Biographical Sketch of Emily Gilman Noyes

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Emily Gilman Noyes, 1854-1930

By Andrea Jule Sachs, history faculty, St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, MN

Emily Gilman Noyes (1854-1930) was born in New York City and spent most of her adult life in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she played a critical role in the Minnesota women's suffrage movement. Her family background inspired her to use her privilege to stand up for social justice and women's rights. When her father was a young merchant living in Alton, Illinois during the 1830s, he supported the work of the abolitionist publisher Elijah Lovejoy. Her older brother Arthur helped establish Radcliffe College. After Emily's sister married Daniel Noyes and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1868, Emily married Daniel's younger brother Charles. In 1874 the couple moved west to join their siblings in St. Paul, where the brothers built a successful wholesale drug business and established their position among prominent businessmen of the Twin Cities. It was in this context that Noyes launched her civic career during the 1880s.

As an active participant in the club movement, Noyes engaged with broader Progressive Era efforts to improve the lives of women. She helped establish the St. Paul YWCA to provide a safe place for young single women to live and socialize. Her commitment to suffrage complemented her other efforts to advocate on behalf of women. In 1912, during her term as vice president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, Noyes was instrumental in establishing the Woman's Welfare League and serving as its president for its first four years. Committed to advancing women's "rights of full citizenship," the Woman's Welfare League sought to enhance women's security and status as workers, mothers, and citizens. It also became the nexus of suffrage activism in Ramsey County. Among the topics addressed at the League's weekly luncheons was the less visible but profoundly important goal of providing birth control education to Twin Cities women.

Central to Noyes's suffrage work was her close collaboration with Clara Ueland, Minnesota's most prominent suffrage leader. As the national suffrage movement gained momentum Noyes and Ueland sought to unify a fractured statewide movement. In 1913-14 Noyes served on a small State Central Committee that organized suffrage advocates by legislative district. In 1915 she was one of a handful of pro-suffrage women to testify when the Minnesota Senate Elections Committee debated a bill to put the woman suffrage question on the ballot. Those attending the hearing could identify Noyes and her suffragist allies by the yellow jonquils they wore--a marker that made them easily distinguished from the anti-suffrage speakers, who wore red roses.

Noyes was named honorary president of the Ramsey County Suffrage Association and, following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the Ramsey County League of Women Voters. She was also among the six Minnesotans named to the honor roll of the National League of Women Voters. The contributions of Noyes and twenty-four other suffrage leaders were publicly recognized in 2000, when a monument to Minnesota suffragists was built on the grounds of the State Capitol in Saint Paul.

Sources:

Bauer, Heidi, ed. The Privilege for Which We Struggled: Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Minnesota. St. Paul: Upper Midwest Women's History Center, 1999.

Gluck, Sherna, ed. From Parlor to Prison: Five American Suffragists Talk About Their Lives. New York: Random House, 1976.

Minnesota Woman Suffrage Memorial, Cedar Avenue at Martin Luther King Boulevard, Saint Paul, Minnesota. http://www.placeography.org.

Stuhler, Barbara. Gentle Warriors: Clara Ueland and the Minnesota Struggle for Woman Suffrage. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995.

back to top