Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Nina Vivian Stanley Rodgers Thorp, 1876-1959
By Melissa A. Hermes, Otter Tail County Historical Society, Fergus Falls, MN
Journalist, Businesswoman and activist in the Suffrage Movement
Nina Vivian Stanley Thorp was born in Toronto, Canada on Nov. 11, 1876. She died in 1959. Her parents were Victoria White and William B. Stanley, United States citizens who immigrated to Canada. While she would go by the name of Vivian S. Thorp for most of her life, the Canadian birth registry lists her name as Nina Amelia Stanley. The birth registry also states that her father was a saloonkeeper.
Vivian Stanley married 23-year-old Robert James McDuff Rodger on February 25, 1895 and the couple had one child, a daughter Marjorie born in 1896. The Canadian census for 1901 lists Nina's occupation as "lady journalist." Her short stories appeared in newspapers in Canada and the United States. At least one of the stories foreshadowed her beliefs in independent women. "A Matter of Money," written in 1903, tells the story of Laura Cathcart who breaks off her wedding engagement, attends medical school and opens her own hospital. By 1903, and going by the name of Nina Vivian Rodger, she had moved to Minneapolis, where she appears in the Minneapolis City Directory both as a reporter and as dramatic editor for the Minneapolis Times.
In 1904, Robert Rodger, still in Toronto, petitioned for divorce, retaining custody of their child. On Oct. 4, 1904, Vivian married Walter Hannibal Thorp, the president and manager of the Thorp Fireproof Door Company located in Minneapolis. City directories list Vivian as either secretary or vice president of the company. They had a daughter, Helen, born in 1907. For the next decade, Thorp's career in journalism took a backseat with her name more apt to appear on the society page, not as a byline. Vivian was a member of the Federation of Women's Clubs, the Women's Welfare League, St. Anthony Park Women's Association and Friends of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Then in 1913, women from the state signed a petition endorsing woman suffrage and sent the list to legislators. The list was published in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune and Mrs. Walter Thorp's name appeared on the list. When Twin Cities women organized to form the Equal Suffrage Association in October of 1913, they elected Thorp secretary. She would maintain leadership roles, repeatedly reelected to officer positions. In 1915, Thorp named Chairman of press for the Minnesota Suffrage Association, succeeding Eugenia B. Farmer in that role. In addition she belonged to the Hennepin County Suffrage Association.
This group made newspaper headlines in 1917 when it repudiated the National Woman's Party policy of boycotting the Liberty Loan program of World War I. Instead, "the Minneapolis suffragists bought liberally of the first issue." Vivian Thorp encouraged suffragists to support their country while actively working for voting rights, reminding them, "You don't stop being a mother because these are war times; why stop being a suffragist?" Speaking at a meeting of the College Women's Club she exhorted them, "It has taken us years to form this efficiency. Let us not disband now. Take your added burden of war but keep on being suffragists." After the war, she advocated for women's involvement in the peace process. On Sept. 11, 1921, the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune quoted her as saying, "Contrary to statements made that there are not women fitted to sit with this august body we believe that there are several and have confidence that the President also believes this to be true."
The Equal Suffrage Association had an office on Nicollet Avenue and maintained a calendar of social activities to insure that "the enfranchisement of women will be kept ever in the eye of the man on the street." Vivian S. Thorp was an active participant. When the suffrage film, Your Girl and Mine" ran at the New Garrick Theater in 1915, a number of activists, including Thorp, bought boxes of seats and filled the house. Described as a "Society Event" the theater was decorated "with yellow and white bunting."
By April 1919, she was a member of the executive committee of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association as well as their director of publicity. She served as a Minnesota delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention held in St. Louis where members began to discuss changing the organization's name to the League of Women Voters. In 1920, she was appointed to the national League of Women Voters publicity committee. As publicity chairman for the Minnesota chapter, she oversaw publication of a monthly entitled The Woman Voter, with Emily Kneubuhl as Associate Editor and Gladys Harrison as Business Manager. The first issue was published on Dec. 8, 1920.
In addition to the publicity chairmanship, Thorp helped organize League of Women Voter groups in greater Minnesota. In the summer of 1921 she traveled to South Dakota and Montana, helping develop League of Women Voters groups with Mrs. James Paige and Mrs. Sumner McKnight. Thorp was repeatedly elected to the executive committee, serving as a director of the Minnesota League of Women Voters in the 1920s and 30s.
On March 31, 1933, The Minneapolis Star quoted Vivian Thorp on Page 1: "More Women Needed in the Legislature, Vivian Thorp says. As a class, women have done more to make themselves intelligent about government in the 10 years they have had the vote than have most men in all the years of their franchise." The public responded positively to her writing and she resumed her career in journalism. Her byline Vivian S. Thorp often appeared on the front page of The Star and the newspaper touted her as "THE STAR'S political expert."
Her career in journalism went beyond print, hosting her own radio program called "Today in the Legislature" broadcast on WCCO. Her political commentary had both fans and foes writing letters to the editor. The April 30, 1935 issue of the paper had differing opinions with one writer complaining about Thorp's, "ranting, raving and political mudslinging," while another praised The Star, "for having on its staff a person of the ability of this writer" and claiming that her work, "far surpasses that of any political writer in the Twin Cities."
"A Matter of Money." Spokesman-Review, Spokane Washington, Oct. 22, 1903, p. 6.
Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Registrations of Marriages, 1869-1928; Reel: 87
Canada Census, Year: 1881; Census Place: St James Ward, Toronto City, Ontario; Roll: C_13246; Page: 123; Family No: 861. Ancestry.com website.
Canada Census, Year: 1901; Census Place: Toronto (East/est) (City/Cité) Ward/Quartier No 2, Toronto (east/est) (city/cité), Ontario; Page: 8; Family No: 92. Ancestry.com website.
City directories for Minneapolis, ancestry.com website.
"Dispensary for Factory Girls." Minneapolis Tribune, Feb. 3, 1910, p. 11.
"Dramatic Notes." Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, May 15, 1904, p. 16.
"Do War Work, Be Suffragists Still, Appeal to Women." Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Nov. 27, 1917.
"Equal Suffragists Elect Mrs. Simpson President." Minneapolis Morning Tribune, 4 May 1915.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage. Vols. V and VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
"Heads of Women's Organizations Outline 1928 Programs." Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, Jan. 1, 1928, p. 5.
"Housewarming Tea Being Arranged By Suffragists." Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Jan. 18, 1917.
"League of Women Voters Conference." Willmar Tribune, Jan. 28, 1920, p. 1.
"Manager Plan and Merit System to be Discussed at Conference." Minneapolis Star Journal, March 30, 1941.
"Minnesota Suffrage Delegation Returns." Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 1, 1919, p. 10.
"Minnesota Women to Attend Convention." Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, February 8, 1920, p. 2.
"More Women in Legislature Plea of Mrs. Thorp." Minneapolis Star, March 31, 1933, p. 12.
"Mrs. Walter Thorp Leaves for Washington to Confer with Congressmen of State." Minneapolis Tribune, Jan. 2, 1924, p. 8.
"Mrs. Paige Will Tour Montana, South Dakota for League of Voters." Minneapolis Tribune, June 5, 1921, p. 60.
Nevada Department of Health; Carson City, Nevada; Nevada Death Records, ancestry.com website.
"Stern Mien to Greet House Suffrage Bill." Minneapolis Tribune, Feb. 11, 1913, p. 1.
"Suffrage Film Showing to be Society Event." Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Jan. 21, 1915, p. 14.
"Suffragists Here Buy Liberty Bonds." Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Oct. 12, 1917.
"Suffragists Organize a New Vote Club." Minneapolis Tribune, Sept. 18 1913.
"Tea for Editor's Wives." Minneapolis Tribune, Feb. 20, 1914, p. 10.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1910, 1920, 1930-Population. Ancestry.com website.
"Vivian Thorp Will Give Broadcast on Session." Minneapolis Star, Jan. 6, 1934, p. 2.
The Woman Voter. Special Convention edition, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Minnesota League of Women Voters, Dec. 8, 1920.
"Women Choose Delegates: Representatives Will Attend General Federation in Chicago." Minneapolis Morning Tribune, May 16, 1914, p. 19.
"Women Voters Elect New Head; Legislative Hearing Dramatized." St. Cloud Times, Oct. 30, 1930, p. 6.
"Women Showing Less Interest in Legislation Than For Many Years." Minneapolis Star, Oct. 8, 1933, p. 4.