Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Delphine Dodge Ashbaugh, 1863-1936

By Andrew J. Mattson, Student Development Staff: Albion College, Albion, MI

Prominent socialite, philanthropist, and "leader in Women's Club work in Detroit"

Delphine Dodge Ashbaugh was born on February 6, 1863 in Niles, Michigan to Daniel Rugg Dodge and Maria Casto. She lived an engaged life as philanthropist, socialite, and activist in a variety of local and state capacities, and died in 1936.

Delphine's influence is easily underestimated, but she impacted the philanthropy of her famous brothers, John Francis Dodge and Horace Elgin Dodge. These men founded the Dodge Brothers Company in 1900 and had significant impact on the development of Detroit's automotive industry until their deaths in 1920.

Little is known of Delphine's early years, but she became deeply involved in Detroit politics, activism, and social work throughout her lifetime. As she paired her passions with her brothers' growing prominence, she became a major philanthropic force in many clubs and organizations. She married R.H. Ashbaugh in 1892 at the age of 28, and after living in Ann Arbor for a time finally moved to Detroit.

The Dodge siblings were long engaged in Detroit politics, especially in their 1912 support for Mayor Oscar Marx's campaign. John F. Dodge was chosen for the board of street railway commissioners and was a delegate to the 1916 [Republican or Democratic?] National Convention. In 1915, Mayor Marx appointed the first women to a city commission in Detroit—naming Delphine Dodge Ashbaugh and Mrs. William Martz to the city Recreation Commission.

Most documented is Delphine's leadership within the Detroit Federation of Women's Clubs (DFWC). She served as president of the federation from 1914-1916, and often led delegations to state and national conventions. Delphine headed the first delegation of women voters as part of the 1919 state convention—the Detroit Free Press remarking that is was the "first time in history of county that representation includes fairer sex." In the 1926 directory of the DFWC she is also listed as "President Emeritus," denoting her continued involvement in club activities.

The Detroit Free Press states that it was "due to [her] influence that her brother...purchased the beautiful residence corner of Hancock and Second Boulevards and later added an auditorium and dining room, presenting the completed building to the federation." This addition "made possible... tremendous growth," and is a most memorable facet of her presidency of the DFWC.

As a member of the Detroit Recreation Commission, she had an influential role in the expansion of tree planting, nutrition and exercise initiatives, and girls' detention centers. In fact, the National Register of Historic Places continuation sheet lists the Detroit Federation of Women's Clubs as "pioneer[ing] in recreation work" and lists a 1923 investigation of baby trafficking and the 1910 push to add a woman to the police force as part of their civic engagement.

Delphine's significant influence on the Michigan State Industrial Home for Girls is described as "evolutionary." Within her four-year appointment to the Detroit Recreation Commission and as President of the Board of Guardians supervising work at the Michigan State Industrial Home, she set out to initiate an experiment. She hoped that adding more recreation—play, games, songs and dance—to the Home, would help diminish behavioral issues. This change was a dynamic one. Home employee Beatrice Hunzicker describes the environment as follows: "The solemn look has gone, the unhealthy, sneaking underground communication is dying a natural, though somewhat lingering death; sluggishness has disappeared...Play, setting up exercises and deep breathing are doing wonders; love and sympathy are doing even greater."

Her approach to the Home is questioned by some, however. The August 1919 Manistee Daily News includes an article written as a scathing review of the Industrial Home and Delphine herself. Consisting of a letter from Delphine provided by an angry parent who had asked for assistance with providing glasses for her daughter at the home, Delphine appears as cold and stingy. She supposedly wrote "My dear madam: It makes no difference to me whether Annie has glasses or not. It is her eyes that are suffering, not mine. If you do not want to pay for them, she can go without." Delphine continued to remind the mother that the Home was a place for girls sentenced to reform until they turn twenty-one years old. She abruptly shamed the mother for raising her daughter to need such time in the Home and signed the letter, "Yours very truly, Mrs. Delphine Dodge Ashbaugh, President Board of Guardians."

During World War I, Delphine served as War Victory Commission Chairman for the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), where she supported women serving in furlough homes in France. Her goal was to "turn citizens into investors." The War Victory Commission, established in January, 1918, was intended to raise $250,000 to better provide recreation for American soldiers abroad. In a series of letters to GFWC chapters around the country, she asked members to each contribute one dollar.

Appointed as Michigan Chairman by Ms. Grace Dixon, Delphine's influence and service also reached to the Fourth Liberty Loan Campaign late in 1918. Campaign reports note that women's clubs discussed Liberty Loans at all their meetings and 42% of the Michigan quota is credited to the Woman's Committee, suggesting Delphine's roles and passions often worked coincidentally.

Delphine also founded an auxiliary to the Salvation Army, founded and edited the magazine "Club Women," and served in the Michigan chapter of the Red Cross during World War I.

Overall, fundraising remains a major piece of Delphine's impact on the 1918 Michigan Women's Suffrage campaign as well. She, amongst a few others—notably the Henry Ford family, the Pope family, Mrs. Sherrard—contributed nearly 50% of the entire campaign. Her influence on family and community should not go undervalued, however, nor should her investment of time and money in expanding the roles of women in the Detroit civic community.


Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK]

Burton, C., Stocking, W., & Miller, G. City of Detroit: 1701-1922. Vol. 3 (S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922), p. 253.

Burton, C., Stocking, W., & Miller, G. City of Detroit: 1701-1922. Vol. 4 (S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922), pp. 308-13.

"31 Women Among G.O.P. Delegates". Detroit Free Press. Feb 13, 1919, p. 7.

"Concerning Club Women and Their Affairs." Detroit Free Press. Jan 7, 1923.

"Bitter Resentment Against Mrs. Delphine Dodge Ashbaugh," Manistee Daily News, August 1919. Compiled by Teena Kracht from Newspaper Archives of Manistee County Historical Museum.

Morris-Crowther, J. The Political Activities of Detroit Clubwomen in the 1920s: A Challenge and a Promise (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 2013), pp. 149, 183-84.

The Ocala [FL] Evening Star. Mar 6, 1918.

"Making Them Smile." The Playground, Vol. 13 No. 1, 431-432. Cooperstown, New York: The Playground and Recreation Association of America, 1923.

Laura Riggs, "The Responsible Philanthropy of Matilda Dodge Wilson," The Oakland Journal, no.21 (Fall 2011)

"GFWC Timeline: 1918—GFWC Overseas Service Unit" (2010). General Federation of Women's Clubs: Women's History and Resource Center, p. 5. August and September 2010.

"Report of National Women's Liberty Loan Committee for the Fourth Liberty Loan Campaign." United States of America: Treasury Department, 1918.

1897-1936 Correspondence. Texas Federation of Women's Clubs Collection. Series 3, Box 3.9. Texas Women's University Archives.

"Cass Farm Survey Area." National Register of Historic Places, Continuation Sheet: Section E, p. 27. United States: Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1997.

United States Census, 1920, 1930

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