Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Enid M. Pierce, 1874–1921
By Samuel Layton, Undergraduate Student, Rhode Island College
Vice Chairman, Providence Woman Suffrage Party; District Captain, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party and Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association; Vice Chairman of the Providence League of Women Voters; Teacher
Enid Mabel Pierce was born in Melrose, Massachusetts on January 18, 1874. Her parents were Robert W. Pierce and Lucy H. Lovering Pierce. On her maternal side, the family first arrived in Massachusetts in the 1600s and one of her ancestors was accused of being a witch in Salem in the 1690s. When she was two years old, Pierce moved to Florida with her family where they had a nursery where they grew orange trees. Pierce's family initially lived in a small one room log cabin, which was later expanded to have more rooms and buildings. She was educated at home until she was eleven years old, when she started grammar school in Eustis, Florida. Pierce attended Eustis Seminary for high school and graduated as valedictorian. In 1894, Pierce moved to Rhode Island to attend the Rhode Island Normal School (later renamed Rhode Island College) to prepare for a teaching career. The following year, the family's orchards were destroyed in a severe freeze and her father died soon after. Pierce's mother and brothers moved to Rhode Island and Pierce helped support them with her teaching career. She never married or had children of her own.
Pierce began teaching at the Veazie Street Primary School in 1898 and worked there for approximately 23 years. In addition to her career, Pierce was an active in the Providence community. She was a member of the Olney Street Congregational Society and assisted with their annual fair. She acted in various roles in plays by the Carleton Club, an amateur theatrical group. She also maintained numerous hobbies, including dressmaking, writing poetry, gardening, and baking. In 1903 and 1904, she participated in continuing education programs at Rhode Island School of Design and the Women's College at Brown University.
Pierce joined the Rhode Island suffrage movement in the 1910s and was an active member of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party, the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association, the Providence Woman Suffrage Party, and the Providence League of Women Voters. Her close colleague in the movement, Sara Algeo, referred to Pierce in her memoir as "one of the best loved reformers that ever took upon herself the task of making a clear path for women." (Note: her name is misspelled in volume 6 of History of Woman Suffrage as Enid Peirce.)
Her first documented involvement was attending the first meeting of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party when it was founded in 1913. For the next seven years, Pierce engaged in numerous activities to support woman suffrage. She signed a petition in support of woman suffrage that was presented to the United State House of Representatives in 1914. Pierce was frequently involved in fundraising and promotion for the Woman Suffrage Party. She oversaw booths at bazaars, sold candy and cakes, and served as assistant chairman of the Public Forum committee to fundraise through the sale of coffee. She held several fundraising events at her house, including a suffrage sale in 1915 to support the suffrage headquarters and a card party in 1916 that was part of a National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) campaign to raise a million dollars. Pierce and several other suffragists arranged a theatre party to watch "Your Girl and Mine," a suffrage film that had been endorsed by NAWSA and she was later elected chairman of the Suffrage Party Dramatic Club, which put on plays and read poems to support the suffrage cause. Pierce was an admired writer and often wrote and read original poems at suffrage events. She also gave speeches at suffrage organization meetings, public rallies, and at community events, with titles including "The Modern Youth," "When Our State Turns White," "The Efficiency of Women," "The Value of the Vote to the Workers, and "Woman Suffrage—Past and Present." In 1915 she chaired a committee for the RIWSA for an outdoor suffrage event in Providence.
In May 1915, Pierce was named to the committee that would discuss the creation of a new constitution for the consolidation of the three suffrage organizations in Rhode Island—the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party, the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, and the College Equal Suffrage League. The new organization was called the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association. Relationshipa in the amalgamated organization were fraught, and Sara Algeo reestablished the Woman Suffrage Party later in 1915. In her memoir, Sara Algeo recounted a conversation about the divisions within the movement. She wrote, "I asked a dear co-worker, Enid M. Pierce, if the pioneer workers emphasized their differences with the same intensity as our own group seemed inclined to do at times. `I guess they were as bad, if not worse,' she replied `and I doubt if they would have been willing to do all the hateful things we have to do, at that.'" Algeo explained that Pierce was referring to "the street propaganda, the selling of papers, candy, etc., which we deemed so essential to make money and advertise our cause."
Pierce joined Algeo in the Providence Woman Suffrage Party and was elected vice chairman of the organization in 1916. She also served as captain of district 3 in Providence for the Woman Suffrage Party and the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association and in that capacity held regular meetings at her home in Providence. In 1916, she chaired the Providence Woman Suffrage Party's organization committee and worked to create new ward committees, draft new leaders, and obtain signatures for a petition for the woman suffrage constitutional amendment. She served on the Rhode Island executive committee of the New England Woman Suffrage Association in 1917-1918. The Rhode Island woman suffrage movement gained a significant victory in 1917 when the Rhode Island legislature passed a bill giving women the right to vote for presidential electors. In a statement to The Providence Journal on this occasion, Pierce said that she was "heartily pleased that Rhode Island should be the first State of New England, instead of the last, as we feared might be the case" and that "the victory has exceeded our fondest and greatest hopes."
Pierce grew up in a farming family and was an avid gardener as an adult. She cultivated an unpromising plot of land in Providence into a flourishing garden and sold the crops in the summer to supplement her teaching income. In 1915, The Providence Journal ran a feature article on Pierce that focused on the connection between her gardening and woman suffrage. Titled "Boosts Suffrage with the Hoe," the article quoted Pierce as explaining "I believe [the garden] demonstrates that those interested in suffrage can do practical work at home," in response to a common criticism of suffrage that it would detract from a woman's traditional responsibilities at home. The article also emphasized Pierce's teaching, gardening, and business skills.
During World War I, the National American Woman Suffrage Association urged its supporters to engage in war voluntarism in order to showcase women as patriotic citizens and help increase support for woman suffrage. Drawing on her interest and expertise in gardening, Pierce was the chair of the Committee on Agriculture, Thrift and Elimination of Waste for the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party during the war; the committee was a branch of NAWSA's Suffrage Agricultural committee. In a letter to the editor, she advised citizens about the proper storage and preservation of seeds, explaining that "the message must be gotten to all farmers and small gardeners that seed must be saved. If a world at war is to be kept from starvation this most important message must be heeded." She gave a speech on "Suffrage, Agriculture and Thrift" at a New England Woman Suffrage Association convention in 1917. At the end of the war, she attended a meeting about the League of Nations, a proposed international organization designed to prevent future wars. She also argued for a joint holiday for Thanksgiving and Armistice Day in order to celebrate peace and the world. She signed the letter saying, "This is my plea as a citizen of Rhode Island, of America and 'my country,' the world."
Americanization efforts gained support during World War I with increasing xenophobia about foreigners. In addition, many suffragists supported Americanization as a response to fears about foreign-born women being unprepared for citizenship and voting rights. These programs were designed to turning foreigners in the United States into productive and patriotic Americans. In 1918, Pierce served on the Americanization committee of the Providence Woman Suffrage Party. She linked the issues of education and Americanization and called for increasing public education. In a letter to the editor, she rhetorically asked, "How can the people talk of 'Democracy' and 'Americanizing our foreign population' which they know are ends to be accomplished largely through our public schools, if they allow laws to exist which practically to all intents and purposes close the door of education to our new neighbors to the ridiculous age of 14?" She also gave speeches on related topics including "What the public schools owe to the immigrant" and "Americanizing Americans"
By 1919, support for the woman suffrage amendment had increased. Pierce and a group of suffragists met with the Rhode Island governor to lobby him for special session of the legislature on woman suffrage. In addition, that year the National American Women Suffrage Association transitioned into the League of Women Voters to help prepare women for voting and civic responsibilities after woman suffrage and to advocate for political issues important to women voters. In Rhode Island, the Providence League of Women Voters was granted a charter in 1919 with Pierce as one of several incorporators of the organization. Pierce also served as vice chairman of the new organization.
When the nineteenth amendment was ratified in Rhode Island in 1920, a celebratory dinner was held by the suffragists. Pierce wrote a poem titled Victory for the occasion and read it at the event. The poem illustrates not only Pierce's voice but also her commitment to the cause of suffrage and her recognition of its future importance. Pierce began poem with:
Hail women of the nation!
The fight at last is done
The ballot now is ours;
Shout each and ev'ry one,
You who have struggled for it,
And you who held it back,
You who have dreamed the vision,
For them that felt no lack.
Call, each one to a brother,
And say that now we stand
Upon an equal footing,
With them who ruled our land.
We'll keep, or make, or alter
The laws as seemeth best,
That government may function
And pass the acid test.
In another section of the poem, she exclaimed that women were "No longer as man's plaything Or yet his faded drudge. But now an honest helpmeet."
Following the suffrage ratification, Pierce continued her activism with the Providence League of Women Voters. In 1920, she served on a committee that organized an event at on Registration Day when large numbers of women were expected to register to vote. At the Providence city hall, Pierce's committee sold the booklet "Suggestions to the Women Voters of Rhode Island," signed up members for the League of Women Voters, and solicited donations. Before the day ended, though, members of the City Council criticized the event as inappropriate for a municipal building and the women were asked to leave.
Beyond suffrage, Pierce was active in a number of other causes, mostly drawing on the idea of maternalism, that women played a maternal and nurturing role in society, especially related to children and family issues. She chaired a meeting of the Providence Civic Forum on the topic of "Women in Industry" and called for legislation to protect children and mothers. She argued for mother's pensions that would allow mothers to stay at home with young children instead of having to earn wages outside of the home and for protective legislation that would restrict the hours and conditions under which women could work. She claimed that protective legislation was needed to protect their reproductive capacity, stating "women must have shorter factory hours in order not to be made unfit for motherhood." At the Forum meeting, she also discussed an ongoing campaign to get women on the police force in Rhode Island and bemoaned the limited number and prejudice against women doctors. Pierce chaired a meeting of the Suffrage Party Dramatic Club that endorsed prohibition of alcohol, another issue of concern to many suffragists. In letters to the editor in the local newspaper, she advocated for a wide variety of issues, including higher pay for teachers, the importance of free public schools, mandatory high school education, the abolition of the death penalty, and public garbage service in Providence. On the latter issue, Pierce explained that they could not "expect to be a clean, healthy, happy people unless we live in a clean, healthy city."
Pierce also was an advocate for eugenics, a popular but now discredited racial science in the early twentieth century. In a speech at the People's Forum in 1918, she gave a speech on "cripples." She explained the role of heredity in causing physical, moral, and mental disabilities, claiming that "mental cripples, the feeble-minded, and the insane are on an increase," and calling for legislation to prevent the reproduction of individuals with these flaws. Two doctors in attendance at the event spoke up in opposition to Pierce's argument.
By 1921, Pierce was elected to the executive committee of the Tax Reform Association in Rhode Island. The organization was related to the single tax movement popularized by theorist Henry George in the late nineteenth century. The movement called for increasing taxes on land based on the idea that land should be a public good and not a source for creating private wealth.
After her hard work for the woman suffrage movement, Pierce lived long enough to see the successful ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. The following year, though, Pierce died unexpected on January 12, 1921 at the age of 46. She went home from school because she was not feeling well, entered the hospital the next day, and a week later died of peritonitis caused by a ruptured fallopian tube. Her funeral was attended by multiple friends and colleagues, including former Rhode Island Governor Lucian F.C. Garvin. In honor of Pierce, her poems were read at her memorial service and those in attendance agreed to have her poems published. Her mother, Lucy Pierce, wrote a preface for the memorial book and said about her daughter:
Conscientious to a high degree, she always held truth and justice as the governing principles of her whole life...It can be truthfully said that she loved work, —loved the feeling that she was of use in the world...She ever set the highest ideals before the children she taught, trying to guide them on the right road to good citizenship and to becoming honest, upright men and women.
Suffragist Sara Algeo also contributed an essay to the book, in which she called Pierce a "pioneer suffragist" and described her as "A born reformer, she dearly loved espousing unpopular causes provided they appealed to her sense of right and justice which was abnormally keen. Single tax, prohibition, woman suffrage, the freedom of small nations, the ending of war, all had her sympathy and help when friends in their behalf were badly needed." Enid M. Pierce is buried at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.
Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925), 8.
"Boosts Suffrage with a Hoe," The Providence Sunday Journal, October 10, 1915. John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, RI.
Advertisement, The Providence Journal, November 11, 1917.
Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]
Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925).
"Church Fair," The Providence Journal, Februaty 25, 1897.
"Under Fair Skies," The Providence Journal, April 19, 1897.
"School Changes," The Providence Journal, January 31, 1898.
"Olney Street Church," The Providence Journal, March 7, 1901.
"Memorial Service," The Providence Journal, June 3, 1901.
"Amateur Dramatics," The Providence Journal, June 7, 1901.
"Annual Fair," The Providence Journal, April 10, 1902.
"Messmates," The Providence Journal, October 24, 1902.
"Suffragists Plan Big Meeting," The Providence Journal, April 19, 1913.
"Society," The Providence Journal, December 14, 1913.
"Woman Suffrage Plans Complete," The Providence Journal, April 25, 1914.
"Suffragists Open Three-Day Bazaar," The Providence Journal, December 4, 1914.
"Rhode Islanders Favor National Woman Suffrage," The Providence Journal, December 25, 1914.
"Society," The Providence Journal, January 10, 1915.
"Personal and Social," The Providence Journal, February 25, 1915.
"Society," The Providence Journal, March 21, 1915.
"Personal and Social," The Providence Journal, March 23, 1915.
"Miss Blackwell Luncheon Guest," The Providence Journal, March 28, 1915.
"Woman Suffrage Societies United," The Providence Journal, May 2, 1915.
"Alderman Kelso to Speak," The Providence Journal, May 29, 1915.
"Personal and Social," The Providence Journal, July 22, 1915.
"Suffragists Plan Mass Visit to Walter R. Stiness," The Providence Journal, August 19, 1915.
"Boosts Suffrage with a Hoe," The Providence Sunday Journal, October 10, 1915. pp 2.
"Miss Mary E. McDowell to Speak Here Sunday," The Providence Journal, December 3, 1915.
"Speaks at People's Council," The Providence Journal, January 19, 1916.
"Suffragists Plan to Sell Coffee for Funds," The Providence Journal, May 29, 1916.
"R.I. Suffragists Urge Passage of Amendment," The Providence Journal, July 13, 1916.
"Temperance Demonstration is Held at North Scituate," The Providence Journal, July 23, 1916.
"Suffrage Speaking at Park," The Providence Journal, August 25, 1916.
"Suffragists Will Speak on Federal Amendment," The Providence Journal, September 27, 1916.
"Suffragists to Speak," The Providence Journal, September 27, 1916.
"Suffragists to Hold Annual Meeting Nov. 1," The Providence Journal, October 24, 1916.
"Canadian Suffrage Success Explained," The Providence Journal, November 2, 1916.
"Dr. Swarts Addresses Civic Forum Meeting," The Providence Journal, November 13, 1916.
Enid M. Pierce, "Arguments for Ash Collection," The Providence Journal, February 11, 1917.
"Mother's Pension Law Is Advocated, The Providence Journal, February 26, 1917.
"Governor Beeckman, Prominent Woman Suffrage Workers and General Assembly Leaders Laud Passage of Bill by Rhode Island Legislature," The Providence Journal, April 18, 1917.
"Suffrage Party Asks Prohibition in War," The Providence Journal, April 22, 1917.
"Providence Suffragists Organize Dramatic Club," The Providence Journal, June 16, 1917.
"To Discuss Food Conservation," The Providence Journal, July 10, 1917.
"Suffragists Indorse Prohibition Measure," The Providence Journal, July 28, 1917.
Advertisement, The Providence Journal, November 11, 1917.
"Personal and Social," The Providence Journal, May 30, 1918.
"Naturalization Urged by Several Speakers," The Providence Journal, June 13, 1918.
Enid M. Pierce, "The Lure of High Wages," The Providence Journal, September 15, 1918.
"Cripples Subject of Talk Given at People's Forum," The Providence Journal, September 16, 1918.
Enid M. Pierce, "Farmers Must Save Seed for Next Year," The Providence Journal, September 29, 1918.
"Meeting of Suffragists," The Providence Journal, November 14, 1918.
"League of Nations Topic at People's Book Room," The Providence Journal, February 8, 1919.
"Women Make Addresses at People's Book Room," The Providence Journal, February 15, 1919.
"State House Brevities," The Providence Journal, April 11, 1919.
Enid M. Pierce, "Thanksgiving and Armistice," The Providence Journal, November 30, 1919.
Enid M. Pierce, "Massachusetts Disappoints a Native of the State," The Providence Journal, April 4, 1920.
"L.F.C. Garvin Again Heads Tax Reform Association," The Providence Journal, January 5, 1921.
"Miss Enid M. Pierce," The Providence Journal, January 13, 1921.
"Friends of Enid M. Pierce to Hold Memorial Meeting," The Providence Journal, February 17, 1921.
"Enid M. Pierce's Poems are to be Published," The Providence Journal, February 20, 1921.
"Enid Mabel Pierce," Find a Grave, November 1, 2015, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/154488628/enid-mabel-pierce#source.
Enid Mabel Pierce, Poems, retrieved from Helen S. Pond, "Enid Mabel Pierce," August 22, 2014, https://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=phoen1x&id=I0487.