Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Marie Jenney Howe, 1870-1934
By Michèle LaRue, a professional actress and history enthusiast who tours nationally with a repertoire of Gilded Age literature; with assistance of Kihm Winship.
Marie Jenney Howe: Unitarian minister; District Chair, New York City Woman Suffrage Party ("the Fighting 25th"); cofounder, New York State Suffrage League; founder and leader of Heterodoxy; author, including "An Anti-Suffrage Monologue" and George Sand: The Search for Love.
"We intend simply to be ourselves, not just our little female selves, but our whole, big human selves."
Marie Jenney Howe, a woman who herself "did not choose to be important," was an insightful, energetic catalyst who personally nurtured, encouraged, and inspired progressive women from Des Moines, Iowa, to New York City. She was born Marie Hoffendahl Jenney, in Syracuse, New York, December 26, 1870. Her father, Edwin Sherman, and two brothers practiced in the family law firm—as did her sister, Julie Regula Jenney. Julie and their mother—née Marie Regula Saul—were prominent suffragists. (Julie, in 1892, was the only woman to graduate from the University of Michigan School of Law. The elder Marie, at age 69, marched in New York City's first suffrage parade.)
Called to the ministry at 22, Marie Jenney Howe left Syracuse for Meadville, Pennsylvania's Unitarian Theological Seminary. Many back home thought her too good-looking and light-hearted to succeed. But, Bachelor of Divinity degree in hand, she soon became the most radical feminist among the group of late-nineteenth-century female ministers preaching in the Midwest. She served as associate pastor to Suffragist Unitarian minister Mary Augusta Safford, in Sioux City and Des Moines, Iowa, building supportive communities for women in their congregation. Yet, in 1904, disappointing the Unitarian sisterhood, Marie married Frederic Clemson Howe and moved with him to Cleveland, Ohio. She left with a mission, believing she could do more for women in the "separate female communities of the suffrage movement and radical feminism."
Fred Howe, a Meadville native, had won a hesitant Marie after a long courtship. He soon proved less warm and attentive than she would have wished, and inalterably conventional in his views of women and marriage. Yet Fred was, like Marie, a Progressive—an idealist "with a social conscience, who believed in a true people's government," and, like Marie, acted on those beliefs, opposing World War I repressions.
Marie's first recorded suffrage activity included speaking at the 1906 annual meeting of the New York Woman Suffrage Association, held in Syracuse. In 1910, Marie was active in the Cleveland Woman Suffrage Association, but that year the couple moved to Greenwich Village, New York. There, in 1912, Marie founded Heterodoxy—a club for "women who did things and did them openly." The high-profile, convention-flouting Heterodites kept no minutes at their alternate-Saturday meetings, though individuals' memoirs and correspondence give us insight into their relationships and ideologies. The struggle for women's rights and suffrage inspired and united the membership (over the years, numbering a far-flung 100+), though how to achieve these was disputed. Heterodites ranged from prominent doctors, social workers, lawyers, and labor organizers, to teachers, writers, and performers. Marie was the glue that held them together for decades.
A gifted organizer, Marie also helped form the New York State Suffrage League and quickly became chair of her district of the New York City Woman Suffrage Party—soon labeled "the Fighting 25th." She was active in other social causes, too, notably, child labor. In February 1914, she organized two mass meetings at Manhattan's Cooper Union, titled, "What Is Feminism?" Twenty speakers included suffragist Mary Shaw, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Fola La Follette, and Rose Schneiderman; men outnumbered women in the audience. In 1915 she was active in the unsuccessful New York State Woman Suffrage referendum. She supported the White House picketing in 1917 organized by the National Woman's Party, co-authoring a play with Paula Jokobi, "Telling the Truth at the White House."
Marie's friends viewed her marriage as unhappy. She and Fred had lost their only child, an infant son. And, wrote Mabel Dodge Luhan, "She was married to a man who, [as] Commissioner of Immigration, made Ellis Island bearable for thousands . . . while in her own home he was one of those husbands who seems perpetually engrossed in thought and never on the spot." Howe's devoted friendship with Heterodite Rose Emmet Young, a writer-editor and suffragist to Rose Young's crowdsourced bio sketch by Maggi Smith-Dalton], yielded the companionship that Fred couldn't offer, and has prompted speculation that the women were lovers.
By 1926, post 19th Amendment, Heterodoxy was losing energy and cohesiveness—and Marie surprised everyone by moving to Paris, to begin a biography of George Sand. "To me [Sand] is one of the greatest women in history. She gave and gave until she spoiled everyone she came in contact with . . ." One might say the same of Marie.
George Sand: The Search for Love, was published to acclaim in 1927. Marie followed it, two years later, with a translation: The Intimate Journal of George Sand. Friends were not surprised when she dedicated the first book to Rose Young, rather than to Fred.
Early in 1919, Marie had been diagnosed with a heart condition. On February 28, 1934, she died in her sleep, at "Shadow Edge," in Harmon-on-Hudson, her home of 17 years. Arrangements for the memorial service and the house's closing were managed by Rose Young. Fred died six years later. Heterodoxy met monthly into the early 1940s, though many of its original members were gone.
"An Anti-Suffrage Monologue": National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). (A satirical lecture. Text: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4963/)
Marie Jenney Howe and Paula O. Jakobi. "Telling the Truth at the White House." (one-act play about the suffrage march in Washington D.C.) With Paula O. Jakobi. "Donna Juanna." (one-act play) For a reference to "Telling the Truth," see https://suffragistmemorial.org/paula-o-jakobi-1870-july-12-1960/.
Marie Jenney Howe and E. Richard Schaye, The Gray Dawn (six-reel silent film); some sources dispute this authorship.
Marie Jenney Howe, George Sand: The Search for Love. (Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishers, 1927)
Marie Jenney Howe and Rose Young. Impossible George. (a three-act play about George Sand). For a reference to the play. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Jenney_Howe.
1936 (performance date)
Marie Jenney Howe and Rose Young. "The Cigar Smoker." See the Rose Young Wikipedia sketch at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Emmet_Young. There are clippings in the NYPL's Performing Arts Library, for The Cigar Smoker.
George Sand's Intimate Journal. Preface by Aurore Sand (New York: Haskell House Publications, 1975). Originally published, 1929.
Biographical sketch of Marie Jenney Howe. Accessed online at http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/howe-marie-jenney
Biographical sketch of Marie Jenney Howe. Accessed online at https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Marie%20Jenney%20Howe
Biographical sketch of Paula O. Jakobi. Accessed online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paula_O._Jakobi
"Champion of Woman's Suffrage and Author Lives Quietly at "Shadow Edge." The Daily Argus, Mt. Vernon, NY, Nov. 25, 1931, p. 3 (interview w/Howe by Alissa Keir).
Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered History in America; The Gale Group Inc, 2004. Accessed online at http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/howe-marie-jenney
Middleton, George. These Things Are Mine: The Autobiography of a Journeyman Playwright; New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947.
Schwartz, Judith. Radical Feminists of Heterodoxy: Greenwich Village 1912-1940; NH: New Victoria Publishers, Inc., 1986.
"The Gray Dawn." American Film Institute Catalogue: Feature Films 1921-1930 Accessed online at http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/DetailView.aspx?s=1&Movie=9477
"The Jenney Family." Skaneateles: The character and characters of a lakeside village, Aug. 7, 2013. Accessed online at https://kihm6.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/the-jenney-family/ I am particularly indebted to author Kihm Winship for his research and collegiality.
Tucker, Cynthia Grant. Prophetic Sisterhood: Liberal Women Ministers of the Frontier, 1880-1930; Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.
Wetzsteon, Ross. Republic of Dreams--Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960; New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.