Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mollie Dowd, 1880- ?
By Rebecca Johnson, Adjunct Instructor in History, Troy (Ala.) University
Mollie Dowd was born in Huntsville, AL in about 1880 and her family moved to Cincinnati when she was at a young age. After coming of age, she returned to Alabama and worked as a saleslady in a department store in Birmingham. She met Patti Ruffner Jacobs, leader of Alabama's suffrage movement, when Jacobs opened an equal suffrage office for women who worked at department stores to come rest because the stores did not make resting areas available for them.
Dowd quickly joined the movement and often helped Jacobs. In January 1915 Dowd, Jacobs and others lobbied the State Legislature to consider a constitutional amendment granting woman suffrage. They succeeded in getting a vote on the measure, but came up short of the three-fifths majority needed to move through the rest of the amendment process. .After ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920, Dowd continued to help on voter campaigns organized by the Jefferson County League of Women Voters and later becoming Secretary of the Alabama League of Voters.
Dowd also took interest in women's labor rights in Alabama by joining the retail workers union when she first moved back to Alabama, but that union disbanded after a few years. Inspired by the National Women's Trade Union League, Dowd and a group of women, including Olena McNatt Litton, started forming committees in various cities in 1921. Dowd, Litton, and a Mrs. Swope of the Birmingham Committee responded to a miners' strike outside the city by going to the city commissioner and demanding use of a city truck and delivered food to starving workers and families. Dowd convinced a newspaper reporter to come with them to publicize the efforts of trade union women and the strike.
In the 1930s, Dowd rose up in leadership within the National Women's Trade Union League after successfully establishing a state chapter. The country faced the largest textile strike to that time in September 1934 and Dowd wrote of the conditions Alabama workers faced. With the National Guard called in against the strikers, violence broke out with union organizers run out of town and the union president kidnapped. Employers halted payment to strikers' families and local law enforcement evicted them from their homes. The strike ended in late October with no progress for the strikers. Governor Graves, worried about votes, established a new state Department of Labor in 1935 and appointed Dowd as head of the Conciliation Division. She used her position to advocate for pro-labor legislation.
Dowd sat on the special subcommittee on S. 1620, "To Establish a National Health Program," in April 1939. She discussed the mills located in isolated towns and how the National Health Act would construct hospitals in those towns and give insurance to laborers.
Mollie Dowd did not marry as best we can determine. We have found no death record and do not know the contours of her life after 1939 but her life tells the story of a working-class suffrage supporter who maintained a lifelong labor commitment that built on her earlier suffrage activism.
Bernstein, Irving. The Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010; originally published in 1969.
Dowd, Mollie. "Making a Beginning in the Far South." Life and Labor 11, no. 1 (January 1921): 181.
Flynt, Wayne. Alabama in the Twentieth Century. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006.
Gidlow, Liette. The Big Vote: Gender, Consumer Culture, and the Politics of Exclusion, 1890s-1920s. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
Irons, Janet Christine. Testing the New Deal: the General Textile Strike of 1934 in the American South. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Rohr, Nancy M. "'They Are Too Sweet and Angelic to Reason,' Or, How Women Got the Vote in Alabama." Huntsville History Collection, accessed June 27, 2020. https://huntsvillehistorycollection.org/hh/index.php?title=%22They_Are_Too_Sweet_and_Angelic_to_Reason,%22_Or,_How_Women_Got_the_Vote_in_Alabama.
US Congress. Senate. Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor. To Establish a National Health Program. 76th Cong, 1st sess., April 27 and May 4- 12, 1939.
US Federal Manuscript Census, 1920, Birmingham. AL, Mollie Dowd. Accessed via HeritageQuest.com.
Webb, Samuel L., and Margaret England Armbrester. Alabama Governors: A Political History of the State. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.