Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ella Hastings, 1856-1924
By Ezekiel Johnson and Nicole Scaparro, students, State University of New York at Cortland
President, Society for the Study of Child Nature; Founder, Woman's Peace Circle of New York; Member, Peace and Arbitration Committee (1908) and Committee on Church Work (1913), National American Woman Suffrage Association
Ella Hastings was born on August 3, 1856 in New York City to Jeremiah and Isabella (Devlin) Linehan. She trained to become a teacher, graduating from the Normal College of the City of New York in 1871 and the Van Norman Institute for Young Ladies in 1873. The duties of marriage and child-rearing likely took her away from her chosen profession. She married William Henry "Harry" Hastings, a New York merchant, on November 2, 1881 in New York City. The couple had six children together: Sarah, Harvey, Elinor, William, Robert, and Edward. Although a devoted family woman, Hastings developed into a committed reformer who, beginning the late 1880s, fought to expand educational opportunities for children and secure voting rights for women.
Hastings took an active interest in the study of childhood development as a founder of the Society for the Study of Child Nature in 1888. The organization sought a better understanding of children from "the mental, moral, and physical view points" at a time when the nation's industrial economy relied on the labor of millions of children to the neglect of their formal schooling. Hastings's group drew inspiration from the ideas of Felix Adler, a philosopher and founder of the Ethical Cultural Society in New York City, as well as other philosophers and ethicists from Plato to Locke. Although Hastings appears to have left her work with the organization before the turn of the century, the society continued to grow using the small study group model that she pioneered. By the mid-1920s the society had been renamed the Child Study Association of America with a focus on connecting parents to emerging literature on child development in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and sociology.
In addition to her educational outreach activities, Hastings was involved in the peace movement in New York City in the years before World War I. In March 1905, she founded the Woman's Peace Circle of New York (WPC)—a group affiliated with the American Peace Society—at the suggestion of peace advocate Lucia Ames Mead. The mission of the WPC, according to its constitution, was "to show the inconsistency of war with the true spirit of civilization." Hastings delivered a speech at the WPC's initial public meeting held at Madison Square Theater in May 1905. On occasion, she used the WPC as a platform to advocate for the welfare of children. Representing the group at a meeting of the National Arbitration and Peace Congress in New York in 1907, she condemned the spread of militaristic thought and practice in public education, including a plan to introduce rifle training for boys in New York City schools. Hastings warned of the dangers of a "widespread movement all over our country" that aimed "to perpetuate and emphasize militarism with its spectacular and hence most attractive glory."
Hastings's interest in woman's suffrage likely developed through her association with the New York State Federation of Women's Clubs. She served on the executive board of the organization from 1899 to 1901 and in various leadership roles in the New York City Federation after its formation in 1902. In 1908, she helped lead a delegation of New York City club women to Albany in effort to pressure state legislators to pass a constitutional amendment in support of woman suffrage. Hastings's suffrage activism extended to the state and national suffrage organizations beginning in 1908. She twice served on National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) committees, including the Peace and Arbitration Committee in 1908 and the Committee on Church Work, headed by fellow New Yorker Mary E. Craigie, in 1913. She also sat on the Legislative Committee of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) in 1909 and chaired NYSWSA's Education Committee in 1911.
Following the conclusion of the First World War, Hastings was one of six women appointed by New York Governor Al Smith to his Reconstruction Commission. Smith tasked the commission with drawing up plans for the reorganization of state government as it reconverted to peacetime.
Ella Hastings died on October 17, 1924 at the age of 69.
[Obituary], New York Times (October 18, 1924), 15.
Child Study Association of America records, sw0019. Social Welfare History Archives. https://archives.lib.umn.edu/repositories/11/resources/604 Accessed December 19, 2019.
"The Mothers' Congress: Mrs. Harry Hastings, the President, Gives her Opinions on the Subject of Child Nature," New York Times (January 11, 1898), 7.
John W. Leonard, Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915 (New York: The American Commonwealth Company), 311. [LINK]
_______. Who's Who in New York City and State (New York: L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1907), 639.
New York State Legislature, Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Vol. 16 (New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1898), 904-905.
Proceedings of the National Arbitration and Peace Congress, New York, April 14-17, 1907, 275-280.
"New York Women's Peace Circle," Advocate of Peace 67 (3) (March 1905), 75.
Ida Husted Harper, ed., History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, vol. 6 (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), 455-456. [LINK]