Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Bess Munn, 1889-1943
By Brenda Camacho, Sociology Major, University of California, Santa Barbara
Custodian of the Big Bear Valley Branch; Secretary of the Political Equality League and Assistant of the Chairman of the Publicity Department; Treasurer of Woman's Press Club; Member of the Los Angeles Woman's City Club; Member of Executive Committee of Union League Club; Member of the Civic Betterment Committee of the District Federation of Clubs; Publisher of the Bear Valley; Teacher for Public Schools in Arizona and Los Angeles; Editor for San Jacinto Register and Daily Sun; Member of the Southern California Editorial Association; Organizer of Big Bear Lake Woman's Club
Bess Munn was born in May of 1889 to Arthur G. Munn and Susan Elizabeth Munn. Her parents resided in San Jacinto, CA where the father owned the San Jacinto Register and the Riverside Globe. The couple moved to Los Angeles, where Mr. Munn became a real estate operator and her mother became involved in the club world. Before Los Angeles, Elizabeth Munn worked as an editor for the San Jacinto Register. Bess was exposed to the journalism profession from her family, thus leading her to continue that path throughout her lifetime.
One of Bess Munn's first occupations was as a custodian at the Big Bear Valley Branch. She later began her business career in a mining camp 30 miles from Yuma, Arizona. She started teaching at a low-income school, with furniture made of mine timbers. Her occupations changed from being a teacher for a year, to returning to Yuma to help her uncle at his lumber camp to moving to Los Angeles for school. At Los Angeles Miss Bess Munn took a course at an arts institution, Cummnock School of Expression. She then returned to teaching at public schools but had to give up this career due to her health problems. She returned to school in Los Angeles for six months and then taught dramatics in Blanchard Music Hall, a theater that included an art gallery, music store and studio space, and was the first reinforced concrete building erected in Southern California.
Bess Munn's newspaper career began when her mother became ill. She had to travel back to San Jacinto to care for her mother and help her with her job. For the remainder of that year, Miss Bess Munn edited the San Jacinto Register. Once her mother recovered, Bess continued her newspaper work as an editor of the Daily Sun. After a bad encounter with a man she had to interview, she decided to go back to San Jacinto to work at the Register again. Bess Munn lasted 17 months there, until she decided to join the California suffrage movement.
Munn became a huge advocate for women's rights. In 1910 she became Secretary of the Political Equality League. Her job was devoted exclusively to supplying suffrage material to the local press and the country newspapers. In 1912, Bess also became the treasurer of the Women's Press Club. She committed herself to many clubs, including the Los Angeles Woman's City Club in 1912 and the Public Affairs Committee in 1913. Additionally, she organized the Big Bear Lake Woman's Club in 1922. This club had a small membership but managed to purchase the first fire engines in Bear Valley and erected a public library building in the business section of town.
Munn used her voice in her clubs and conferences to bring light to the movement. She spoke about suffrage news being underrepresented and unvalued. In 1911, she also spoke against the laws governing women and children in California. She set up meetings and advocated for fly traps in 1913. She spoke about the importance of hearing both the affirmative and negative side of political questions in 1917. Being the secretary of the Political Equality League also allowed her to use her voice in newspapers. One of the many writings was the "Dead Men's Laws" which addressed the oppression of women and exclusion of social laws.
Bess Munn passed away in 1943 in Los Angeles. Throughout her lifetime, she devoted her work to reporting and bringing light to the suffrage movement. She gave up her newspaper job for the suffrage fight where she got to supply material to the press. She was an active campaigner for women's suffrage that helped redeem every promise made during the campaign. Munn was a prominent leader in the California suffrage movement and strongly believed that it was the "Greatest movement that ever swept the state of California."
[Miss Bess Munn 1911; Los Angeles Herald Volume XXXVII, Number 333 Owning Institution: University of California, Riverside; Permalink:
"Ancestry.com." Ancestry, www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/169591748/family/familyview.
The History of Woman Suffrage, by Ida Husted. Harper, VI, National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, p. 52. [LINK]
Los Angeles Herald, 19 Dec. 1912, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
Los Angeles Herald, 18 Mar. 1913, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
Los Angeles Herald, 14 Mar. 1909, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
Los Angeles Herald, 16 Apr. 1911, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
Los Angeles Herald, 11 June 1912, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
Los Angeles Herald, 30 Aug. 1911, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
Los Angeles Herald, 22 Sept. 1911, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
Riverside Daily Press, 15 Oct. 1915, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
Riverside Daily Press, 18 Oct. 1915, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
San Bernardino Sun, 22 Aug. 1939, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.
San Pedro Daily News, 25 Apr. 1917, cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d.