Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Virginia A. Gilkeson Hedges, 1856-1936
By Morgan Boesel, undergraduate student, University of Missouri, Columbia
Virginia A. Gilkeson was born in Warrensburg, Missouri, on September 20, 1856, to Archibald H. and Mary J. Gilkeson. The Gilkesons were a pioneering merchant family in Warrensburg, and they reared five children. Archibald Gilkeson also helped reestablish the Warrensburg Christian Church in 1866. Virginia Gilkeson graduated normal school in 1875. She married William Luther Hedges, a physician, on May 30, 1877. W.L. Hedges served in many offices within the Republican Party, and he was elected the mayor of Warrensburg in 1878. Virginia Hedges took an active interest in religious and literary work in Warrensburg, and her dedication to woman suffrage propelled her to state, regional, and national organizations.
Virginia Hedges served as secretary of the Christian Women's Board of Missions. She also served as the first president of the local Warrensburg Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and in 1892, she was a superintendent for National WCTU's department of the franchise, representing Missouri. This WCTU work connected her to local and state efforts for woman suffrage.
In February 1892, Virginia Hedges attended an "interstate suffrage convention" in Kansas City, Missouri. The meeting brought together suffragists from Kansas and Missouri, and Hedges was elected president of the Missouri State Suffrage Association. She replaced the first president, Virginia Minor, who was notable not only for her presidency but also for her lawsuit challenging women's right to vote via the Fourteenth Amendment, Minor v. Happersett (1875), that the Supreme Court denied. Minor stepped aside from the leadership position due health reasons, and Hedges served for two years.
Virginia Hedges used her presidency in Missouri and her connections with the WCTU to lecture and to publish articles in support of woman suffrage. Reports of her efforts proliferate the papers in Kansas and Missouri. In one example, her paper at the tenth convention of the WCTU of Missouri titled "Missouri Laws in Relation to Women" was reported in the St. Joseph (Mo.) Herald as "provoking quite a heated discussion of the subject." On November 18, 1893, the St. Joseph (Mo.) Daily News published Hedges's article, "Digest of Missouri Laws." In another example, Josephine Henry quoted Hedges, among others, as an example of the suffrage position of New Woman in the New South. Virginia Hedges said, "I want to vote because I am a citizen of the United States, and this guarantees me this right."
According to the History of Woman Suffrage, volume 6, enthusiasm for woman suffrage floundered in Missouri, especially from 1903 to 1910, when the state did not hold a convention. At the national convention in 1911, renewed hope had begun for efforts in Missouri, and Virginia Hedges was part of this effort, serving as a delegate to the national convention. She also helped organize and served as vice president and later as president for a new local suffrage group in Warrensburg.
Virginia Gilkeson Hedges died in 1936, and she was buried in Sunset Hill Cemetery in Warrensburg, Missouri.
Annual Minutes, President's Address, and General Officers' Reports of the Nineteenth Convention of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1892.
Cockrell, Ewing. History of Johnson County, Missouri. Topeka: Historical Publishing Company, 1918. Internet Archive.
"Equal Suffragists." Kansas City Journal. December 7, 1897. Newspapers.com.
Find a Grave. Virginia Gilkeson Hedges. January 21, 2012. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/84291376/virginia-hedges.
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]
Harper, Ida Husted and Susan B. Anthony, ed. "Missouri." Chapter 49 in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4: 1883-1900, pp. 966-71. Rochester: Privately published, 1902. [LINK]
Hedges, Virginia. "Warrensburg Christian Church." In History of Johnson County, Missouri, edited by Ewing Cockrell, 377. Topeka: Historical Publishing Company, 1918. Internet Archive.
Hedges, Virginia. "Digest of Missouri Laws." St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press/Gazette. November 18, 1893. Newspapers.com.
Henry, Josephine K. "The New Woman of the New South." Arena 11, no.3 (February 1895): 353-62.
"Independence." Kansas City Journal. October 15, 1896. Newspapers.com.
"Mrs. Virginia Hedges." Home Department. Kansas City Journal. July 3, 1898. Newspapers.com.
"New Suffrage League." St. Louis Globe-Democrat. April 11, 1911. Newspapers.com.
"W.C.T.U. Notes." St. Joseph (Mo.) Herald. October 9, 1892. Newspapers.com.
"William Luther Hedges." In Portrait and Biographical Record of Johnson and Pettis Counties, Missouri, pp. 217-21. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Co., 1895. Internet Archive.
"Women Edit Paper One Day." St. Louis Globe-Democrat. July 23, 1912. Newspapers.com.