through the Glass Darkly – Parting the Veil of Illusion and Deception." Sage's Drum, 17 Dec. 2012,

Wasserman, A. (2010). Two sides to the coin: A history of gold. Adam Wasserman.

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