Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Edna Brush Perkins, 1880-1930
By Mary Husk and Megan Rodewald, undergraduates, Katherine Marino, Faculty Sponsor; The Ohio State University, Columbus Ohio
Chair, Greater Cleveland Woman's Suffrage Party; Chair, Ward Organization, Ohio Woman's Suffrage Party
Edna Brush Perkins was born on March 25, 1880 in Cleveland, Ohio to Mary Ellen Morris and Charles F. Brush, a famous inventor, and was the oldest of three children. Coming from a wealthy family, Edna Brush attended private schools in Cleveland, Ohio and Boston, Massachusetts, and eventually attended the Flora Mather College of Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In 1905 she married Roger Perkins, a successful bacteriologist from Schenectady, New York, in Cleveland, and they had four children over the next eight years.
Edna Brush Perkins began her suffrage work in 1913 with the Ohio Woman's Suffrage Party, the state's largest suffrage group, with over one thousand members. Spearheaded by a group of Cleveland suffragists in 1910, the Ohio Woman Suffrage Party was created as an offshoot of the Woman's Suffrage Party founded by Carrie Chapman Catt the previous year and affiliated with both Catt's National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the Ohio Woman's Suffrage Association (OWSA). After the defeat of the suffragists' 1912 Ohio referendum campaign, Perkins became chairman of the ward organization of the Ohio Woman's Suffrage Party. Perkins was influential in efforts to help women gain the right to vote for the municipal elections in 1914, and presidential elections in 1917, though the latter decision was ultimately overturned. During 1916-1918, Perkins served as the Chairman of the Women's Suffrage Party of greater Cleveland, one of the most active suffrage groups in the state.
Throughout her work in the state suffrage movement, she organized door-to-door campaigns, petitioned Ohio legislatures with friend and future judge Florence Allen, and debated against anti-suffragists about the need for women to vote. Nationally, Perkins assisted suffrage campaigns by participating in a suffrage parade in Boston and leading a suffrage parade in Cleveland in 1914. In 1915, she gave speeches in Massachusetts and Mississippi, and joined Harriet Taylor Upton with other suffragists to represent Ohio at the National American Woman Suffrage convention in Washington, D.C. Between 1918 and 1919 Perkins was involved in an enrollment committee of OWSA made up of the leaders of major women's organizations. The committee, which worked to gather signatures to support women's suffrage, distributed a pamphlet by Perkins titled "What it is."
Perkins also co-founded the Women's City Club in Cleveland in 1916 with other social activists such as Julia Flory, Helen Chase Bassett, and Lenore Black. Perkins used this platform in 1922 to focus on the birth control campaign. Perkins, with her husband Roger, her brother Charles Jr. and his wife Dorothy Hamilton Brush, and Hortense Oliver Sheppard formed the Maternal Health Association in 1928, which later became Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland. Perkins's father, Charles F. Brush, founded the Brush Foundation in 1928 which provided funding and support for the health initiatives of the clinic.
After her suffrage work, Perkins travelled through the Sahara and the Mojave deserts with fellow woman suffragist Charlotte Hannahs Jordan. She later wrote two books, The White Heart of the Mojave (1922) and The Red Carpet of the Sahara (1925) about her experiences. Besides travelling and writing, Perkins studied painting at the Cleveland School of Art and in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and exhibited her own award-winning artwork at the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1927 to 1930.
Edna Brush Perkins passed away on October 11, 1930. Following her death, an editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer mentioned that Edna was "an eloquent and ready public speaker," "a prominent part in the campaign for women's suffrage," and "the foremost organizer of the Women's City Club." Florence Allen also later recalled that "[Perkins] gave herself without stint to all of the constructive movements of the city of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and the nation."
Basic biographical information about Edna Brush Perkins was from a short encyclopedia entry published in James T. White, "Edna Brush Perkins," The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 26 (1937): 448-49. Perkins's involvement in the Woman's Suffrage Party, the Cleveland suffrage parade, and legislative campaigns is from Virginia Clark Abbott, The History of Women's Suffrage and the League of Women Voters in Cuyahoga County 1911-1945, (Cleveland, 1949). Historical context on her suffrage involvement can be found in newspaper articles such as "Buckeye Notes," The Greenville Journal, July 15, 1915: 6; "Ohio Women in Washington," The Mahoning Dispatch, December 17, 1915: 3; and "Ohio Women to Speak," The Democratic Banner, March 5, 1915: 1. Additional information about Perkins's suffrage involvement is from Eileen R. Rausch, "Let Ohio Women Vote: The Years to Victory 1900-1920," (PhD Dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1984). For information on the women's city club and of Perkins's work with the birth control movement, refer to Jimmy Elaine Wilkinson Meyer, Any Friend of the Movement: Networking for Birth Control, 1920-1940 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2004), and also Jimmy Elaine Wilkinson Meyer, "Birth Control Policy, Practice and Prohibition in the 1930s: The Maternal Health Association of Cleveland, Ohio," (Ph.D. Dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, 1993). Her travels and journey in the desert are described in Cori L. Brewster, "Women Suffrage and the Re-Writing of the Desert West: Edna Brush Perkins's "The White Heart of the Mojave" and Mary Hunter Austin's "Lost Borders and 'Land of Little Rain'" (Master's Thesis, University of Montana, 1997). Her death is written about in an editorial in the article "Edna Brush Perkins," Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 14, 1930: 14.