Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Belle O'Hair, 1868-1943
By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian
Belle O'Hair was born in March of 1868 in Laurel, Indiana to James O'Hair (from West Virginia) and Mary Jane Hazelrigg O'Hair (from Kentucky). She had eight siblings, Edgar, John, Lilla, George, Alice, Lulu Kate, Zella and Augusta. After finishing school, she began teaching at Benjamin Harrison School in Indiana.
O'Hair helped found the Federation of Public School Teachers whose mission was "to promote intelligent understanding in the community of the interests which public school teachers represent and to secure whatever is legitimate through cooperation." At their annual meeting in 1911, she addressed over 700 teachers saying that the federation had "been instrumental in getting four increases in salaries for the teachers during the last three years; had inaugurated a pension system; and had succeeded in obtaining better conditions for substitute teachers." She served as its president for 11 1/2 years. Later she served as president of the Indiana State Teachers Federation for two years. The Indianapolis Public Schools sent her to England in 1920 to study elementary and secondary school programs. In 1933, Belle O'Hair was forced to retire due to her age. She sued the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners for $16,000 for discharging her based on age discrimination.
She was considered an excellent speaker and one of the most prominent suffrage workers in the state of Indiana. She was a charter member of the Women's Franchise League of Indiana (WFLI) which advocated for women's suffrage and regularly traveled the state giving speeches.
- O'Hair was the one of the featured speakers at a suffrage meeting held at the Jackson Street Christian Church in October 1912 attended by about 100 women and men, in addition to the members of the WFLI. During her address to the large crowd of women and men she said, "The right of suffrage is as inherently the right; the woman is capable of exercising the franchise and woman needs to protect her own interests through the ballot, and last of all the country, and especially the individual city, needs her vote."
- In a November 1912 speech she said that women were as much entitled to the ballot as men, saying "Women lead in education and morals. It is only the gamblers, rum dealers, corrupt politicians and white slavers that are seriously opposed to woman suffrage."
- In a March 1913 address of the Wayne County Women Teachers Club, O'Hair said that the blame for the lack of support for woman suffrage was enslaving traditions, hampered convention, and careless indifference stating, "Tradition, still binds us to the idea that women's sphere is bounded by the four walls of her home and that she has no other function in life than her biological one of bringing up children into the world and her domestic duty of providing for them the food which they eat and the clothing which they wear. Convention says it would be disastrous to our femininity to mingle with coarse men at the polls. Indifference declares that women are already well represented by their husbands, that our country is well governed and that, anyway, the majority of women do not wish to vote."
- Sixty teachers, mostly all women, attended a 1914 address by O'Hair in Indianapolis to the Federation of Richmond Teachers. In her speech she emphasized that if women were able to vote, the demands of teachers would be more effective because of the large number of female teachers who would be added to the contingent of voters.
- O'Hair addressed a meeting of Wayne Republicans in August 1918 saying, "All indications are that the great victory of woman's suffrage will rest with the Republicans, who seem now to be sure to be swept into office." She also said, "The facts of the last few months have demonstrated which side of the argument is in the right. The traditions about woman's sphere and activities have been smashed, for women are building ships, making munitions and funs and engaging in the vast work of war- all without injury to their natures and without making them unwomanly."
She died in March 1943 after a long illness and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
"Reviews Federation Work," The Indianapolis Star, March 17, 1911, pg. 16.
"Teachers Form Union," Muncie Evening Press (Muncie, IN), November 25, 1911, pg. 9.
"Conditions in Muncie Are of the Worst Kind," The Star Press (Muncie, IN), October 22, 1912, pg. 12.
"Franchise League," Brookville Democrat, November 7, 1912.
"Makes Plea for Ballot," The Indianapolis News, November 11, 1912, pg. 7.
"Reasons Women Are Denied Vote," The Richmond Item (Richmond, IN), March 24, 1913, pg. 5.
"Richmond Women Teachers Urged to Ask For Ballot," The Richmond Item (Richmond, IN), November 21, 1914, pg. 10.
"Teachers Delay Plans For 1916," Brookville Democrat, November 4, 1915.
"Suffragist Asks Support of G.O.P. Workers for National Franchise," Palladium-Item (Richmond, IN), August 15, 1918, pg. 2.
"Belle O-Hair Pioneer of Teacher Pension Fund Movement, Dies," The Indianapolis Star, March 8, 1943, pg. 10.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Salem, NH: Ayer Co., 1985, pg. 172.
Photograph of Belle O'Hair from The Star Press (Muncie, IN), October 22, 1912, pg. 12.