Biographical Sketch of Henrietta Theresa Schermerhorn Speddy

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Henrietta Theresa Schermerhorn Speddy, 1863- 1929

President, Alameda County Political Equality Club; President, Alameda Suffrage League; President, Alameda Center of the California Civic League; Founder and Vice President, Roosevelt Club; First Vice-President, Oakland Political Equality League; Member, Copa deOro Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution;

By Amanda Ritter-Maggio, Associate Professor of English, Texarkana College, Texarkana, TX

Henrietta Theresa Schermerhorn was born on February 23, 1863, to Judah Colt Schermerhorn and Frances Henrietta Clark Schermerhorn. Her father worked as a civil engineer and later as a head telegraph agent. The family lived in Albany, New York and had five children, Anna Matilda, Mary Elizabeth, Henrietta Theresa, Charles Richmond, and Katherine "Kate" Shelley before Frances Clark Schermerhorn died in 1869. Judah Schermerhorn remarried, and the family moved first to Cleveland, Ohio and later to Sahuarita, Arizona, where Judah died in 1876.

After the death of her father, Theresa, as she was known, and her siblings were sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Cleveland, Ohio. In the late 1880s, Theresa moved to Oregon with her sister Kate, and the two worked as schoolteachers in the city of Portland. It was there that Theresa met and married Thomas Howard Speddy, a Union Army veteran and widower with four children. His first wife, Frances "Fanny" Dora Jennings, had died in 1888. Theresa and Thomas Speddy married on March 5, 1890 in Portland. Theresa claimed to have pawned her personal jewelry and wedding gifts in order to pay off Thomas's debts; she also worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper to support the family. Theresa and Thomas had two children: Faith, born in 1895, and Kenyon, born in 1898. Soon after their marriage, the couple moved to Alameda, California, where Theresa planned and designed a stylish home on Cedar Street and Thomas Speddy established T.H. Speddy & Company Manufacturing, a business which eventually made him very wealthy and had associations with Carnegie Steel.

Theresa's suffrage activism began in the Bay Area in the mid-1890s. She was involved in Oakland Political Equality League (PEL) by 1896 and was elected the League's First Vice President. Her involvement coincided with the unsuccessful suffrage referendum vote that year and Speddy joined other Alameda County suffragists in agreeing to go "bonnetless" at a suffrage convention that featured talks by Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw. Anticipating this event, the San Francisco Examiner reported that "Some ladies will wear men's hats to the convention hall, so that they can easily cast them aside." The symbolism as women sought the vote was clear.

Her Cedar Street home quickly became a center for suffrage meetings and events; among them were a PEL eightieth birthday commemoration celebration for Susan B. Anthony in February of 1900 and a lecture by Australian suffragist Vida Goldstein in June of 1902. In 1903, Theresa was appointed a member of the Credentials Committee of the California Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1911, Theresa helped revive interest in the Political Equality Club, whose membership had dwindled during its sixteen-year existence. She was elected President of that organization that same year and hosted Mrs. A. Gerberding for a suffrage talk in her home in March. Around this time, she was also active in her local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and hosted suffrage talks at DAR meetings. In November of 1911, shortly after the successful suffrage referendum vote, she helped organize a Thanksgiving for Suffrage Victory celebration.

Theresa was a member of Prominent Progressive Republicans by 1912; she helped found the Roosevelt Club, an offshoot of that organization, in February of that year. She was elected President of the California Civic League and organized a voter registration drive under the auspices of that organization. She was able to secure the use of Alameda school buildings on Friday and Saturday afternoons so that female registration clerks could register voters ahead of the 1912 election. She also led an effort to install two female officials at each Alameda voting precinct.

In June of 1913, Theresa was elected a member of Alameda School District Board of Education. At the meeting where the election was held, Alameda Mayor Frank Otis gave her his full endorsement and called her "a woman who has been engaged in educational and civic work," a statement which was greeted with "bursts of applause." In response to her unanimous election, she said, "I feel very distinctly the honor shown the women of Alameda by this appointment made this evening by the mayor. I take no personal credit. I only feel that woman is being put to the test. I sincerely hope that in this test women will make good. I have served the women of Alameda for three years and I hope to continue serving them and to also serve the young people of this city in this new position, this very honorable position, this very significant position. ... I only ask to serve you and hope that you will be able to commend my efforts."

Though Theresa was a force for change in Bay Area politics and her home was a hub for suffrage activism, her private life was evidently unhappy. Early in 1915, Theresa filed for divorce, citing ten years of verbal abuse from her husband. The divorce made front-page headlines in Alameda newspapers for months and was chronicled in excruciating detail. Among many allegations, Theresa stated that when she "invited her political friends to their home her husband designated them as 'cattle,' and, besides openly insulting them, she says, told her that he did not want them around." Theresa also alleged that Thomas insisted "in whistling to his wife when he wanted her for anything instead of calling her by name." In addition, she alleged that Thomas Speddy physically abused their children and that he canceled all her shares in his manufacturing company. Though Thomas Speddy contested the allegations at first, the couple managed to settle the case, and a divorce was granted in October of 1915.

By 1920, Theresa had moved with her children, Faith and Kenyon, to Cleveland, Ohio, where she shared a home with her sister Anna. The two sisters took in boarders, and Theresa and Faith both worked as teachers. Theresa later moved to Rochester, New York, where she lived until her death in 1929. She is buried near her mother and father in Palmyra Cemetery in Palmyra, New York.


"Alameda Council Puts Woman on School Board." Oakland Tribune 18 June 1913., 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. [Note that Speddy's name is spelled Speddie in this census]

"C. DuFour to Superintend Schools." Oakland Tribune 24 December 1913.,

"Deputies Given Use of Schools." The Evening Times-Star and Alameda Daily Argus 25 March 1912.,

Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 15 July 2021), memorial page for Henrietta Theresa Schermerhorn Speddy (23 Feb 1863-30 Nov 1929), Find a Grave Memorial ID 109524877, citing Palmyra Cemetery, Palmyra, Wayne County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Daryl VerStreate (contributor 46552263).

Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 15 July 2021), memorial page for Judah Colt Schermerhorn (15 Mar 1834-22 Mar 1876), Find a Grave Memorial ID 104451567, citing Palmyra Cemetery, Palmyra, Wayne County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Steve (contributor 47394147) .

Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 16 July 2021), memorial page for Katherine Shelly "Kate" Schermerhorn Duniway (10 Oct 1870-8 Jan 1941), Find a Grave Memorial ID 146956197, citing River View Cemetery, Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon, USA ; Maintained by FriendsofRiverView (contributor 47910568) .

"Honored Their Leader." Alameda Daily Argus 16 February 1900.,

"Local Chapter D.A.R. Meets with Mrs. Dennison." The Evening Times-Star and Alameda Daily Argus 26 January 1911.,

"Mrs. Gerberding Talks on Suffrage." The Evening Times-Star and Alameda Daily Argus 09 March 1911.,

"Mrs. Speddy Sues for Divorce." Oakland Tribune 24 February 1915.,

"Pioneer Club is Revived." The San Francisco Examiner 06 April 1911.,

"A Reception to Mrs. Goldstein." The Daily Encinal 17 June 1902.,

"Thanksgiving for Suffrage Victory." The San Francisco Call 04 November 1911.,

"Wants Fifty Women on Board." Alameda Daily Argus 04 April 1912.,

"Will Wear Men's Hats," San Francisco Examiner, 20 May 1896, p. 11.Accessible online at

"Woman Suffragists Hold Their County Convention." The San Francisco Call 14 September 1902.,

"Women Deputies and Their Phone Numbers." The Evening Times-Star and Alameda Daily News 10 April 1912.,

"Women Work for Ballot." San Francisco Chronicle 19 November 1903.,

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