Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Elizabeth Callendar Stevens, 1869-1963
By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian
Elizabeth, most often known as Elsie, was born in 1869 to Francis Bowes Stevens and Elizabeth Callendar Harris in Hoboken, NJ. The couple had five children with the names of Alexander Bowes, Frances Bowes, Elizabeth Callendar, Meta, and Theodosius.
On November 11, 1893, Elizabeth married Richard Stevens, her first cousin, at St. Peter & Paul's Church in Hoboken. They had four children, a son Richard Stevens Jr. (1905-1985) and three daughters Dorothy, Elizabeth C. (1895-1920) and Caroline B. (1897-1971). Richard was the fourth son of Edwin H. Stevens, the founder of the Stevens Institute of Technology. He was born in Paris, May 23, 1868. He graduated from Columbia University in 1890 and earned a law degree in 1892. Although he was admitted to the bar and established the law firm Lewis, Besson & Stevens, he instead devoted himself to public policy & charity work. He was president of the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, a director of the First National Bank of Hoboken, a trustee of the New Jersey Industrial School and a trustee of the Stevens Institute of Technology. He and his sister Caroline Stevens Alexander Wittpenn worked together on many social reform issues including justice reform. On May 18, 1919, Richard died suddenly of pneumonia.
Stevens and her husband Richard regularly opened their home, named Castle Point, in Hoboken for suffrage events and meetings. Richard and his sister Caroline Alexander Wittpenn were staunch advocates for the suffrage cause. Katherine Mackay, who formed the Equal Franchise Society in New York in 1908, recruited the Stevens to hold the founding meeting of the New Jersey Equal Franchise Society (NJEFS) in February of 1910. It was reported that nearly 300 women attended the meeting at Castle Point and 200 joined that day. Stevens and her sister in law Caroline Alexander Wittpenn were both elected vice presidents that afternoon. Her husband Richard was elected a trustee.
The Equal Franchise Society attracted socially prominent women and men advocating women's suffrage. As Johanna Neuman wrote in her book Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites who Fought for Women's Right to Vote, she said, 'Of all the tactics women now employed in winning the vote, few were as controversial-or as upsetting to the manner civility that had settled on relations between American men and women for more than a century-as the public parade. To Katherine Mackay and others in her Equal Franchise Society, the parades challenged the very heart of their ladylike activism.' Elsie Stevens resigned her position in the NJEFS rather than participate in the 1911 parade in New York City. Her husband Richard wanted her to reconsider, but she said, "Men...do not have respect for women who will walk through the public streets in this manner...It is so undignified and so unwomanly...It will do not end of harm." Although Elsie did not march in the parade, Richard and his sister Caroline did march with the New Jersey contingent.
Despite the Equal Franchise Society's best efforts, a special state-wide election in October 1915 to amend the New Jersey Constitution for women's suffrage was voted down. The New York Times reported that, "In Hoboken every one of the forty-five election districts went against the amendment." By 1917, the Equal Franchise Society and the Women's Political Union both voted to disband and merge with the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association (NJWSA), continuing the fight for the vote.
In October 12, 1925 Elsie wed Czechoslovakian diplomat and writer Josef Forman in Maidenhead, England. Two years later, in May of 1927, they divorced and she resumed the use of the Stevens name going by as Mrs. Stevens Stevens. She died in Hoboken in 1963.
"N.J. Suffragists are Organized," The Central New Jersey Home News, February 26, 1910.
"Leading Suffragist Balks at Parading," The Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), May 5, 1911, pg. 3.
"Thinks Parade Undignified," The Sun (New York), May 5, 1911, pg. 9.
"New Jersey Beats Suffrage by 46,278; While President Wilson Vote 'Yes,' Mrs. Galt, His Fiancée, Is Out as Anti," The New York Times, October 20, 1915, pg. 1.
"Mrs. Stevens Weds Bohemian Author," The New York Times, October 13, 1925.
Neuman, Johanna, Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites who Fought for Women's Right to Vote, (New York: New York University Press, 2017), pg. 111.
The New Jersey Law Journal, Volume 42, (Plainfield, NJ: New Jersey Law Publishing, 1917), pg. 192.
Harper, Ida Husted, editor, The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. VI, 1900-1920, (New York: J.J. Little & Co., 1922), pg. 416. [LINK]
Photo of Elizabeth Callendar Stevens from the Library of Congress
Accessible online at http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.30914/.