Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Kate E. Wakefield, 1865-1947
By Kailey Loughran, student, University of Vermont
Kate E. Wakefield was born on July 7, 1865 in Lyndon, Vermont, to Orenzo and Philura Wakefield. Growing up in St. Johnsbury, Kate Wakefield was an accomplished student who consistently received high marks and was named to the honor roll. In 1900 she became a typist and moved to Manhattan, New York, to live with her older sister and fellow suffragist, Alice Wakefield.
Although the Wakefield sisters lived in both Vermont and New York for many years, they considered St. Johnsbury their real home. By 1915, Kate Wakefield had moved to St. Johnsbury permanently when her sister opened a physician's practice there. That year Kate Wakefield was elected director of the St. Johnsbury Woman's Club, a position she continued to hold until 1919 when she stepped down to become the club's auditor. In March 1916, the Suffragist listed Kate Wakefield as a financial supporter of the Congressional Union. A prominent supporter of equal suffrage and outspoken member of the Woman's Club, she also helped her sister work toward requiring health inspections of schoolchildren in Vermont's public schools with the goal of lowering the child mortality rate in Vermont and preventing the spread of common diseases such as tuberculosis. In 1919, the General Assembly passed a law authorizing the State Board of Health to appoint District Health Officers. Duties of the new officers included health inspections of schools and schoolchildren. Kate Wakefield initiated the hiring of school district nurses in St. Johnsbury and presented reports of the nurse's activities to the local woman's club.
One of Kate Wakefield's most noteworthy moments as a Vermont suffragist was her attendance at the meeting between the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association (VESA) and Vermont congressman Porter H. Dale on October 16, 1915. Wakefield and a handful of other members of VESA were sent as delegates to Montpelier to ask for Dale's support on the national suffrage amendment. Wakefield was one of the speakers at the scheduled interview with the congressman.
After the suffrage amendment was passed, Kate Wakefield remained a leading figure in women's rights in St. Johnsbury and Vermont, as a whole. Following in the footsteps of her older sister, Wakefield became a chair of the Social Hygiene Committee of the Vermont League of Women Voters in 1920, attending various annual regional conferences of the New England states. As a committee chair, she represented the state of Vermont at the National Convention for the League of Women Voters held in Columbus, Ohio. Twelve hundred women attended this conference in April 1921.
Kate Wakefield's commitment to public service manifested in other roles she performed in her community, especially for organizations dedicated to women. In 1919, she was afforded the privilege of serving as a trustee on the committee on admissions for Sunset Home, a retirement community in St. Johnsbury that was founded as the "Home for Aged Women of St. Johnsbury." By 1938, she was promoted to the "lady visitor" officer of Sunset Home, an administrative position typically filled by a man.
Kate Wakefield never married and lived with her sister until Alice Wakefield's death in 1939. Having resided in St. Johnsbury for nearly all her life, Kate Wakefield died on April 23, 1947, in St. Johnsbury at the age of 81.
Burlington (VT) Free Press, various articles, 1909-1937. Newspapers.com.
"District Nurse." St. Johnsbury (VT) Caledonian, January 15, 1919. Newspapers.com.
"For Equal Suffrage." St. Johnsbury (VT) Caledonian, March 8, 1916. Newspapers.com.
"National League of Women Voters." Burlington (VT) Free Press, November 22, 1920. Newspapers.com.
"St. J. Suffragists Win." St. Johnsbury (VT) Caledonian, October 20, 1915. Newspapers.com.
St. Johnsbury (VT) Caledonian, various articles, 1873-1920. Newspapers.com.
Taylor, Caroline Laird. " 'Woman-Voter' Is Opposed by Mrs. C.L. Taylor." Caledonian-Record (St. Johnsbury, VT), March 11, 1922. Newspapers.com.
"Treasurer's Report." Suffragist 4, no. 12 (March 18, 1916): 11. Internet Archive.
United States Census 1870, 1880, s.v. "Kate Wakefield, Concord, Essex, VT." Ancestry Library.
United States Census 1900, s.v. "Kate Wakefield, Manhattan, New York, NY." Ancestry Library.
United States Census 1910, 1920, 1930, s.v. "Kate Wakefield, St. Johnsbury, Caledonia, VT." Ancestry Library.
Vermont, Death Records, 1909-2008. Kate Wakefield, April 23, 1947. Ancestry Library.
"Women Need Freedom." St. Johnsbury (VT) Caledonian, May 12, 1915. Newspapers.com.