Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mrs. Annie E. Merritt, 1854-1927
By Jacalyn Kalin, teacher (retired), Montgomery College, Maryland
Advocate for Suffrage and Equality Rights for Women
Annie Ross was born on November, 22, 1854 in New York to Timothy, a bookkeeper, and Mary, a housekeeper. She attended school in Brooklyn, NY where she spent her childhood and her adult years. She married Augustus Merritt on May 22, 1878 and they had four children.
Mrs. Merritt engaged in suffrage work in Brooklyn, a hotbed of campaign activity for a woman's right to vote. In 1892, Mrs. Merritt attended the first suffrage meeting in the Bedford section of Brooklyn. Two years later, Mrs. Merritt and eleven others formed the Bedford Political Equality League. Its goals were to obtain suffrage by state and national legislation, and to advance the legal, political, industrial and educational rights of women. By 1900, the Bedford League was the largest local league in New York State with over 360 active members.
Mrs. Merritt was chosen as a delegate to the 1895 annual meeting of the Kings County Political Equality League. She also took on the roles of corresponding secretary, member-at-large, and one of three executive board members for the league.
Ice cream – or the lack of it – led to a splintering of the Bedford League in 1908. The Bedford League had stopped serving ice cream and lemonade at the end of meetings. Its membership had declined which some attributed to refreshments no longer being served. As a result, the People's Political Equality League was formed by those who believed in drawing crowds by appealing to its "intelligence and tummy." It vowed to serve ice cream, cake and lemonade at every meeting; "they will come hungry and go away suffragists" declared the president of the new organization. The league started with twenty two charter members, including Mrs. Merritt, who was chosen corresponding secretary, her daughter Lorena, and her husband Augustus.
Mrs. Merritt had directed her actions to other suffrage organizations at the local and state levels as well. Starting in 1899 she served as president and then recording secretary for the Kings County Political Equality League, an umbrella organization for the various Brooklyn leagues. Formed in 1894, it was considered the "mother" of the Brooklyn leagues, and assisted in setting up and organizing new equality leagues in various sections of Brooklyn. A member of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in the late 1890's, Mrs. Merritt held the executive positions of chairman of the railroad committee, delegate at large to national conventions, treasurer, and credential committee member over the years.
Mrs. Merritt engaged in a myriad of activities in the suffrage organizations. She marched in suffrage parades, organized fairs, led and spoke at open air meetings on street corners, took charge of suffrage booths at state and national conventions, and canvassed for votes for women. She attended rallies in the state and travelled to other states to give suffrage speeches.
In a two-hour campaign to cover the forty-six assembly districts in Brooklyn in 1911, a brass band led a procession of speakers and suffrage leaders riding in twenty autos decorated with flags and streamers with "Votes for Women" printed on them. Each car had an assembly district leader and a speaker, including Mrs. Merritt in one of the cars, to give stump speeches in assigned districts. An auto tour brought her to Long Island in the summer of 1913; Mrs. Merritt spoke at luncheons, and at open-air meetings, addressing the crowds from an automobile. In 1915, Mrs. Merritt took charge of a 'Voiceless Speech' activity every Saturday in Brooklyn. Thirty-six placards containing speeches about suffrage were placed in a store window for onlookers to read. She also led Telephone Day that same year whereby suffragists called two male acquaintances to urge their support for a woman suffrage bill coming to a vote in the state legislature.
The dedicated efforts of suffragists in Brooklyn, the other New York City boroughs, and throughout the state met with success. The New York state legislature granted women the right to vote in state elections in 1917; the state legislature approved the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1919.
After the favorable suffrage vote by the New York legislature in 1917, the People's Political Equality League changed its name to the People's Political League of Kings County. The league resolved to work for the enfranchisement of women through a federal amendment and take up the study of politics and the political parties. Mrs. Merritt served in the role of vice president for the league. She advocated for the appointment of the league president Mrs. R.C. Talbot-Perkins to the position of Alderman and for women members to the Board of Education. She urged that women hold positions as judges, jurors, and probation officers. To learn about court procedure, Mrs. Merritt had attended court and observed that the jury, the judge, court officers and lawyers were male. She attended league meetings where topics included rent laws, the Constitution, prison reform, transit needs in Bedford, and laws affecting women. The league held moot trials with women serving in the main court roles, had politicians from the Democrat and Republican parties speak at meetings, and urged all voters to join a political organization in their community. Mrs. Merritt remained an eager participant in league activities into the 1920's. A brief newspaper account in November 1920 noted that the People's Political League presented Mrs. Merritt with a birthday cake. She missed a meeting in February 1921 due to illness and the League sent her flowers.
Mrs. Annie E. Merritt died on January 27, 1927 in Brooklyn and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery. At a meeting of the People's Political League of Kings County on February 15, 1927, "resolutions expressing regret at the death of Mrs. Annie E. Merritt, pioneer Brooklyn suffragist and founder of the club were passed."
"Another Political Equality League Ready for Women Work." The Chat, February 22, 1908, p. 10.
"Bedford Political Equality League." BrooklynTimes Union, December 9, 1899, p. 36.
"Delegates and Committees Named." The Buffalo Enquirer, October 31, 1902, p. 6.
"Editor Draws Fire by Rap at Women." Brooklyn Times Union, February 16, 1927, p. 74.
"League Will Show the Men Women's Might in Politics." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 29, 1919, p. 5.
"Political Equality Plans." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 8, 1899, p. 4.
"Suffrage Notes." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 17, 1915, p. 16.
"Suffrage Talk Sensible and Calm." Brooklyn Times Union, July 9, 1912, p. 8.
"Suffragettes Divided on Ice Cream Issue." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 22, 1908, p. 1.
"Suffragists in Two Hour A. D. Campaign." Brooklyn Times Union, October 4, 1911, p. 12.
"Three Bedford Women in the County Court." The Chat, January 31, 1914, p. 19.
U.S. Bureau of the Census: 1860, 1870, 1900, 1910, and 1920. Ancestry.com
"Voiceless Speech Attracts Crowds." The Chat, March 6, 1915, p. 59.
"With Women Voters." Brooklyn Times Union, May 25, 1921, p. 4.
"Women Adopt Resolutions in Honor of Great Victory." The Chat, November 17, 1917, p. 79.
The Chat, Feb. 21, 1921, p. 16.
Brooklyn Times Union, Nov. 24, 1920, p. 6.