Biographical Sketch of Emeline Burke Eldredge

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Emeline Burke Eldredge, 1853 - 1934

By Linda D. Wilson, Independent Historian, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Vice President of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League; Superintendent of Portsmouth Schools; Board member of the Portsmouth Free Public Library; Director of the Social Studio

Rhode Island suffragist Emeline "Emma" Burke, the daughter of William Chace Burke and Ann Elizabeth Sumner, was born on February 25, 1853 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her father worked as a superintendent of a woolen mill and a farmer. Emma Burke established a dance school for approximately two hundred children around 1891. On April 17, 1895, at forty-two years old, she married John Marshall Eldredge of Philadelphia, where he was engaged in newspaper work. The wedding took place at her parents' home known as Island Farm in Bristol Ferry, a small neighborhood in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Following their marriage, the couple settled in Bristol Ferry, where John established himself as a farmer and Emma continued her dance school. In January 1900 at a meeting of the Newport County Agricultural Society, he was elected assistant secretary and she was elected to serve on the advisory committee. Although they had no children, Emeline Eldredge regularly engaged in activism on behalf of children, hosting children's events at her house and working for various organizations that provided activities and advocacy for young people.

Emeline Eldredge was an active participant in the Rhode Island suffrage movement, usually under the name "Mrs. John M. Eldredge." The History of Woman Suffrage referred to the East Bay region of Rhode Island as one of the "nerve centers" of the Rhode Island movement. The East Bay suffrage movement was especially strong in Bristol Ferry, led by a group of socially and politically prominent friends and neighbors that included Eldredge, Sarah J. Eddy, Mrs. Barton A. Ballou, and Cora Mitchel among others. Eldredge and her friend Eddy traveled to Washington, D.C. where Eddy was serving as a delegate to the 1904 National American Woman Suffrage Association convention. Eddy was an accomplished artist, known for painting a famous portrait of suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony. Eddy also painted a portrait of Eldredge's mother, Ann Burke.

A small group of the prominent women in Bristol Ferry founded the Newport County Woman Suffrage League in 1907, with Cora Mitchel serving as president. From its small beginning, over the next several years, it gained increasing membership and influence throughout the region, including the towns of Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport. In 1908 and 1909, Eldredge was elected one of the vice presidents of the league. The League unanimously voted in 1909 to join the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association that had been founded in 1868 and was affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

The nature of the League's activism can be seen in various events and tactics during 1909. They sent a petition to the U.S. Congress in favor of a constitutional amendment providing for women's suffrage and hosted the local Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) branch for a presentation by Ardelia C. (Mrs. George D.) Gladding, who had attended the national suffrage convention held in Buffalo, New York in 1908. In August 1909, New York socialite and suffragist Alva Vanderbilt Belmont invited local suffragists to her Newport summer home known as the Marble House. Twelve suffragists, most likely including Eldredge, from Portsmouth accepted the invitation. Emeline Eldredge represented the Newport League at the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association's annual meeting held in Providence in October 1909.

In August 1910, noted author and suffragist Julia Ward Howe and her daughter Florence Marion (Howe) Hall addressed the Newport County Woman Suffrage League at the home of Cora and Sophie Mitchel. At that gathering Eldredge read an article relating to the peace agitation from the Primer of Peace magazine, a publication of the peace movement, a movement that many suffragists also supported. Eldredge and Cora Mitchel served as vice presidents of the National Demonstration for Woman Suffrage at a meeting held in Newport in May 1914. Eldredge, Cora Mitchel, and Maud Howe Elliott also attended a suffrage meeting in Boston in October 1915.

In addition to her suffrage work, Emeline Eldredge remained active in the local community in numerous ways. She became superintendent of schools in Portsmouth, Rhode Island in April 1905 and was a long-time member of the local school board and school committee. In October 1914 Eldredge joined Carol Hodges, state superintendent of the scientific temperance instruction department of the WCTU, when Hodges visited the schools to instruct the children of the ill effects of tobacco and alcohol. Eldredge also served on the board of directors of the Portsmouth Free Public Library. Through the years she served on the library's art committee, along with Sarah J. Eddy, and on the committee to collect dues. In February 1914 she and Veva E. (Mrs. Bertram) Storrs, another local suffragist, secured funds to purchase and to install electric lights in the library. Emeline Eldredge was an active member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and its Ladies' Association, Portsmouth Circle of King's Daughters (a degree conferred by a Mason to his wife or daughter; John Eldredge was a member of the King Philip Lodge), the Active Culture Club and the Sunshine Society of Portsmouth.

In the early twentieth century, Sarah J. Eddy established the Social Studio at Bristol Ferry as a cultural and social center primarily for young people. Her close friend, Emeline Eldredge, served as its director for over twenty years. The Social Studio provided arts and cultural classes and activities to keep young people away from potentially troublesome leisure activities, learn artistic trades, and give them an opportunity to earn money by selling their artwork. At the Studio, Eldredge supervised the Girls' Industrial Club where girls learned vocational and homemaking skills such as "basket-weaving, leather work, wood-carving, embroidery, and other useful arts." The studio also served as a venue for community functions such as annual picnics and as a meeting place for suffragists.

Like many local and national woman suffragists, Eldredge was active in the World War I effort on the home front, working as a team leader in the United War Work Fund drive. In February 1919, Eldredge and two other women were appointed to suggest an appropriate memorial for WWI soldiers. In August 1920, the Social Studio hosted an event celebrating the ratification of the constitutional amendment for woman suffrage. After woman suffrage passed, Eldredge became an active supporter of the Republican Party. She and Arthur A. Sherman represented Portsmouth at the Rhode Island Republican State and District Conventions held in Providence in October 1920. Throughout her life Emeline Eldredge remained active in the social and civil affairs of Portsmouth. At the age of eighty-one years old, she died on June 4, 1934, two weeks after her husband's death. Both are buried in Saint Paul's Cemetery in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

 

Emeline Eldredge (n.d.)
in Gloria Schmidt, "Portsmouth Women," (2018), portsmouthhistorynotes. Copyright permission courtesy of Gloria Schmidt and the Portsmouth Historical Society.

Sources:

Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]

Ancestry.com: Rhode Island, Birth Index, 1636-1930, for Emeline Burke; Rhode Island State Census, 1865, 1875, and 1885, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island; Rhode Island State Census, 1925, Portsmouth, Newport County; U.S. Census, 1860, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island; U.S. Census, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930, Portsmouth, Newport County, Rhode Island.

Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education, Educational Directory, 1916-17 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917), 58.

"Eldredge-Burke," The Providence Journal (Providence, RI), April 18, 1895.

"Emeline Burke Eldredge," Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/24113943/emeline-eldredge.

"John M. Eldredge," Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/24113942/john-m-eldredge.

"Emeline Eldredge: 1853-1934," The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), February 9, 1904.

"For 25 Years Rector of Portsmouth Flock," The Providence Journal (Providence, RI), June 10, 1910.

Gloria Schmidt, "A 'Nerve Center' of Woman's Suffrage: The Bristol Ferry Group," portsmouthhistorynotes, https://portsmouthhistorynotes.com/2020/01/18/a-nerve-centerof-womans-suffrage-the-bristol-ferry-group/.

Gloria Schmidt, "Portsmouth People: Emeline Eldredge, Suffrage Agitator," portsmouthhistorynotes, https://portsmouthhistorynotes.com/2017/09/08/portsmouth-people-emeline-eldredge-suffrage-agitator/.

Gloria Schmidt, "Suffrage Work Branches Out County-wide: Middletown Suffragists," portsmouthhistorynotes, https://portsmouthhistorynotes.com/2020/04/05/suffrage-work-branches-out-county-wide-middletown-suffragists/.

Gloria Schmidt, "The Newport County Woman's Suffrage League Ends with a "Jubilee", portsmouthhistorynotes, https://portsmouthhistorynotes.com/2020/04/08/the-newport-county-womans-suffrage-league-ends-with-a-jubilee/.

Gloria Schmidt, "Portsmouth Women," (2018) portsmouthhistorynotes, https://portsmouthhistorynotes.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/portsmouthwomen.pdf.

Homer L. Patterson, comp. and ed., Patterson's College and School Directory of the United States and Canada (Chicago: American Educational Co., 1908): 641.

"Julia Ward Howe at Newport," The Providence Journal (Providence, RI), August 6, 1910.

"Miss Burke's Dancing Classes," Fall River Daily Evening News (Fall River, MA), April 1, 1891.

Newport Daily News (Newport, RI), November 17, 1893; April 21, 1897; June 25, July 16, and October 14, 1914.

Newport Mercury (Newport, RI), August 21, 1909; March 15, 1913; October 23, 1915; May 11, June 17, and July 8, 1916; July 13, 1917; November 30, 1918; February 5, 1919; April 17 and October 9, 1920; March 12, 1921; March 22, 1924; March 19, 1927; June 8, 1934.

"Portsmouth," The Evening Herald (Fall River, MA), May 9 and 24, 1906; April 12, 1907; April 28 and October 26, 1905.

"Portsmouth," Fall River Daily Evening News (Fall River, MA), June 2, 1903; April 28, 1905; December 31, 1908; January 30, February 4, July 9, September 3, and October 6, 1909; August 21 and October 28, 1911; February 12, May 4, and December 21, 1914; March 9, 1921.

"Portsmouth," Fall River Daily Globe (Fall River, MA), September 12 and November 13, 1899; January 17, 1900; April 12, 1906.

"Portsmouth," Fall River Daily Herald (Fall River, MA), February 13, 1904.

"Portsmouth," Fall River Herald (Fall River, MA), May 5 and 26 and December 31, 1908; January 6, August 26, October 8, and December 31, 1909.

Sylvia D. Hoffert, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont: Unlikely Champion of Women's Rights (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012).

"Successful Lawn Party at St. Paul's Church," Fall River Daily Evening News (Fall River, MA), July 14, 1904.

Washington Times (Washington, D.C.), February 15, 1904.

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