Biographical Sketch of Stella Crossley (Daljord)

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Stella Crossley (Daljord), 1888-?

By Adriana Taft, student & Molly P. Rozum, Associate Professor, University of South Dakota

Stella Crossley organizer for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), caused mayhem and a "whirl of despair" during the final month of South Dakota's sixth and successful 1918 campaign. Recommended especially for "rural work," Crossley advocated for woman suffrage in New York's 1915 and 1917 campaigns and before arriving in South Dakota in May 1918 she had toured Michigan on behalf of suffrage. Witty and engaging, Crossley debated anti-suffrage men in Long Island newspapers and once, at a local fair, she read palms and told fortunes with a "votes for women" banner decorating her booth.

Crossley was born in May 1888 at West Hemlock, PA into a "Pennsylvania Dutch" family headed by Albert Dallas Crossley and Mary Anna Kuster Crossley. She had a sister and two brothers. Crossley argued the inequalities in German heritage communities where "the women had but little opportunity" helped make her "a suffragist." The family eventually moved to New York City, where Stella worked as a teacher in the early twentieth century. By the time she toured South Dakota, she lived in Malvern and Lynbrook on Long Island. Around 1919, she married a man with the last name of Daljord.

Mamie Shields Pyle, president of the South Dakota Universal Franchise League (SDUFL), hired Crossley for $100 a month to organize "an important territory" in southeastern South Dakota that included Yankton, Clay, Turner, Bon Homme, Tripp, Lincoln, Union, and Charles Mix counties. Headquartered in Yankton, she traveled to Bristol, Elk Point, Vermillion, Mitchell, Ethan, Gayville, Waconda, Parker and many other towns. The South Dakota campaign relied on county organizations to raise funds to support both the general expenses of SDUFL and a direct mail campaign that placed information on the woman suffrage amendment (called "Amendment E" or the "Citizenship Amendment") and a petition made up of pro-suffrage signatures of representative local women in the hands of county voters. State leadership believed the "personal petition" by known women of each county would have special value. District organizers such as Crossley assisted local suffrage groups with acquiring petition forms, signatures, a poll list, and arranging for printing and mailing.

Spanish Influenza hit South Dakota with force in October and complicated the final month of the campaign. South Dakota saw mass cancellation of public meetings. In October Crossley telegrammed Pyle with a canceled meeting, saying, "epidemic spreading here schools closed." NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt, herself sick with flu, had to cancel her speaking tour of the state. Despairing of influenza cancellations and without further "opportunity for public speeches for our Amendment," wrote Pyle, state headquarters "began putting on the screws to force the work" to ensure petitions went out in their counties according to plan. Crossley chose this moment to resign, due to illness born from feeling bone tired and a slight she perceived from Maria McMahon, a NAWSA field director working closely with Pyle at state headquarters in Huron. Both McMahon and Pyle, the former recovering from influenza, had written Crossley with incredulity at her confusion over SDUFL's district petition plan so late in the campaign. Pyle questioned (privately) whether Crossley had done appropriate "foundation work" and McMahon pleaded with her to stay. Crossley resigned. More, she almost caused a revolt of out-of-state NAWSA organizers, including Gertrude Watson, Josephine Miller, and Ida Stadie. McMahon rushed to southeastern South Dakota to ensure county petitions went out to voters in Crossley's territory, only to be called home to Virginia due to the death of her son.

After victory in South Dakota, NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt reprimanded Crossley, stressing the loss of South Dakota might have caused a "loss of confidence in the whole movement throughout the country." NAWSA organizer, Renee E. H. Stevens, also working in South Dakota, called Crossley "some little Limb-of-Satan" for her actions. Catt explained the toll "owing to general war conditions," the "isolation" involved in the work, and spreading influenza caused the women to get "depressed." Crossley wrangled about pay in "saucy" letters to Pyle into the spring of 1919. Fearing a lawsuit, NAWSA paid Crossley's bill and took her "entirely off our list" of recommended organizers.

Crossley turned increasingly radical. On the day the Nineteenth Amendment was certified to the U.S. Constitution, 26 August 1920, The Nation published a column by Crossley in which she argued, "Just 'Votes for Women' may not amount to much, but the votes of women cast intelligently in the struggle against the present sick economic order may make a considerable difference." She speculated suffragist campaigners, especially young women, would now turn their attention to other reform work and "the influence they may wield with their large following of new voters will be considerable." She advocated for labor rights, birth control, and equal rights for "the Negro." Crossley also became involved in the Women's Peace Society. By 1920 she served as the executive secretary of the organization, which hoped to educate American women on how to work toward disarmament. If she did not remember her South Dakota days fondly, no doubt the experiences Stella Crossley had touring the state on behalf of suffrage served her well as she now traveled to organize new Women's Peace Society branches.

Image of Stella Crossley from "Malverne Men Firm Believers," Times Union, Brooklyn, NY, 7 Jun. 1916, p. 16.

 

SOURCES:

"Canton Notes." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 14 Sep. 1918, p. 9.

Crossley, Stella. "Differs with Mr. Locke, Thinks Male Suffrage Votes Have Not Brought Millennium." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, 22 Jul 1915, p. 22.

Crossley, Stella. "'Not Yetters,' Some Anti-Suffragists' Arguments Against Woman's Voting." New-York Tribune, 15 Aug 1915, p. 8.

Crossley, Stella. "Suffrage Methods Mild." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, 12 Aug 1915, p. 20.

Crossley, Stella. "Thinks His Anti-Suffrage Letter Only a Joke." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, 5 Aug 1915, p. 22.

Crossley, Stella. "Which Shall It Be? Washing Machines and the Fun of the Road or a Husband?" Sioux City Journal, Iowa, 25 Jan 1916, p. 8.

Crossley, Stella. "Woman Suffrage and Lifebelts," New-York Tribune, 23 May 1915, p. 10.

Daljord, Stella Crossley. "What Will They Do With the Vote?" The Nation 111, no. 2879 (16 August 1920), 264.

DuBois, Ellen Carol. "A Pandemic Nearly Derailed the Women's Suffrage Movement." National Geographic. April 20, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/04/pandemic-nearly-derailed-womens-suffrage-movement/.

Easton, Patricia O'Keefe. "Woman Suffrage in South Dakota: The Final Decade, 1911-1920." South Dakota History 13, no. 3 (1983), pp. 206-226.

Egge, Sara. Woman Suffrage and Citizenship in the Midwest, 1870-1920. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2018, p. 121.

"Kimball and Wales [Farmers'] Club." Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, 30 Jan. 1918, p. 6.

Kreitner, Richard. "August 26, 1920: The 19th Amendment Goes Into Effect, Granting Women the Vote." The Nation (26 August 1915). https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/august-26-1920-the-19th-amendment-is-ratified-granting-women-the-vote/.

"L.I. Suffrage News." Times Union, Brooklyn, NY, 23 Jun 1915, p. 16.

"Miss Marie Ames, Suffragist, To Speak In City." Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, 14 Feb. 1918, p. 5.

"Palmist A Suffragist." Times Union, Brooklyn, NY, 27 Jul 1915, p. 6.

McMahon, Mrs. Albert [Maria]. "How to Win a State." The Woman Citizen (Nov 16, 1918), p. 509.

Mamie Shields Pyle Papers, Richardson Collection, Archives and Special Collections, The University of South Dakota; https://archives.usd.edu/repositories/2/resources/19; https://explore.digitalsd.org/digital/collection/richardson/search/searchterm/Mamie%20Shields%20Pyle%20Papers/field/collec/mode/exact/conn/and. See correspondence: Crossley to McMahon, 29, 30 Sep, 17 Oct 1918; McMahon to Crossley, 14, 18, 19, 20 Oct 1918; Crossley to Pyle, 5, 21 Jun, 9, 17 Oct, 18 Nov 1918, 21 Jan 1919; Pyle to Crossley, 14 Oct, 14 Nov 1918; Pyle to Colgrove, 3 Oct 1918; Pyle to Stevens, 29 Oct 1918; Pyle to McMahon 1, 18 Nov 1918; Pyle to Shuler, 1 Nov 1918; Shuler to Pyle, 18 Nov 1918, 8, 11 Apr 1919; Catt to Pyle, 12 Nov, 2 Dec 1918, 7 Jan 1919; Catt to Crossley Daljord, 13 Jan 1919; Stevens to Pyle, 1 Jan 1919.

"Suffs Preparing for State Fight." Detroit Free Press, Michigan, 24 Feb. 1918, p 15."Union

Farmers' Club Event." Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, 11 Feb. 1918, p. 6.

United States Federal Census, 1900, 1910, database on-line, Ancestry.com. Search under Crossley and Crossly; it is not clear when Daljord died; the name Daljord appears little in census records; her sister Pearl Crossley Pickett lived until 1967, database on-line, Find a Grave, findagrave.com.

Untitled. Washington Herald, 4 Dec. 1920, 3.

back to top