Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Josephine R. Cole (Macy), 1861-1946

By Sherry J. Katz, Department of History, San Francisco State University;
Geneva Williams, Aragon High School student;
Serene Williams, independent researcher, San Mateo, California

California Representative of Woman's National Socialist Union, 1902-1903; Officer of Woman's Socialist Union of California (President, 1902-1905, and Vice President, 1908-1909); Leader of San Jose Woman's Socialist Union, 1902-1910 (important socialist-feminist organizations that supported suffrage)
Auditor, California Equal Suffrage Association (CESA), 1904-1905
Leader of Santa Clara County Equal Suffrage Association (SCCESA), 1903-1910 (First Vice President, 1907-1908; Third Vice President, 1908-1909)
Member of San Jose Equal Suffrage Circle, 1906 (and perhaps other San Jose suffrage groups, 1901-1910)

Josephine R. Cole was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts on December 26, 1861 to Joseph Cole and Sarah Eagles Cole. She spent her youth in Boston, Massachusetts. Cole appears to have been raised in a working-class family and secured employment as a domestic worker in her late teens. She achieved a high school education, continued to read widely, and was regarded in social movement circles as possessing a keen, theoretical mind and talents for speaking, writing, and organizing. Cole supported herself, at least until her marriage at age 49, primarily as a stenographer, secretary, and teacher of stenography. She married Calvin Macy, a fellow socialist, in June 1910. Macy, an Iowa native, had worked in Santa Clara County orchards as a farm laborer and foreman since the mid-1880s. About a year after their marriage, the couple moved to Modesto, California where they purchased a farm. Josephine Cole Macy died in Stockton, California, on July 27, 1946.

Cole embraced socialism around 1897 and helped to found the California Socialist Party (and its Santa Clara County branch) in 1902. Simultaneously, she became active in the temperance movement and published a political tract on the economic roots of intemperance in 1901. During these years, Cole began to think deeply about many aspects of the "woman question," and developed her socialist-feminist politics and identity. By 1902, she emerged as an ardent suffragist and a key member of an influential network of left-feminists in California that facilitated feminist coalition building and championed women's economic independence as central to the feminist project.

Cole's decade of suffrage activism coincided with the state suffrage movement's growth in numbers and diversity, and its success in achieving women's enfranchisement in 1911. As a leader of the Woman's Socialist Union of California, Cole continuously advocated that local Unions undertake "aggressive work along suffrage lines." She believed that the state's network of socialist-feminists could advance the suffrage cause in two ways -- by working within the Socialist Party to expand its commitment to suffrage and by developing an influential socialist-feminist presence in suffrage coalitions. A leading voice for suffrage in the left press, Cole wrote numerous articles intended to persuade socialist men to support suffrage and to make the issue a priority, as both a principle of "political equality" and a means to advance the "struggle for immediate material welfare" of the "masses." She encouraged socialist-feminists' individual and collective activism in the state's suffrage organizations, instructing them to go "into the suffrage movement in such numbers and with such good will and intelligence," that they would "lead it into new paths." These new paths included diversifying the movement's base to include working-class women and broadening discussions of women's emancipation by sharing their commitments to women's economic independence, women's labor issues, and democratic socialism. By 1907, socialist-feminist suffrage activism was so widespread in California that Cole could claim that "every Socialist woman I know in this part of the country is a suffragist and almost every one of them is in a suffrage club."

Cole also helped to construct and popularize a new economic argument for suffrage through her speeches and writings. In a lengthy 1907 article in the Yellow Ribbon, an important West Coast suffrage newsletter, Cole developed the claim that women's economic contributions entitled them to political rights. Cole reasoned that although women's domestic labors had always contributed to "social wealth," their roles as "producer[s]" remained invisible because they earned no wages. But as women's "field[s] of labor" shifted from the home to the factory, as well as to the "business and professional world," women were emerging as permanent "financial factor[s]," who should "necessarily" be regarded as independent human beings and citizens rather than "helpless dependent[s]." Cole suggested this economic reasoning be deployed as a powerful argument in the struggle for the vote.

Cole's activism in the College Equal Suffrage Association (CESA) and the Southern California CESA illuminates the socialist-feminist presence in the California suffrage movement. In 1904, Cole led a delegation of socialist-feminists to the CESA convention in Los Angeles at which the organization reached a consensus to work together regardless of party affiliation. Socialist-feminists "secured a reasonable amount of recognition and representation on the state executive board," including Cole's evening address on women's economic status and the ballot and her election as auditor. On the local level, Cole encouraged good relations among socialist and mainstream suffragists by inviting prominent suffragists to WSU meetings and by speaking at local suffrage organizations and country suffrage conventions. Socialist-feminists, including Cole, consistently won leadership positions in the SCCESA as individuals and often represented their WSUs and party locals as fraternal delegates to the annual conventions. Cole also played a central role in the recruitment of working-class and union women. In 1907, when Cole served as the vice president of the SCCESA, she took president Elizabeth Lowe Watson to a meeting of a local laundry workers' union in an effort to draw its members into the movement. Finally, Cole and several WSU comrades served on a 1909 SCCESA May Day Demonstration Committee that planned the first street demonstration for suffrage in the county's history. The unconventional and "militant" style of outdoor campaigning pioneered by socialist-feminist and labor suffragists would become widespread in the suffrage movement in the 1910s.

After Cole's marriage in 1910 and her move to Modesto in the summer of 1911, her suffrage activism becomes difficult to trace in extant records. But during the final month of the successful suffrage campaign of 1911, a letter from Josephine Cole Macy appeared in the California Social Democrat urging all socialist-feminists to "speak up and show the Socialist men that we want the ballot" in order to secure their votes for the state constitutional amendment that would enfranchise California women.

Sources: U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Accessed May 20, 2021.

State of California, Department of Health Services. California Death Index, 1940-1997. Accessed May 20, 2021.

Cole, J. R. "Political Power for Women." Los Angeles Socialist, April 4, 1903.

Cole, J. R. Report on the California Equal Suffrage Association Convention, Common Sense, October 15, 1904.

Cole, Josephine R. "The Economic Cause of Woman's Advancement." Yellow Ribbon 1, no. 5 (February 1907), 1-3.

Cole, Josephine R. "In Defense of Woman's Suffrage." Common Sense, March 30, 1907.

Cole, Josephine R. "The International and Woman Suffrage." Socialist Woman 1, no. 6 (November 1907), 3.

Cole, Josephine R. "Women's Unions." Appeal to Reason, no. 393, June 13, 1903, 3. Marxists Internet Archive. Accessed June 16, 2021.

"Cupertino Political Equality Club." San Jose Mercury, May 9, 1903. California Digital Newspaper Collection. Accessed June, 3, 2021.

"Equal Suffragists in Quarterly Meeting." San Jose Mercury, May 27, 1909. California Digital Newspaper Collection. Accessed June, 3, 2021.

"Equal Suffragists of County in Convention." San Jose Mercury, April 15, 1906. California Digital Newspaper Collection. Accessed June, 3, 2021.

G[arbutt], M[ary] E[mma]. "Notes from the Convention of the Woman's Socialist Union of California." Los Angeles Socialist, April 5, 1902.

Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI (1922) [LINK].

Katz, Sherry J. "A Politics of Coalition: Socialist Women and the California Suffrage Movement, 1900-1911." In One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, 245-262. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995.

Katz, Sherry Jeanne. "Dual Commitments: Feminism, Socialism, and Women's Political Activism in California, 1890-1920." PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1991.

Katz, Sherry J. "Excavating Radical Women in Progressive Era California." In Contesting Archives: Finding Women in the Sources, edited by Nupur Chaudhuri, Sherry J. Katz, and Mary Elizabeth Perry, 89-106. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

"Laundry Workers Hear Words of Suffragists." San Jose Mercury, November 7, 1907. California Digital Newspaper Collection. Accessed June, 3, 2021.

Lawrence, Lilly [Luce]. Report on San Jose Woman's Socialist Union. Los Angeles Socialist, November, 29, 1902.

Lawrence, Lilly Luce. "Report of the WSU of SJ, Cal." Los Angeles Socialist, May 14, 1904.

Macy, Josephine Cole. "Wants to Vote" (Letter to Editor). California Social Democrat, September 16, 1911.

"Marriage Licenses." San Jose Mercury, June 26, 1910. California Digital Newspaper Collection. Accessed June, 3, 2021.

Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840-1911. Accessed May 20, 2021.

"Suffrage Association Meets at Y.M.C.A." San Jose Mercury. May, 18, 1907. California Digital Newspaper Collection. Accessed June, 3, 2021.

Josephine R. Cole, et al., "The National Convention on the Woman Question," The Socialist Woman, 2, no 13 (June 1908). Accessible online at

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. Modesto, Stanislaus, California; Roll: m-t0627-00352; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 50-30. Microfilm: T627, 4,643 rolls. Accessed May 20, 2021.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1880. Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: 559; Page: 94C; Enumeration District: 744. microfilm: T9, 1,454 rolls. Accessed May 20, 2021.

Josephine R. Cole, "Woman's Socialist Conference" Advance, September 13, 1902. Accessed June 3, 2021. Accessible online at

For more information and primary sources on/by Cole consult Sherry J. Katz's dissertation and articles.

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