Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mrs. Fern Richardson Rowe, 1883 - 1918

By Maria Kloboves, Undergraduate Student, Michigan State University

Fern Richardson, also commonly known after her marriage as Mrs. Fred Neley Rowe, was born in Michigan on October 08, 1883 to Loren William and Edythe Lowrey Richardson. Her only sibling was Jane Richardson Carter. On June 29, 1904 she married Frederick Neley Rowe in Grand Rapids, Kent, Michigan; Their only child-- a daughter named Eleanor Grace Rowe Treat-- was born in 1905 and would later follow her mother's footsteps as an activist.

Throughout the early years of her marriage, Rowe was actively involved in the Women's Rights movement. Because of her affluent status and history of activism, she was approached by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to secure names and signatures for a petition for a Federal Suffrage Amendment. The petition required 100,000 names from across the nation and the petition would be presented to Congress upon completion. For most of 1909 and 1910, Rowe was chairman of the enrollment committee. The collection of names from Grand Rapids and surrounding areas was put in her charge. In conjunction with her task of gathering signatures, Rowe teamed up with Mrs. Clara Comstock Russell in 1910 to organize the Grand Rapids Equal Franchise Club. The club focused on gaining support for women's suffrage at the local level through the use of community-accessible information and literature.

In addition to her contributions to national suffrage, Rowe was actively involved in fighting for women's rights and welfare across the western world, particularly the east and south. Her activism began before her involvement with NAWSA; on April 19, 1908, Rowe was featured in an article in the Grand Rapids Herald praising her interest in the welfare of women and involvement in the Ladies' Literary club. A few years later on January 4, 1911, an image depicting feminism through the ages featured Rowe alongside her mother, her daughter Eleanor Grace, and Michigan's oldest active suffragist Mrs. Sarah Hagenbaugh, in the Chicago-based newspaper, The Day Book.

The 19th Amendment was ratified in Michigan on June 10, 1919. Fern Richardson Rowe passed away at the age of 34 on February 28, 1918 due to infection in her fallopian tubes and did not witness this historic event. Her grave is located in Greenwood Cemetery in Grand Rapids. Although she did not live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment, her passion and dedication to the advancement of women's welfare will not be forgotten.

Sources: Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1952​​ [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.

"Fern Richardson Rowe (1883-1918) - Find A Grave..." Find A Grave​​,

"Fern Richardson Rowe (1883-1918) - Find A Grave..." Find A Grave​​,

Grand Rapids Community Media Center. "Clara Comstock Russell, Woman Activist." History​ Grand Rapids​, 24 Mar. 2014,

Grand Rapids History and Special Collections Department. "Finding Aid for the Grand Rapids Public Library Woman's Suffrage collection Collection 127." Grand Rapids Public Library,​ 18 Mar. 2019,

The Library of Michigan; Michigan Death Records Project​; Rolls: 1-302​; Archive Barcode/Item Number: 30000008346169​; Roll Number: 258​ ​; Certificate Number: 14

"Michigan and the 19th Amendment (U.S. National Park Service)." National Parks Service​, U.S.Department of the Interior,

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