Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ethel Marie Armes, 1876-1945
By Aliya Daniels, undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park
Ethel Marie Armes was born on December 31, 1876 in Washington, D.C. to an affluent family. Her parents, Lucy Hamilton Kerr and George Augustus Armes, were well known in southern social circles due to their political and military affiliations. The maternal side of her family included U.S. senators and congressmen. Her father served valiantly during the Civil War where he was a colonel in the Union Army and an aide to General Ulysses S. Grant. Armes also had two siblings, a brother, Oscar, and a sister, Lucy. Armes attended private schools in the Washington, D.C. area and later George Washington University, which prepared her for her career in journalism.
At the age of 22, Armes began her career in investigative journalism at the Washington Post before working at the Chicago Chronicle in 1899. Subsequently she returned to the Washington Post, where she worked from 1900 to 1903 before eventually moving to Alabama to work for the Birmingham-Age Herald. While Ethel Armes was primarily a journalist, she also authored four books during her lifetime: Midsummer in Whittier's Country, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama, Stratford on the Potomac, Stratford Hall: The Great House of the Lees.
Armes' work mainly consisted of exposés and investigative material. An example of this is seen in her book, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama, in which she reported on the social conditions in Alabama coalfields. It was during this time that Armes looked into the inequalities between men and women, and rich and poor, in the coal industry. She began to take a more activist stand when she became the first vice president of the Birmingham Equal Suffrage Association in 1911. While Armes had many areas of focus, she had a particular interest in improving the rights of mine workers, addressing economic inequality, and passing women's suffrage.
Armes was able to convey her beliefs and principles through her journalism. Her Birmingham-Age Herald co-workers praised her for having a "delightfully bright and breezy [writing] style." The style and rhetoric appealed to readers, and Armes became a renowned journalist in Alabama. She used all tools at her disposal—including interviews, speeches, letters and company records—to push for social equality in the coal mining field.
Armes never married; she was briefly engaged to Japanese poet Yone Noguchi while still living in Washington D.C. and writing for the Washington Post in the early 1900s. During this time, Armes was Noguchi's editor and they often collaborated. Unfortunately, Noguchi remained unfaithful throughout the engagement and Armes broke it off when she heard of his entanglements with other women. Moving forward, Armes continued her successful journalism career working at different publications. In 1925, she moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and adopted a 12-year-old girl named Catherine. Armes remained in New England until her death on September 28, 1945, at the age of 68, in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
Armes, Ethel. The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama. Birmingham, Alabama Chamber of Commerce, 1910.
"Book by Miss Armes: Former Washington Girl Author of 'Midsummer in Whittier's Country.'" Washington Post Jul 15, 1905.
"Ethel Marie Armes." Geni Family Tree, 9 Sept. 2019, www.geni.com/people/Ethel-Armes/6000000018657285383.
Stanley, C. M. "Ethel Armes Didn't Look Like a Historian." The Montgomery Advertiser, 6 Nov. 1949, p. 17.
Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage. VI, 1922 [LINK].
Sueyoshi, Amy. "Intimate Inequalities: Interracial Affection ∣ and Same-Sex Love in the 'Heterosexual' Life of Yone Noguchi, 1897-1909." Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 29, no. 4, Summer 2010, pp. 22–44. EBSCOhost, doi:10.5406/jamerethnhist.29.4.0022.
Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. American Commonwealth Company, 1914. [LINK]