Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Harriet Frary Bain, 1866-1945

By Linda Avery, independent historian

On her passport application filed January 13, 1902, Harriet Frary Bain described herself as 5 feet, 3 and ½ inches tall, with blue eyes, a short, flat bridged nose, a large and straight mouth, broad forehead, and prominent chin. At age 35, She was on her way to Paris to study painting.

Harriet was born September 18, 1866, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Her parents were Lewis Bain, a town merchant, and Sarah Griswold Frary. She attended Kemper Girls' Academy in Kenosha where she showed gifted talent as an artist. This became her passion and the career she followed throughout her life. Harriet never married.

Along with her dedication to her art, Harriet committed herself to the suffrage movement. Her mother, Sarah, had pronounced herself a suffragist by signing a list of over 600 women in Kenosha who were working to get the vote for women. She most likely influenced her daughter's decision to also fight for the cause.

Harriet became the vice president of the Wisconsin Woman's Suffrage Association in 1913 and later became president. In 1915, she became the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenosha County Equal Suffrage League.

Harriet attended the 46th Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1914. The leaders recognized the achievements of the women in the Wisconsin delegation and the "conception of a great idea" submitted by Harriet Bain was announced. Harriet had the inspired idea to establish a national Self-Denial Day.

The purpose of Self-Denial Day was to encourage women (and men who were supportive of the cause) to give up some of their luxuries or frivolous purchases in lieu of donating that money to the cause. Some also melted down pieces of their jewelry to raise money. At this time, Harriet's idea had already been implemented throughout Wisconsin and the balance in that state fund was $400.

Self-Denial Day was voted on and promptly adopted by the NAWSA. The first Self-Denial Day was August 15, 1914 and it was celebrated as a great success. Without the creative thinking of women such as Harriet Bain, the suffrage movement could not have survived. In addition to the many donations that funded the movement, ideas like this were vital to raise the money necessary to sustain the seven-decade fight to win the vote for women. She was thanked by the convention for her contribution.

In 1918, Harriet went to Washington, D.C., to lobby congress. She influenced several delegates from both Wisconsin and Florida to support the bill. In 1919, the 19th Amendment passed the senate and was finally ratified in August, 1920.

Harriet cast her first presidential vote on November 2, 1920. She was 54. Soon after this, she traveled to Spain, Italy, France, and England for two years to continue her art studies. She is listed in the "Who Was Who in American Art: 1564-1975." At the age of 71, she traveled once again to Genoa, Italy. She died on March 1, 1945 at the age of 79.


Giles, Diane, "Old Kenosha: Kenosha Woman was One of the Nation's Leading Suffragists," Kenosha News, Kenosha, Wisconsin. July 29, 2019.
--National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll #: 590; Volume #: Roll 590 - 02 Jan 1902-13Jan 1902.
--National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906-March 31, 1925; Roll #:1417; Volume #: Roll 1417 - Certificates: 112626-112999, 19 Nov 1920-20 Nov 1920.

National American Woman Suffrage Association, Nettie Rogers Shuler, and Harriet Taylor Upton. Handbook... And Proceedings of The... Annual Convention, 1914. Washington: [s.n.], 1800: 43, 189.

Ida Husted Harper, et al., ed., The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. VI, New York, NY: J.J. Little and Ives Company, 1922, 705. [LINK]

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