Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Nellie Holbrook Blinn, 1847-1909

By Laura Moore, PhD Candidate in History, UC Santa Barbara

"We protest against the public tyranny of that public sentiment which assigns any arbitrary sphere to woman," Nellie Holbrook Blinn, 1895

President of the California State Woman Suffrage and Education Association; First vice-president of the California Equal Suffrage Association

Nellie Holbrook was born on February 17, 1847, in Salem, New Hampshire. She was the oldest child of Albert Holbrook and Lucy Laton. Nellie Holbrook was educated at Barre Academy, Vermont, and at sixteen she became a teacher.

In 1868, Holbrook moved to San Francisco where she taught elocution, and then became vice-principal of the Washington Grammar School. In 1870, she married Charles Henry Blinn (1843- 1926), who had been a Union officer in the Civil War. Charles and Nellie had one child, Holbrook Blinn (1872-1928).

In the early 1870s, Nellie Holbrook Blinn had a brief career as a popular stage actress, acting with the Sheridan group, Barrett and McCullough at the California Theater, and with the Kennedy's at the Grand Opera House. According to the Oakland Tribune, Nellie Holbrook Blinn "was the first woman to play in Hamlet here in the United States."

Nellie Holbrook Blinn then went to work as an orator for Republican presidential candidates, first speaking for Rutherford B. Hayes in California in 1876, and then on the national circuit for James A. Garfield in 1880 and James G. Blaine in 1884. She became so popular with Republican audiences that they referred to her as the "daughter of the Hayes Invincibles," after Hayes and Wheeler were elected.

Nellie Holbrook Blinn was an ardent advocate of women's suffrage. She initially began speaking on the importance of women's suffrage during her stump speeches for the Republican Party. Her suffrage work intensified when she joined and eventually was elected president of the California State Woman Suffrage and Education Association in 1894.

At the time of her election, however, California suffragists were divided between those who supported Laura de Force Gordon and those supporting Nellie Holbrook Blinn. Blinn supporters criticized Gordon, who in their opinion "talked and talked" rather than organized; "as a result," according to Gayle Gullett "the suffrage movement [in California] stayed small and dormant."

In May 1895, Susan B. Anthony organized a new Campaign Association to circumvent the embattled state association. Anthony appointed Sarah Cooper president of the Campaign Association, while Blinn and Gordon became members with equal standing. By July 1895, Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw reorganized the California state suffrage association, nominating Ellen Sargent as the compromise candidate for the presidency. Blinn was elected vice president. Gordon endorsed the ticket and the result was a cohesive suffrage organization, and the launching of the campaign for suffrage in California in 1895.

Sources: California, Biographical Index Cards, 1781-1990. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

"Death of Mrs. Nellie Holbrook Blinn," Goodwin's Weekly (Salt Lake City, Utah), July 17, 1909, 9.

"California Women May Soon Vote," The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), February 3, 1895, 21.

"Nellie Holbrook Blinn is Dead." Oakland Tribune, July 5, 1909, 13.

Robert J. Dinkin, Before Equal Suffrage: Women in Partisan Politics from Colonial Times to 1920 (Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press, 1995), 79.

"Prominent Suffrage Women," The Los Angeles Herald, September 1, 1896, 10.

"Has Campaigned Twenty Years: Mrs. Nellie H. Blinn, Relates Some of Her Experiences,"

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), October, 17, 1897, 13.

"She calls Clara Foltz a Bluejay," The San Francisco Call, September 13, 1894, 10.

Gayle Gullett, Becoming Citizens: The Emergence and Development of the California Women's Movement, 1880-1911 (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, 2000), 88-89.

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