Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Geraldine Buchanan, 1894-?
By Margot McMillen, Independent Historian
The life of Geraldine Isabella Buchanan (1894-?), born in California, Missouri, is somewhat of a mystery. All we know of her suffrage activities comes from an article covering Missouri suffrage work in 1916 and 1917 written by Agnes I. Leighty, in the Missouri Historical Review of 1920. Mrs. Leighty was State Chairman of the Missouri Woman Suffrage Association. The legislature only met in odd-numbered years. Mrs. Leighty wrote about 1917:
This being a legislative year, it gave us an opportunity to present to the State Legislature a bill for Presidential Suffrage. We opened headquarters in Jefferson City with Ms. Geraldine Buchanan of California, Missouri, in charge; with some members of the State Board present during the session.
The same information was repeated in Volume 6 of The History of Woman Suffrage by Ida Husted Harper and others but included the names of several who remained in Jefferson City—Mrs. Leighty, Mrs. Fordyce, Mrs. O'Neal, Mrs. Passmore and Mrs. Grossman of St. Louis.
While those names are familiar in Missouri's suffrage story, Geraldine Buchanan appears only once and only the merest hints of her life—census records and a few other clues—remain. She was the daughter of a successful California, Missouri druggist, Thomas J Buchanan (1862-1933), born in Ireland. Buchanan's store occupied part of an important 1859 building on the Courthouse Square, with the upper part occupied by the Masonic fraternity and the street level by physicians and druggists.
According to an unsigned historical survey of California buildings on-line, "The T. J. Buchanan house, California, Mo. is a fine brick home (now the American Legion Home) built by one of California's early day prosperous druggists."
Geraldine's mother was Cora Isabella (née Allison) Buchanan (1871-1937). Her children were Charles Raymond, born 1892, Geraldine born February 1894, Thomas Jerome, born 1895 and Riley, born 1897. Son John, born in 1901, died at age 1½ and an infant born in 1907 died at birth.
According to census records, in 1900, the Buchanan household included the family plus one white housekeeper. In 1910, there were two black servants. The 1920 census does not show any servants and in 1930 only Thomas J. and Cora remained in town. (U.S. census records)
California is the county seat of Moniteau County, and about 24 miles from the state capitol. In 1917, it would have been at least an hour drive and probably much longer. Was the family active in Jefferson City politics? It is impossible to tell from the records remaining.
The family of Geraldine's mother had deep roots in the United States. The Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, Volumes 43-45, p. 450, reports that on June 4, 1913, "Through their respective State Regents, the following members-at-large ask for authorization to organize chapters: Mrs. Cora I. Allison Buchanan of California, Missouri" followed by names from other potential chapters. Cora traced her lineage back to Josiah Dickson (1750-1834) and Geraldine was listed in later DAR roles. Her connection with DAR may have given Geraldine the network that earned her a place at the capitol.
As often happens in tracing the life of a woman, her marriage history is hard to follow. There is a marriage listed for Geraldine in Ancestry.com, to Josiah S. Cooper of California and it is traceable to a marriage license which lists very little about the young couple or their families. The date was November 19, 1916. It is odd that Geraldine may have married in November, then began work in Jefferson City two months later, still using her maiden name.
Another mystery is another name change to Geraldine Parker, 5046 Washington, St. Louis. Using this name, she signed the death certificate of Thomas as "daughter" in 1933 after he died in Moniteau County. Still at the same address, she signed the death certificate of Cora, who died in St. Louis in 1937. Again on Ancestry.com, there is a marriage to a spouse listed as Austin Smith Parker from Columbia, South Carolina. There is no marriage certificate.
So far, no death certificate or memorial marker has been located. Women in those days could disappear without a trace.
The suffrage work of Geraldine Buchanan is documented in "History of Woman Suffrage in Missouri" published in the April-July, 1920 issue of The Missouri Historical Review. Other information about Geraldine's life was gathered from Ancestry.com, United States' census records, and other Missouri historical records.