Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists 1890-1920
Biography of Bessie Cone, 1880-1946
By Jacalyn Kalin, teacher (retired): Montgomery College, Maryland
Maryland Activist: Civic and Religious Organizations
Born on June 9, 1880 in Baltimore to Max and Fannie Skutch, Bessie was educated at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. She married Sydney M. Cone, a surgeon, in 1903 and they had three sons. She lived her entire life in Maryland.
Mrs. Cone was described as one of "the most representative women of the State" in 1919 at a gathering of the Woman Suffrage League in Maryland. How had she earned this reputation? What work had she performed? Was it suffrage work?
Her competent leadership in the war loan effort in World War I earned Mrs. Cone her statewide reputation. She served as vice chairman and then starting in 1918 as chairman of the Women's Liberty Loan Committee of Maryland.
Her success in loan campaigns was evidenced in her abilities as chairman of the Liberty Loan Committee. Typical of her efforts was the mobilizing of the leading women's organizations in Baltimore, the counties and the state to actively participate in loan campaigns. Mrs. Cone rallied the groups by presiding at luncheon meetings and conferences. In 1918, the committee not only made its quota of ten percent of the amount allotted to Maryland but exceeded it by $400,000. Tactics employed to raise nine million dollars included setting up booths in department stores, theaters, railroad stations, and office buildings, and house-to-house canvasses. Time and again in the various loan campaigns, the Liberty Loan Committee met its allotted quota. Unfailingly, she reached out to loan workers and commended them for their dedicated efforts; at the Maryland State House in Annapolis she addressed a large meeting of loan workers in that area. She would again utilize her leadership skills as State Chairman of the Women's Division of the War Finance Committee in World War II.
Prior to her war loan efforts in WWI, Mrs. Cone became widely-respected and prominent in Baltimore for her direct involvement in a host of civic and religious organizations. She was active in the Women's Civic League, which focused on immigrant aid and social services, and the Children's Hospital School. She heavily invested her time in leadership roles of vice-president and then president of the Baltimore Council of Jewish Women, a group engaged in social welfare. She chaired the women's committee of the Jewish War Relief Campaign, raising money for starving Jewish people in Eastern Europe in 1919. Her participation in Jewish organizations continued after the war: president of the Federation of Jewish Women's Organization, three-term president of the Baltimore Section, National Council of Jewish Women, chairman of the committee on legislation and also chairman of the speakers' bureau of the National Council of Jewish Women, and teacher at The Baltimore Hebrew College and Teachers' Training School. Her engagement in civic and Jewish organizations continued to the end of her life.
Mrs. Cone focused on suffrage work after the completion of the Victory Loan campaigns. Her dedication to the time-consuming war work had kept her from joining any particular suffrage group in the state, "although she has always been a suffragist in feeling..." she stated in 1919. She became a member of the Baltimore City Committee of the Woman Suffrage League of Maryland in that year and was chosen as a delegate to attend the annual convention of the Woman Suffrage League (WSL). At the convention, Mrs. Cone, recognized for her "wonderful war record," was nominated and chosen for the executive board of the WSL.
When the United States Senate adopted the 19th amendment in 1919, the ratification process moved to the states where thirty-six states needed to approve the amendment. Mrs. Cone expressed optimism for its passage in Maryland: "As the work of the women during the war has shown that they are able equally with men to carry on their share of the burden of government, I feel that the State of Maryland will want to be among the first to give the women their proper status." The WSL executive board developed plans for the ratification drive over the course of the next six months. Efforts included petitions, suffrage parades, and oratory before both houses of the General Assembly and the governor. At a meeting with Governor Ritchie to encourage his support, Mrs. Cone was one of the speakers. Unfortunately, the League's intense efforts did not achieve success as Maryland rejected the 19th amendment in March 1920. (Twenty one years later, on May 29, 1941, the General Assembly ratified it.)
In April of that same year, the WSL, anticipating the passage of the national amendment by 36 states, decided to set up citizenship schools throughout the state. Mrs. Cone enrolled as a student in the first school, which was set up to train participants as teachers for other schools coming throughout the state.
The League also met with other women's organizations, and female physicians and nurses to plan the organization of a state branch of the League of Women Voters (LWV), a national organization founded in 1919 with legislative and educational aims. Mrs. Cone took part in the organizational meeting and the launching of the Maryland League. Her activities for the new League included serving as secretary of the convention committee for the League's Pan-American Conference which was set up to establish friendship between women of the two continents, and participating as one of three members on the committee on constitutional amendments. To raise funds for the League's education plan, Mrs. Cone presided at Craftmart, a Baltimore shop that sold handcrafts made by the handicapped. Her involvement with the League lasted for two decades.
Bessie Cone died on May 16, 1946 at her home in Pikesville, Maryland after an illness of a few months. Two sons survived her; her third son, Dr. Frank Cone died in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines in 1942 during World War II. She was interred in Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.
CAPTION: Bessie Cone, Baltimore, ca. 1931.
CREDIT: "Heads Women Workers for Jewish Campaign," Baltimore Sun, November 6, 1931, p.22.
"Council of Jewish Women," The American Israelite, March 12, 1925, p. 8.
"Heads Jewish Women's Group for Third Term," The Baltimore Sun, April 21, 1931, p. 10.
"Heads Women Workers for Jewish Campaign," The Baltimore Sun, November 6, 1931, p. 22.
"Hebrew College To Open," The Baltimore Sun, October 25, 1921, p. 14.
"Jewish Women In Session," The Baltimore Sun, May 4, 1915, p. 7.
"Maryland Senators Expected To Assist In Pan-American Meeting," The Baltimore Sun, January 26, 1922, p. 4.
"Planning Education Campaign," The Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1935, p. SF13.
"Schools For Women In Counties Of State," The Baltimore Sun, September 17, 1920, p. 11.
"Suffrage Delegates Elected," The Baltimore Sun, May 6, 1919, p. 5.
"Suffrage Is Defeated In Legislature," The Baltimore Sun, February 18, 1920, p. 1.
"Suffragists Meet Today," The Baltimore Sun, December 29, 1919, p. 4.
"To Speak At State House," The Baltimore Sun, April 17, 1919, p. 6.
U.S. Bureau of the Census: 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930. Ancestry.com
"Women From Both Americas To Meet," The Evening Sun, December 1, 1921, p. 30.
"Women Now Plan Ratification Drive," The Evening Sun, June 5, 1919, p. 22.
"Women To Map Out Legislative Work," The Evening Sun, May 17, 1922, p. 12.
"Women Voters' League Launched In Maryland," The Baltimore Sun, May 20, 1920, p. 24.
"Women Will Aid Loan," The Baltimore Sun, April 5, 1919, p. 16.