Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Edith Barriger, 1877-1974
By Jamie Campbell, Northwest Missouri State University
Edith Forman Beck was born into wealth in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 22, 1877. Her parents were Clarence Benjamin Beck, a fuel dealer who became president of the St. Louis Coal Company, and Mary Forman Vickers Beck, a Baltimore native whose family made their fortune in banking and shipping. The eldest of four children, Edith was only one of two to survive along with her younger brother, Clarence Vickers Beck. She attended school at Monticello Ladies Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, and later at the Mary Institute in St. Louis.
On April 3, 1899, she married John Walker Barriger, Jr. Eight months later, their only child, John W. Barriger III, was born. Her husband worked as an engineer for various railroad companies, and in 1902 after a stint in Texas and Kansas City, his career brought the family back to St. Louis. Tragedy struck that year. Edith became a widow in December 1902 when her husband was brutally murdered at his office by Thompson McPheeters Morton, a former colleague of his. During his trial, Morton, was deemed to suffer from mental health issues and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane.
Within a decade of her husband's death, Edith had become very active in the women's suffrage movement. She held various leadership positions at the state and local levels, and as time progressed she became involved in national suffrage politics. She served as an early secretary of the St. Louis Equal Suffrage League, an organization founded in 1910 and dedicated to the fight for women's suffrage in Missouri. In 1912, she was elected vice-president of the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association. Edith, along with Edna Gelhorn, the president of the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association, travelled to Jefferson City that year. Despite being unsuccessful in their quest to have women's suffrage included as a plank in the platform of the state Democratic Party, they had opened a wider discussion on the issue.
She worked tirelessly in St. Louis on behalf of the state movement, which aimed to secure women's suffrage through an amendment to the Missouri Constitution in the 1914 elections. She organized noon-hour speaking campaigns, attended fundraising luncheons, and collected signatures for a petition calling for a referendum on women's suffrage. She secured booths for suffragists at local fairs, lobbied the Republican Party, and sought to gain the support of the various women's clubs in St. Louis for the suffrage movement. Furthermore, she was part of an effort to build support among male voters. She spoke at the International Brotherhood Welfare Association where she was well-received, and, as the Chairman of the Suffrage Voting School committee, she held weekly meetings to teach men how to vote on the suffrage question in the upcoming election. Interestingly, she relinquished her position as secretary of the St. Louis Equal Suffrage League in February 1914 in the lead up to the election, citing the need for a more experienced campaigner at the helm; however, she remained at the forefront of local suffrage activism as part of the directorate of the organization.
Following the failure of Missouri suffragists to obtain an amendment to the state constitution in 1914, Edith directed her energy toward the national fight for women's suffrage in her role as state chairman for the Congressional Union. She travelled to western states including Kansas, Idaho, and Montana to call for a national remedy for women's disenfranchisement. In Montana, she organized the eastern counties of the state on behalf of the National Woman's Party (which the Congressional Union evolved into) as part of an effort to mobilize women voters in states already with women's suffrage to defeat President Wilson and the Democratic Party, for their failure to enact woman suffrage.
Alongside her busy schedule as a suffrage worker, Edith also pursued her undergraduate degree at Washington University, where she graduated in 1921 after ten years of part-time study. Her son, who long opposed her suffrage work and disliked her "radical friends" in contrast to his own self-identified "extreme conservatism," graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that same year. He later became well-known across the country as a modernizer of the railroad industry. As her son rose to state and national prominence, less is known about Edith Barriger. She lived in Washington, DC, at some point in the 1930s but returned to St. Louis in her later years. She died in April 1974 at the age of ninety-seven and is buried at the Bellefontaine Cemetery.
Information about Edith Barriger's upbringing, education, and family life can be found in John W. Barriger III: Railroad Legend by H. Roger Grant (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018). Articles detailing her suffrage activities appeared regularly in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, St. Louis Star and Times. The St. Louis German-language newspaper Westliche Post also featured her suffrage activities. Her work in Montana is outlined in several Montana newspapers, including the Anaconda Standard, Butte Miner, and Billings Weekly.
Photograph of Mrs. Edith Barriger. Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C. Mrs. Edith Barriger, state chairman of Missouri for Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage; member advisory council National Woman's Party. St. Louis, Missouri, United States, ca. 1914 [to 1917] Online at https://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000083/.