Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Theodora Winton Youmans, 1863-1932
By Hannah Neece, independent historian
Theodora (Winton) Youmans was born on February 1, 1863, in Ashippun, Wisconsin. Born to Theodore Sumner Winton, a postmaster, and Emily A. (Tillson) Winton, a schoolteacher, Theodora graduated from Caroll University at age 17. Youmans began her career writing articles for the Waukesha Freeman. She often described traveling alone as a young woman throughout the Northwoods, a forested ecoregion in the United States and Canada.
A pioneer journalist of her time, Youmans began writing a column called "Women's World" for the Freeman. In 1889, she married the paper's circulation editor, Henry Mott Youmans. In 1890, she was promoted to assistant editor. As a prominent political and community figure, Youmans was elected district president and to the board of the Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs at its first convention in 1896. In 1898, she became the federation's president. As she continued to challenge the status quo, Youmans began editing the newsletter the "Press Bulletin" for the Political Equality League. After receiving little recognition from the state's most popular suffragist periodical, the Wisconsin Citizen, Youmans devoted her time to combining her efforts with the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association (WWSA), the Political Equality League, and the Wisconsin Citizen. During this time, Youmans founded the Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association (1908) and worked to promote a national tuberculosis prevention campaign.
As the president of the WWSA was urged to resign because of ongoing friction in the Association, Youmans was elected as replacement in 1913. In hopes that the Wisconsin Citizen should play a role in healing the divide between suffragist groups, Youmans began writing a monthly WWSA "President's Letter" to be included in the publication. Youmans eventually became editor of The Wisconsin Citizen until its final publication in 1917, upon which a monthly bulletin was sent out instead of a newspaper. After the death of the Wisconsin Citizen, Youmans believed that energies should be focused on work in other states, stating that the fate of Wisconsin's movements depending on various other states' victories. Despite being a proclaimed pacifist, Youmans was determined to win President Wilson's support for women's suffrage by supporting the war effort. She proved successful, because with Wilson's support, the Nineteenth Amendment passed Congress in 1919. Wisconsin was the first state to ratify it.
In 1920, Youmans became the first president of the Wisconsin state chapter of the League of Women Voters. As a Republican, Youmans ran for state senate in 1922 but was defeated. She also served three terms as president of the Waukesha Women's Club after the passage of woman suffrage.
Youmans died on August 17, 1932. Her resting place is Prairie Home Cemetery in Waukesha, Wisconsin. A park in her honor is located in Waukesha, at the corner of N Bartow St and South St. In addition, the Theodora Youmans Citizenship Award has been given each year by the Wisconsin chapter of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC-WI) since 1937.
To note this woman as a pioneer would seem to be an understatement. A woman of drive, fearlessness, and intelligence, Youmans helped make Wisconsin a national leader for women's rights.
Elizabeth V. Burt, "Dissent and Control in a Woman Suffrage Periodical," American Journalism, 16:2, 39-61, DOI: 10.1080/08821127.1999.10739174
Youmans, Mrs. Theodora Winton, ed. by Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore. In American Women - Fifteen Hundred Biographies with Over 1,400 Portraits: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of the Lives and Achievements of American Women During the Nineteenth Century, Vol. II, ed. by Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore. (New York, NY: Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick, 1897). p. 808 [Link]
Website Title: Youmans Park - Waukesha, WI - Municipal Parks and Plazas
Genevieve McBride, On Wisconsin Women: Working for Their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993).
Website Title: Wisconsin Historical Society
Article Title: Theodora Winton Youmans and Women's Suffrage
Date Published: August 03, 2012