Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Atlanta Estella Pretorius Hecker, 1864-1924
By Morganne McKee and Carey Kelley, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri
Atlanta Estella Pretorius was born in Indiana on September 2, 1864. Her parents, Louise Weigel and William Pretorius, were both German immigrants. In 1884, she married Alexander Hecker and together they had three children, two sons named Eugene and Arthur born in 1885, and a daughter, Alice, in 1887. Their home was not only filled with their children but also some of their extended family. Friedrich Hecker, her husband's uncle and a decorated Civil War veteran, lived with them when he died in October 1896.
Hecker worked most of her adult life as a schoolteacher and only retired from teaching four years before her death. Her commitment to her profession made her an active member in various educational organizations. She was a member of the National Educators Association and Teacher's Mutual Aid Society, where she served as president. These voluntary organizations helped with curriculum and matters of teachers' salaries and benefits. Hecker's dedication to education extended beyond the traditional classroom and in 1916, she established a program to educate men serving sentences in the local workhouse. The aim of the program was to reform prisoners and teach them basic literacy skills. As a result of her efforts, she was elected as a delegate at the National Conference of Charities and Correction in St. Louis in May 1910.
Hecker's activism also included education and advocating for suffrage. She was an active member and leader of the northern branch of the Equal Suffrage League of St. Louis in 1911. The organization held meetings and raised funds to further the cause of women's suffrage in America. In 1912, Hecker and other suffragists participated in a public debate at the Barr Branch Library about the various views of suffrage. One concern of anti-suffragists focused on the close association of the temperance movement with that of suffrage. Many local opponents of suffrage believed that if women were given the right to vote, they would vote for prohibition, which would affect one of St. Louis's major industries. In 1913, Hecker attended the Cherokee Street Fair and flew their banner in a beer garden in the fair's German Village. The members of the St. Louis Equal Suffrage League had difficulty securing a place for their cause but eventually were offered a space, and protection, in the beer garden. This was part of an effort to demonstrate that votes for women did not automatically mean votes for a dry society.
On May 27, 1895, 30 year old Hecker became a widow when her husband Alexander Hecker died of unknown causes. Despite her young age at the time of Alexander's death, Hecker never remarried, and never changed her name. Following her husband's death, she spent time in Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Utah. While living in the Kennedy Township area of Pennsylvania, she lost her son Arthur who died at home following a tooth extraction. Hecker stayed busy despite retiring from teaching and edited an employee magazine for the Union Pacific Coal Company in Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1923. The following year, on April 4, 1924 Hecker died at the age of 59 in Salt Lake City, Utah, while visiting relatives.
Atlanta Hecker's death certificate, death Certificate of Alexander Hecker; 1920 Census and the death certificate of Arthur Hecker from Ancestry.com
Yearbook and list of active members of the National Education Association, 1906-1907, p. 816
The history of woman suffrage edited by Ida Husted, v.6., p. 343 [LINK]
newspaper articles found on newspapers.com from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sept. 28, 1913, April 23, 1916 and Oct. 16, 1913; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 8, 1910 and January 21, 1912 and the Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, WY), Nov. 15, 1923