Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Caroline B. Roberts, 1857-1955

By Erin A. Frederickson, Historic Preservation Specialist

President of the Woman Suffrage League of Maryland

Caroline B. Roberts was born April 24, 1857 to Josiah (1823-1901) and Lydia F. (also nee Roberts, 1824-1894) Roberts in Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey. The Roberts family, which included Josiah, Lydia, and their five children, played active roles in the Quaker church. The family eventually moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where they were active in the Stony Run Meeting.

Roberts worked as a school teacher and taught history in Baltimore for several decades. Early 20th century census records indicate she occasionally lived with her brother, Robert French Roberts, or her sister, Ellen Thomas Roberts. While there, she was an active member of the Arundell Good Government Club, which, when established in 1896, was the first women-led activist group in Baltimore to focus on political reform and other civic issues. Roberts spent summers at the Pocono Mountain resort town and Quaker community of Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, where she built a summer cottage in 1908.

Roberts quickly rose to become a leading activist in Maryland's women's suffrage movement. In 1907, she attended the 39th Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Chicago, Illinois as a delegate of Maryland. Roberts was named the first president of the Woman Suffrage League of Maryland when it was established, and effective replaced, the Equal Suffrage League of Maryland in February 1917.The History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Ida Husted Harper, noted Roberts's "unwearying and ceaseless service" that led her to this role. Several years later, in 1922, Roberts represented the Maryland League of Women Voters at a meeting of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom at The Hague.

Two years after the ratification of the 19th amendment, Roberts was named as a defendant in Leser vs. Garnett. Oscar Leser, a Maryland judge, sued Cecilia Street Waters and Mary D. Randolph for attempting to vote in a Maryland election on the grounds that the state constitution only afforded men the right to vote. He further argued that Maryland had not yet ratified the 19th amendment and, therefore, women's suffrage was not yet legal. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court which unanimously decided in favor of the defendants, confirming the constitutionality of the 19th amendment.

Roberts died on November 22, 1955 at age 98. Her archived family scrapbooks and photographs are available at the Friends Historical Library, a repository focusing on Quaker history, at Swarthmore College in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Sources:

"Boys in the Jail, A Large Delegation Calls Upon a City Council Committee in Their Interest," The Baltimore Sun, March 25, 1897.

Brugger, Robert J, Maryland, A Middle Temperament: 1634-1980 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), pgs. 401, 411 and 450.

"Caroline Roberts," The Evening Sun, November 22, 1955, pg. 37.

"Caroline Roberts," Friends Journal: A Quaker Weekly, December 10, 1955, pg. 384.

"Caroline Roberts family scrapbook." TriCollege Libraries Archives & Manuscripts, accessed May 2020. http://archives.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/resources/sfhl-sc-152

The Evening Sun, June 26, 1911, pg. 7.

French, Howard Barclay, Genealogy of the Descendants of Thomas French, Volume II, (Philadelphia: Privately printed, 1913), pgs. 216-217.

The History of Woman Suffragein Six Volumes, Volume VI, 1900-1920, (New York: J. Little & Ives Company, 1922), pgs. 265-266 [LINK].

Leser et al. v. Garnett et al. Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, accessed May 2020. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/258/130

"Miss Caroline B. Roberts On Relief Work in Vienna," The Baltimore Sun, December 27, 1922, pg. 5.

Proceedings of the Thirty-ninth Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Held at Chicago, Ill., Feb. 14 to 19, 1907, (Warren, Ohio: Press of Wm. Ritezel & Co.).

U.S. Census 1910, Baltimore, MD Ancestry.com.

U.S. Census 1920, Baltimore, MD Ancestry.com

"Women's Votes Would End It: This Is What Dr. Shaw Says of Trust Problem," The Baltimore Sun, November 20, 1906, pg. 14.

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