Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Anna Hawks Putnam, 1866-1939
By Tony Marro, Independent Historian
Vermont Woman Suffrage Association: Press chairman, 1918, Speaker at the state convention, 1919
The December 1910 issue of The Vermonter magazine had a piece about child labor in the state that was illustrated by the famous Lewis Hine photograph of 12-year-old Addie Card (who Hine misidentified as Addie Laird) working barefoot at a spinning loom in a North Pownal cotton mill. Back then Vermont allowed children as young as twelve to work in mills during the summer, when school wasn't in session, and many of them worked twelve-hour days.
The author of the article, who argued that the state should prohibit children younger than fourteen from working in mills, factories or quarries at any time of the year, and that no children should be allowed to work more than eight hours a day, was Anna Hawks Putnam of Bennington, who was the secretary of the recently formed Vermont branch of the National Child Labor Committee as well as a suffrage activist.
The Hine photograph had been taken just a few months before, in August 1910. At the time, according to the census of 1910, Anna Hawks Putnam was forty-five and had been married for twenty-two years to Dr. Warren E. Putnam, who was seven years older and a prominent Bennington physician. The couple lived in a large and ornate Victorian house at 122 South Street that was a center for literary salons and poetry readings. At one of them, for example, Prof. Madison Bates of Burr and Burton Seminary led a discussion of the poems of Edward Arlington Robinson.
Also living with them was Anna's seventy-four-year-old mother, Annie Sherwood Hawks, who was well-known in her own right as the writer of many popular church hymns, including "I Need Thee Every Hour" and "Thine, Most Gracious Lord." Anna's father, Charles Hawks, who died in 1888 at the age of fifty-four, had been a member of a prosperous Wall Street bank and brokerage firm. The family, which had included a son and another daughter who had died as infants, lived in Brooklyn, where they attended the Hanson Place Baptist Church.
Warren Putnam had been born in Canada and had received his medical training in London, Paris and Chicago. He had traveled extensively through the Middle East, Africa, and the Orient, and was practicing medicine in Hoosick, N.Y. when he married Anna Hawks in 1887. The couple moved to Bennington in 1893, where Anna became an officer with the Fortnightly Club, a women's club that by 1913 had 398 members, making it one of the largest women's clubs in the state. In 1911 she was elected 3rd vice president of the Vermont Federation of Women's Clubs and was chosen to be a Vermont delegate to the 1912 convention of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. She became active in the suffrage movement and also child labor issues, concerned that while work on family farms could be healthy for farm children, other children developed many health problems working in factories, quarries, and mills, where conditions were often dangerous, with the workers breathing in marble dust, woolen dyes, and cotton lint, and where the pay for children often was less than $3 a week. And since many of the children claimed to be older than they were so they could keep working during the school year, they also were growing up uneducated and largely illiterate. In one of the cotton mills that she visited, ten of the twenty boys and girls working in it couldn't write their names.
She also served as editor of the "Woman's Department," a regular column in 1915-1916 in The Vermont Advance, published in Burlington.
She also was active in the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association and wrote an article in the July 14, 1917 issue of The Woman Citizen saying that despite the "pernicious" maneuverings of some anti-suffragists in the legislature, a great deal of progress was being made in Vermont. In fact, as far back as 1880 women had been given the right to vote and hold office in town school districts, and by 1906 they were eligible to hold such offices as town clerk, town treasurer, trustee of public libraries, and town superintended of schools. In March 1919 Putnam was among the speakers at the state suffrage convention held in Burlington. In 1920, with only one more state needed to ratify the federal 19th Amendment guaranteeing women's suffrage, Vermont Governor Percival Clement of Rutland refused to call a special legislative session to consider ratification. Clement claimed that the state couldn't afford the cost of a special session, but he had long been an opponent of suffrage, in part because he favored the sale of alcohol in the state and opposed the temperance activities that were so closely tied to the suffragist movement.
But women everywhere got the vote when Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment, and in the end the Vermont suffragists got even by voting overwhelmingly in the Republican gubernatorial primary that year to support James Hartness of Springfield, a strong backer of the 19th Amendment, over Clement's favored Republican candidate, Frank Agan. Hartness, in fact, was believed to have captured about 75% of the 10,000 or more votes cast by women and then was elected governor.
Ana Hawks Putnam passed away in Jackson Heights, New York in 1939.
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