Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Frances Walker Brown, 1863-1942
By Liisa Reimann, Independent Historian
Executive Board, Vermont Woman Suffrage Association
Frances Walker was born in Burlington, Vermont on August 15, 1863 to Mary A. (White) and Obediah Johnson Walker. Obediah was a merchant landowner with a 500-acre farm he called "Riverview Farm" in the Intervale, a fertile valley along the Winooski River. The oldest of ten children, he was the main proprietor of O.J. Walker & Brothers Wholesale Grocers in Burlington. He too would have a large family — Fannie was one of six children, but the only one who survived to adulthood. Frances would not have remembered Mary, as she died when Fannie was just two. Fannie never knew her brothers either: John (9), Freddy (7) and Charles (6) all died of diphtheria in the fall of 1862, a year before Fannie was born. An infant sister died within a week of birth in April 1860 — too soon to even be named. Fannie did have a younger sister Elizabeth "Lily," but she also perished from diphtheria — in 1878 at the age of 13. Mary and the children, except for Lily, were initially interred at Elmwood Cemetery in the heart of Burlington, and then moved to a large family plot in the picturesque and park-like Lakeview Cemetery in 1876.
Obediah remarried in 1875 to a widow also named Mary, who was 31 years old. Mary had two sons, Ezra and Hiram, from her first marriage, and had a third, Robert, with Obediah. Fannie would have had family around her constantly. The Walkers were close knit: several of Obediah's brothers were neighbors on South Union Street and at least two spinster sisters lived with them.
Frances completed high school but didn't attend college. A woman of means, thanks to her father's business, she was routinely listed in the Burlington Grand List as one of the top tax payers. She shared her wealth through various philanthropic endeavors and gave passionately of her time and energy to organizations whose missions she supported. A member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, she also immersed herself in church activity. She was an officer of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, a founding member of the Foreign Missionary Society, and active in the local Chatauqua. In the late 1890s, she was also instrumental in the founding of the Vermont Woman's Suffrage Association and served on its executive board.
Obediah died in 1897 and his estate, including the 500-acre farm, passed to Frances. She held onto the property until 1918, even after a devastating fire in 1910, but it's unclear in what capacity it operated. In 1899, at the age of 35, Frances married George Bascomb Brown, 5 years her senior. It was the first marriage for them both. For a time, the couple lived on South Union Street, in the house of Frances's uncle Henry. George, who had given up life as a manuscript editor in New York City, joined the family grocery business. They had no children, preferring instead to travel and spend time with Fannie's extensive family. The Browns eventually moved into a home on North Prospect Street, where they hosted family parties and weddings for various cousins.
History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6, records that Mrs. F.W. Brown served on the executive board of the Vermont Woman Suffrage Association, but does not provide any dates.
George died in December 1924 of pulmonary edema and was interred in the Walker family plot at Lakeview Cemetery. Fannie lived another 18 years, passing away at the age of 79. Her death in 1942 is attributed to a seven-day bout of bronchitis and malnutrition. She too is now at rest in Lakeview Cemetery.
Burlington City Directories: 1888, 1891, 1900-1902, 1904, 1908
New York Birth Records
United States Census, population schedules: 1810, 1840, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940
United States Passport Records
Vermont Birth Records
Vermont Death Records
Vermont Marriage Index, 1865, 1875,
Burlington Daily News 12/19/1918
Burlington Free Press:
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, Vol. VI. New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922.