Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Florence Lewis Atkinson, 1850-1946
By Aaron Reece Bader, undergraduate student, University of Missouri, Columbia
Florence Lewis was born on May 17, 1850, to Edward and Parthenia (Bransford) Lewis in Richmond, Missouri. Florence Lewis completed her college education at Lindenwood University in St. Charles. Around 1868, she married Robert Atkinson. The couple had one son, Robert Lewis Atkinson, who graduated from Yale in 1901. He was liked enough amongst his peers to win Yale's handsomest man award, but his story ended tragically. He contracted tuberculosis, moved West to help treat it, but died in 1903. The next year Florence Atkinson became a widow: her husband's death followed on August 26, 1904.
A socialite, Florence Lewis Atkinson was known in St. Louis's music circles and woman's clubs before widowhood, but after 1904, she increased her activities with social groups. She was president of the local woman's club and Wednesday Club. In 1910, Atkinson shifted her attention to woman suffrage. She was an early vice president of the Equal Suffrage League of St. Louis, and she served as president of the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association when it formed in 1911. She was intentional on speaking about issues in which she felt women were treated unfairly. One example was her statements in April 1912 backing Anna Howard Shaw about the treatment women on the Titanic. Like Shaw, Atkinson believed rescuing passengers on the sinking Titanic should not have been determined by gender. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Atkinson: "There should be no distinction made as to sex in a crisis such as that following the wreck of the Titanic. While I would except children, I believe that women should be given equal chances." For Atkinson, equality extended beyond the vote.
In 1916, suffragists from around the country protested outside the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis. As a suffrage leader in both St. Louis and Missouri, Florence Lewis Atkinson participated in the "The Golden Lane Protest" on Locust Street. An estimated three thousand women lined up, wearing yellow parasols. The non-violent protest sent a message to both the Democratic Party and President Woodrow Wilson, who received the nomination for his second term, that woman suffrage should be a party priority. While added to the platform, it would be several years and more protesting before the suffrage amendment passed.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Florence Atkinson became a well-known literary critic, writer, and lecturer. In 1931, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat ran a full-page article on her accomplishments. On Monday, October 7, 1946, Florence Lewis Atkinson suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 96 in her home in St. Louis. She was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis next to her husband and son. Atkinson's name, among others, was inscribed on a stone outside the state capitol building in Jefferson City, Missouri, honoring those who worked for woman suffrage.
Atkinson, Florence. "'Middle Ages' of Equal Suffrage in Missouri." Missouri Historical Review 14, no. 3-4 (April-June 1920): 299-306. Part of a larger article edited by Mary Semple Scott, "History of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Missouri," pp. 281-384.
Find a Grave. Florence Lewis Atkinson. October 4, 2013. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/118165756/florence-atkinson.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "Missouri." Chapter 24 in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920, pp. 352-69. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
"League of Women Voters' Anniversary." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 23, 1930. Newspapers.com.
Leonard, John W., ed. "Atkinson, Florence Lewis." In Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915, Volume A-D, p.42. New York: American Commonwealth Company, 1914. [LINK]
Moffitt, Kelly. "In 1916, 3,000 Women in St. Louis Marched for Suffrage, Heralding an Era of Non-Violent Protest." St. Louis on the Air, produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt. KWMU. St. Louis Public Radio. August 24, 2016. https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/1916-3000-women-st-louis-marched-suffrage-heralding-era-non-violent-protest.
"Mrs. Atkinson, 96, Dies; Pioneer in Woman's Suffrage." St. Louis Star and Times. October 8, 1946. Newspapers.com.
"Mrs. Florence L. Atkinson Funeral To Be Tomorrow." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. October 8, 1946. Newspapers.com.
Mueller, Anita. "She Is a Disciple of Her Own Belief That Occupation Is Life's Greatest Blessing." St. Louis Globe-Democrat. May 31, 1931. Newspapers.com.
"Set Suffrage Rally Day." St. Louis Globe-Democrat. October 9, 1912. Newspapers.com.
"St. Louis Suffragists, Like Dr. Anna Shaw, Decry the 'Women First' Rule on Sea." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 24, 1912. Newspapers.com.
"St. Louis Women Are Doing Much for Equal Suffrage." St. Louis Star and Times. June 18, 1911. Newspapers.com.
"St. Louisan Honored." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 13, 1901. Newspapers.com.
"Suffrage League Names Chairman of Committees." St. Louis Globe-Democrat. April 18, 1916. Newspapers.com.
"Suffragists Will Open Campaign at Sedalia." St. Louis Globe-Democrat. October 1, 1910. Newspapers.com.
"Women Urge Cash to Aid Suffrage." St. Louis Star and Times. November 2, 1912. Newspapers.com.