Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lenna Lowe Yost, 1878-1972
By Connie Park Rice, Assistant Editor for West Virginia History. Focus on African American and women's history. Co-editor of Women of the Mountain South: Identity, Work, and Activism.
Marion County, WV native Lenna Lowe Yost (January 25, 1878-May 7, 1972) was a state and national leader in both the woman's suffrage movement and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Born in the small community of Basnettville, West Virginia, Lowe studied art at Ohio Northern University before graduating from West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon. In 1899, she married Ellis Ashby Yost and in 1905, the couple moved to Morgantown so Ellis Yost could study law at West Virginia University. Lenna Yost joined the Morgantown WCTU and became the state president of the WCTU in 1908. In her first year of office, Yost increased membership by 1,000 and formed fifty-four new unions across the state.
Ellis Yost successfully ran for the West Virginia Legislature in 1909 and 1913 and fought for a prohibition law the state ratified in 1913. Lenna Yost shared his political interests and supported his efforts at prohibition through her work at the WCTU for both moral and economic reasons. With her organizational skills, knowledge of politics, and astute awareness of the media, Yost gathered support for Prohibition through parades and speeches, neighborhood associations, and strikes, while pushing for social reforms targeting women and children and emphasizing the need for early education among youth. When the nation ratified the 18th Amendment banning alcohol in 1919, Yost wrote in the Union Signal, "At last the moral consciousness of the nation is revolting against the great economic waste and against the waste of human souls."
During her ten-year tenure as president of the WCTU, Yost also made women's suffrage a leading priority of the organization. Her temperance activism illustrated the importance of women's right to vote. Yost felt that women had unique experiences and distinct abilities that could aid the nation. In 1915, she became state legislative chair of the West Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs, and in 1916, she led an unsuccessful campaign for a state referendum on woman suffrage. After serving for two years (1917-1918) as president of the West Virginia Equal Suffrage Association (WVESA), Yost resigned as president of both the WVESA and the WCTU to serve as a national legislative representative for the WCTU in Washington, D.C. (1919) and became the Washington correspondent for the WCTU's national journal, the Union Signal, from 1919 to 1930.
In 1920 Yost returned to West Virginia as chairman of the West Virginia Equal Suffrage Association Ratification Committee, leading the effort to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote. Yost found tension between the suffrage campaign and liquor interests in West Virginia, a situation some feared would be exacerbated by Yost's prohibition work. She also knew there was great diversity within the state's suffrage movement. Both Alice Paul's radical National Women's Party (NWP) and Carrie Chapman Catts' National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) had roots in the state and, although the WVESA had ties to the NAWSA, Yost established connections among the various suffrage groups in West Virginia, knowing that each social group and movement in the state had contributions to make in the fight for suffrage. She also appealed to both political parties and petitioned for suffrage resolutions within the parties as well as different organizations. Although a Republican, she developed relationships with Democratic leaders, particularly the Democratic governor, John Cornwell. As a result, she managed to get both Democrats and Republican to sign a petition calling for a special session of the legislature to address woman's suffrage. In January 1919, West Virginia became the thirty-fourth state of the thirty-six states needed to ratify the amendment.
Yost strongly believed that women should be engaged in party politics, stating "woman, I believe, is an important wholesome factor in politics. Her natural instincts of loyalty to the things nearest to her heart make her a staunch supporter of her own beliefs, and an energetic partisan in this work." In the summer of 1920, Yost chaired the Republican National Party Convention that nominated Warren G. Harding for president. As president, Harding appointed Lenna Yost to represent the United States at two international congresses against alcohol (Switzerland in 1921 and Denmark in 1923). Throughout the 1920s, Yost was the first woman to hold numerous positions in West Virginia's Republican Party serving as Republican National Committeewoman from West Virginia, Chair of the Committee on Platform and Policies, and director of the state women's division. She actively campaigned for governors Ephraim Morgan, Howard Gore, and William Conley. Conley appointed her to the State Board of Education, making her the first woman to serve on the board (1920s and 1930s). Yost led the effort to build Elizabeth Moore Hall, a woman's physical education building, at West Virginia University (1926), and lobbied for the creation of the Federal Woman's Prison in Alderson, West Virginia (1927).She became the first woman to sit on the West Virginia Wesleyan College Board of Trustees (1927-1942) and received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the college in 1929. She fought for legislative bills that improved West Virginia schools and established the juvenile court system in the state. In 1930, the Yosts moved to Washington, D.C. where Lenna Yost served as Director of the Women's Division of the National Republic Party until she retired in 1934 at the age of fifty-six.
Throughout her life, Yost stressed the education of women in politics, encouraged women to join and participate in party politics, emphasized the need to challenge lawmakers, and to lobby for issues involving the social welfare of women and children. Yost died outside Washington, D.C. at the age of ninety-four. During her lifetime, she revolutionized the role of women in politics in both the state and in the nation.
Baldwin, Sarah. "Lenna Lowe Yost Archives Chronicle the Woman Suffrage Movement in State and Nation," West Virginia and Regional History Collection Newsletter Vol. 19, No. 1 (Fall 2003): 1-9. West Virginia University Libraries.
Effland, Anne Wallace. Lenna Lowe Yost, 1878-1972. Missing Chapters. Charleston: West Virginia Women Commission & the Humanities Foundation of West Virginia, 1983.
Howe, Barbara J. "Lenna Lowe Yost." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 09 December 2015. Web. 06 September 2017.
"Morgantown Woman Led State Suffrage Movement," Charleston Gazette-Mail, 26 September 1999.
"Mrs. Ellis Yost Warns Suffrage Workers Not to Relax in Their Campaign," Charleston Gazette, 1 March 1920.
"Mrs. Yost Says No Malice is Felt by Suffrage Advocates," Charleston Gazette, 11 March 1920.
Mrs. Yosts Tells About Suffrage Fight in WV, Admits She Was Surprised at the Opposition," Fairmont West Virginian, 17 March 1920.
"Resume Given by Mrs. Yost," Charleston Gazette, 4 March 1920.
Thurston, Karina G. "Lenna Lowe Yost, Temperance, and the Ratification of the Woman Suffrage Movement in West Virginia." Master's thesis, West Virginia University, 2009.
Lenna Lowe Yost, "Prohibition Saves Money," The Union Signal. Lenna Lowe Yost, Suffragist, Papers, Box 1, West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia (hereafter WVRHC).
Ellen Orr, "Mrs. Yost is Strong for Women in Politics," Yost Papers, Box 3, WVRHC