Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Glendolen Talbot Bens, 1878-1928
By Roberta Seaton Walsh, independent historian
An earlier version of this sketch first appeared in Mohawk Valley Living, 45 (June 2017), 64-66 and appears here by permission of the author.
In 1931 the New York State League of Women Voters presented a memorial tablet to the State of New York to hang inside the State Street entrance to the Capital building commemorating the women foremost in the cause of women's suffrage. The names of four women from Oneida County appear on the tablet: Miss Lucy Carlile Watson (profiled in Mohawk Valley Living, March 2014), Miss Janet Price, Adelaide Williams White and Mrs. Samuel J. Bens.
Mrs. Samuel J. Bens was born Glendolen Talbot on November 27, 1878, in Olmstedville, New York. Her family soon moved to Prospect, New York, where she grew up, and then settled in Poland, New York, when Glendolen was 22.
Glendolen's mother was Orpha Barber Talbot (1848-1919). She was a worker in every good cause connected with the life of the community of Poland. She was also an active member of the Women's Civic Club of Utica. Glendolen's father, Edward Hall Talbot (1843-1925), was the superintendent of Trenton Falls Lumber Company. Glendolen had one older sister, Grace Greenwood Talbot (1875-1949) and a younger brother, Roscoe C. Talbot, (1882-1928).
After graduating in 1900 from Houghton Seminary, a prestigious school for girls in Clinton, New York, Glendolen taught for two years before going with her brother Roscoe to California where he had taken a job as timekeeper for the Albion Redwood Mill. On March 10, 1902, she married Samuel J. Bens in San Francisco. Samuel J. Bens (1872-1954) was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, before becoming superintendent of the lumber mills in Hinckley, New York.
Shortly after their marriage, Samuel Bens sailed for Hong Kong on business and Glendolen found herself free to pursue her own interests. She filled her free time studying law at the University of California at Berkeley and became an activist for women's suffrage.
Glendolen was one of many suffragists who waged an intense campaign in favor of California Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 8. When it passed in 1911 California became the sixth state to approve women's suffrage.
The Bens family returned to New York and, in 1917, Glendolen was founder and President of the Women's Civic Club in Utica. Since Glendolen had moved from California, where women had won suffrage in 1911, back to New York, where women had not yet won the right to vote, she began speaking to women's groups in New York about the experience of actually casting a ballot for a candidate.
It is a measure of Glendolen Bens's influence that the first convention of the New York State League of Women Voters in 1919, was held at the Hotel Utica. Activist Narcissa Cox Vanderlip was elected state chairman and Glendolen Bens was elected one of the four regional vice-chairmen.
The Middletown Times Herald Record reported: “An amusing story was told by Mrs. Samuel Bens at the meeting in Carnegie Hall Saturday night... she was reminded of the story of a grandmother who came to visit her son's family. After the greetings were over the daughter-in-law left the room and grandma put her arm around her young grandson's waist and said: 'I am your grandmother on your father's side.' The lad quickly replied, 'Well, if you are going to stay around here, you had better get on MOTHER'S side.'
Another cause that Glendolen Bens pursued became law when Congress passed the 18th Amendment in 1919, better known as the Volsted Act or Prohibition. She planned to speak in all the cities in the nation which, in her estimation, were in the greatest need of enforcement of the 18th Amendment.
Glendolen also picketed for workers' rights. In 1926 three hundred women participated in a mass demonstration in support of striking paper box makers. Eight notable women “of prominence” were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Glendolen Bens.
In her most ambitious speaking tour Mrs. Bens left Utica on January 20, 1928, accompanied by her 24-year-old nephew Alfred Coonradt, as her assistant and male guardian. After an address in Washington D.C. she went to Florida, then along the Gulf of Mexico through the Southern states to California, making addresses in all principal cities. She had planned to continue her tour to Seattle, then across the northern part of the United States, and back to the east coast. After arriving in San Francisco on March 2 for a series of speaking engagements and speaking to several groups on March 4 and 5, Glendolen fell ill with tonsillitis. She was forced to cancel the rest of her engagements. A few days later on March 11, 1928, Glendolen Talbot Bens died in the Dante Sanatorium in San Francisco.#x00a0
Glendolen's funeral was held on Saturday, March 17, at Grace Church in Utica where she is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery.
“And Stay There!” Middletown Times Herald Record, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 1927, p. 4.
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1: 1884-1933. Penguin, 1993, p. 363.
“Former Pupils of Houghton Honor Uticans” The Utica Observer-Dispatch [Utica, NY] June 17, 1928.
Funeral no. 118, Glendolin Talbot Bens. N. Gray and Company. San Francisco, California, March 11, 1928.
“Funeral Services in Utica for Mrs. Samuel J. Bens” Daily Sentinel [Rome, NY] March 17, 1928, p. 11.
Johnson, Paula. Town of Russia 1806-2006 Bicentennial. N.p., n.d.
“Mrs. S. J. Bens Passes Away in San Francisco” Daily Sentinel [Rome, NY] Monday Evening, March 12, 1928, p. 2.
“Mrs. Vanderlip is Chairman” Utica Daily Press, Thursday Morning, November 20, 1919, p. 5.
Obituary – Orpha Talbot. Utica Daily Press, Wednesday Morning, May 31, 1919.
“League for Women Meets” Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, October 9, 1922, p. 5.
“State Convention Ends” Utica Observer, Thursday, November 20, 1919.
“Suffrage Leaders in Utica Rejoice” Utica Herald-Dispatch, Wednesday Evening, April 18, 1917, p. 11.
United States Census, Prospect, Trenton, Oneida County, NY, 1900, Familysearch.org
“Wedded in the West” Rome Daily Sentinel, March 25, 1902, p. 6.