Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the US

Biography of Mrs. Josephine Marlatt/Marlett, 1831-1913

By Clare M. Sheridan, retired librarian, with the assistance of Loraine West, retired educator, and Gail Barry, retired archivist

Marlatt/Marlett, Josephine: Quaker pastor and Woman's Christian Temperance Union activist and suffragist

Josephine Marlatt (often spelled Marlett) was born in Newark, NJ (sometimes incorrectly listed as Missouri) on March 9 (or 10), 1831 and died October 21, 1913 in Los Angeles, CA, aged 82. Her parents were Thomas D. Jacobus (1807-1854) and Catharine Pearce (1810-1904), both born in New Jersey and later moving to Ohio where they died and were buried. The 1850 census had Josephine, aged 17, the oldest of four siblings, living in Harrison (Township), Henry Co., Ohio with her parents. We first hear of her again in the 1870 census, living in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband, Alvah Marlatt. Their son, Louis Brighton, was born there in September 1871 and died in Los Angeles in 1943. Alvah, was listed in the 1870 census as working in an intelligence office with substantial property and income. Josephine was listed in the 1870 census as a boarder and in the 1874 city directory as Mrs. Josephine Marlatt, a proprietor of the Kansas City Library. The library, at that time, was a private venture to which readers donated or subscribed stock payable in cash or books. The Daily Journal of Commerce suggested that "Persons desiring to aid in this movement can apply to W.H. Powell, T.S. Case, or Josephine Marlatt, on Ninth street between Main and Walnut." By December 1874, Josephine was the manager of the library which later suffered a fire. Josephine salvaged some of the books and continued to operate the library for an unspecified time.

Alvah Marlatt was born in Mendon, Monroe Co., New York in 1827 and died in Los Angeles, CA in 1893, aged 66. He was one of 10 children of Mark Marlatt, a farmer, and Dorothea Frank. He enlisted in the Civil War at age 37, serving in the Army, 15th Regiment, NY Engineers for less than a year (1864/65), and was discharged with heart disease and rheumatism. His residence in Missouri appears to have been short-lived as he was living in Los Angeles by the mid-to-late 1870s where he appears on the voter registration lists from 1879 to 1892. The couple appear to have separated not long after their marriage (date unknown) despite their mature age at the time of their wedding. Later, it was claimed that he went to California for his health. They never divorced. Alvah's profession was most often listed as carpenter, and occasionally as shipping clerk and railroad man (i.e. carpenter for the Southern Pacific). He spent the last months of his life at the Home for Disabled Soldiers at Sawtelle, a district in Los Angeles, and is buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Josephine's movements during the second half of the 1870s are unknown at this time, but in 1880 she attended the Annual Meeting of the Baptist Convention of the State of Michigan as an agent of the Kansas Freedman's Relief Association. She appealed for funds and received a collection of $11.08 (Hathi Trust Digital Library). In 1881 at the state convention, she was elected vice-president of the Ohio Woman's Christian Temperance Union's Northwest District. Josephine seems to have found her political calling within the work of the WCTU. Officially founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1874 with the stated purpose of creating a "sober and pure world by abstinence, purity and evangelical Christianity," the WCTU is still operational today as an international organization, although its membership declined

* It is not clear how many children Josephine had. The 1900 census says one and the 1910 census says three with one surviving. Louis was married twice and had one surviving son. He was a clerk and salesman.

after the passage of the 18th amendment in 1919. Under the leadership of Frances Willard, it became one of the largest and most influential women's groups in the 19th century, expanding its platform to include labor laws, prison reform, public health, sanitation, international peace, and suffrage. With its White Ribbon campaign, adult sponsors pledged to help a child live free from alcohol and drugs, symbolically tying a white ribbon around the child's wrist. When Willard died in 1898, the WCTU distanced itself from feminist groups and focused solely on prohibition. The support of the WCTU was a problem for many suffragists. The alcohol industry became a powerful opponent of the movement and was partially responsible for the defeat of suffrage legislation. "Sentiment grew among some suffrage leaders that the two issues should not be permitted to become identified in the public mind, and that the work of the WCTU members for women suffrage raised obstacles out of all proportion to the help they contributed" (Flexner). In 1896, Susan B. Anthony (although a friend of Willard), asked her not to hold a national WCTU conference in California as planned, because of the effect it would have on the upcoming state suffrage referendum. Willard was understanding and the conference was held in St. Louis instead (although the California suffrage proposal was defeated). The conflict was never resolved until the liquor companies, threatened by the Prohibition amendment, shifted their focus to more pressing concerns (Flexner). With Willard's death in 1898, the WCTU restricted its activities to temperance.

The California suffrage movement began in the 1860s and the California Woman Suffrage Society was founded in 1870. In 1871, Stanton and Anthony made their only trip to California, although there were constant connections between suffragists on the east and west coasts. In 1878, suffragists petitioned to remove the words "white male" from the California constitution. In 1896, California held a suffrage referendum (Amendment 6), a campaign that included African American suffragist, Naomi Anderson. It was defeated by a combination of liquor interests, the Democratic Party, lack of endorsement by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, Roman Catholics and Bay area residents (Wikipedia). After the defeat of the amendment, there were no statewide campaigns, but by 1900 the movement had revived. The state organization was incorporated as the California Equal Suffrage Association and Northern and Southern California worked jointly. In 1905 and 1909, the legislature refused to submit suffrage to a vote. In 1911, an amendment was introduced in both Houses and passed and was submitted to a vote on October 10, 1911 as Proposition 4. Suffragists utilized the newest methods of spreading the word: billboard ads, electric signs, essay contests, pageants, plays, playing cards and shopping bags. The amendment won by only 3,587 votes, losing in the Bay Area but passing in Los Angeles and in the country districts and ranches of Southern California where activists had worked tirelessly (Wikipedia; History of Woman Suffrage). There is no direct evidence that Josephine worked on these two campaigns. She was clearly not a militant suffragist, but her politics would indicate that she must have supported both the 1896 and 1911 campaigns.

In 1885, at the annual convention of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association in Painesville, Mrs. Marlett of Oberlin opened the meeting with a prayer; she was also elected as Auditor (The New Era, Vol. I, no. 1, 1885). This seems to be the first public notice, in print, of a new religious role for Mrs. Marlatt and an indication of her interest in the suffrage issue. In fact, the California chapter in The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6 says (in a footnote) that she was "among the early workers" for suffrage. By 1890, the city directory had her living in Toledo, Ohio with her son, Louis, boarding at 211 Ontario; the next year she was listed as a pastor of the Friends' (Quaker) Church residing at 1112 Monroe. Louis was employed as a bookkeeper. In November 1891, she attended the General Assembly of the Knights of Labor in America held in Toledo, where she submitted a series of resolutions and a petition from the WCTU. The Knights' response stated that they heartily approved the resolution demanding equal pay and equal suffrage for men and women as well as an equal standard of purity for both sexes. However, they could not endorse a demand that the 1893 Chicago World's Fair be closed on Sundays, or that saloons be closed and the sale of liquor be prohibited on Fair grounds. However, it was in "full sympathy with its efforts to raise the standard of Christian morality everywhere" but added that "the best way to promote temperance was to assist the toilers to make their homes their place of greatest happiness."(Hathi Trust Digital Library)

Josephine and Louis moved to Columbus, Ohio in 1892. In the city directory, Josephine was described as a [Friends'] missionary, and Louis as a clerk. The next year, she was listed as a widow, Alvah having died in California. At some point in 1892, Josephine and Louis seem to have moved to California, probably in response to Alvah's declining health (Louis is listed as a registered voter in 1892). In May 1893, we find her in Southern California at the WCTU convention, opening the meeting with a praise service. She was described as a minister of the Friends' church of Columbus, Ohio (just to add to the confusion). The Los Angeles city directory of 1894 listed her as a pastor, and newspaper notice announced that she will address the Friends' meeting in rooms over the Los Angeles National Bank building next Sabbath. "All are cordially invited." She also spoke at the WCTU's oratorical contest for the young. In 1894, the city directory listed her as pastor of the Society of Friends on Downey Ave. and the Los Angeles Times noted that the "sect called Friends or Quakers, have commenced services on the East Side at 226 Downey Ave. There are, so far, eight families worshiping together with Mrs. Josephine Marlatt as minister" with services on Sunday and Wednesdays. She and Louis were living at 121 S. Hayes. It is hard to say what branch of the Friends' she espoused, but a best guess is that she was in the programmed conservative tradition of the Ohio Yearly Meeting. That same year, Josephine also agreed to form a council in the First Ward for the Associated Charities, and at the Twelfth annual convention of the Southern California Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Santa Barbara in June, she was described as "a prominent Quaker from abroad [?] who will conduct the promise meeting" (members pledge to refrain from all liquors). At the annual meeting of the Los Angeles Union of the WCTU in December, Mrs. Marlatt of the East Side Union was elected vice-president. The next year, she offered a prayer at the anniversary meeting of The Florence Home for Erring Girls, and she preached at the Whittier [CA] Christian Alliance.

In February 1896, the Los Angeles Times' "East Side Notes" reported that Josephine "continues seriously ill. She has borne heavy burdens and has gone beyond her strength." It is not clear what these cryptic remarks meant, but more woe was to follow. The Times reported in October that the widow of Alvah Marlatt filed a petition for letters of administration upon his estate, consisting of a lot in East Los Angeles of the value of $1100 and personal property estimated at $678. More was to follow in the city newspapers. Nonetheless, she offered the opening prayer at the Fifth Annual Session of the Woman's Parliament of Southern California, and was quoted in the Los Angeles Record (October 21, 1896) that giving the vote to women will make them "broader and better mothers and home-makers." Apparently, Alvah attempted to convey his property to his son, and made a conveyance of it. Two days after Alvah died, Louis recorded the deed. Josephine claimed that the conveyance to the son was without consideration, and it required her consent as a wife given that it was community property. It seems that Louis did divide the personal property with her, but Josephine asked that the deed to the property be declared void. She argued that her husband left the East because of his health leaving her destitute, and she was the sole breadwinner (Alvah had claimed he was a widower!). However, she was unable to produce a marriage license or any witness who knew of the marriage in Missouri (the state of Missouri did not require a license prior to 1881 and marriage could be recorded at any convenient courthouse). Louis "seemed inclined to take advantage of this legal lapse," said the Los Angeles Herald, (March 25, 1897). In December, the judge found against Josephine, holding that she was not entitled to a partition of her deceased husband estate or to a decree annulling the deed. There were, of course, complicated and contradictory statements throughout the proceedings, but the bottom line appears to be that Josephine was short-changed. To sum up her point of view, she was quoted in the Los Angeles Times (December. 25, 1897) as saying that there was no difficulty of any kind until her son took unto himself a wife. "Then everything went wrong"

Despite this turmoil, she participated in the executive committee of the Mothers' Protective League that planned to hold a "Purity Congress." She represented the League (or Council) at the annual meeting of the Woman's Parliament of Southern California in October 1897. A letter she wrote to a new WCTU magazine, A True Republic, effusively described this new periodical that "came to me in the sunny southland today. . . .I have not time to say how much I enjoyed each article, Dear blessed Lucy Stone! How she has hewn the way from Oberlin to the New Jerusalem for other women to walk in....If I have made a mistake in my. . .work, it has been that I have not devoted it all to woman's uplifting, so grievous and oppressive are her wrongs. . . ." This was followed by an elaborate description of California's beauties (Nineteenth Century Collections Online/Schlesinger Library)

Throughout the 1900s, she continued her connections with the Anti-Saloon League, enjoyed a special luncheon for elderly veterans of the WCTU, and addressed the State convention of the California Young People's Christian Temperance Union where she was described as a "reformer." In 1902, the WCTU organized a reception at her rented home, 121 South Avenue 19, in honor of her 70th birthday. In 1903 she gave a brief testimony and exhortation at the California Yearly Meeting of the Friends Church in Whittier. In October 1905, temperance women gathered in Los Angeles for the national convention of the WCTU. The gathering was front page news in the Los Angeles Times of September 10th, and elderly early crusaders living in Los Angles were interviewed with their photographs appearing on the front page. Josephine was among them. "A lovely brown-eyed woman, Mrs. Josephine Marlatt or just plain Josephine Marlatt, as her Quaker custom had it, now living at Hotel Nugent in Los Angeles, went out with seventy women in Hillsboro in that long-ago cold winter of '72 and knelt in the slush of the street in front of the saloons, praying and exhorting" I've not found confirming evidence that Marlett was in Hillsboro, Ohio at those founding protests, but she also made claims about other Midwestern incidents. She described events she experienced in Adrian, Michigan, probably in this time period. Two fierce dogs were loosed upon them while they prayed in front of a saloon. But their leader placed a hand on the head of each dog. and they stayed perfectly still. In another incident her group followed a liquor dealer all over town after he got off the train from Cleveland. He got so frantic that he quickly departed back to Cleveland. In 1906, at the WCTU meeting, she deprecated the wearing of the diaphanous peek-a-boo waists by young women, but remarked that there was too much criticism of the Holiness sect. "If the lives of the people were 'wholly' pure they would look with toleration on 'holy' lives," she said.

In California, Marlatt continued her suffrage activity. In the History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6, she is noted as having been "[a]mong the early leaders," meaning in this context the first decade of the century.

As she aged, Josephine was still addressing WCTU meetings and conducting prayer meetings. She was living as a boarder at West 41st Place in the first decade of the century, and she was receiving Alvah's modest Civil War pension of $12.50 a month (Louis had it transferred to himself upon her death). She died on October 21, 1913 and an obituary appeared in the Quaker magazine, Pacific Friend (Whittier, CA) in 1914. It said that she died in the home of her son in Los Angeles and was buried in (Angelus) Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles on October 24th. "Growing up without any personal knowledge of a Savior, she was a young woman before she found forgiveness and deliverance from sin....she became very zealous and earnest in His work . . . . The temperance cause enlisted her as an active crusader and associate of Frances Willard, and she always worked in the WCTU wherever she lived. Before the Friends' church was organized in Los Angeles, she was one of the principal workers in the Mission... and she became an earnest and faithful member of the meeting. Last January while on her way to the Missionary Meeting, she fell and fractured her hip, causing her to be confined to her bed for the remaining months of her life. During these days and nights, she spent much time praying for the church, for her acquaintances and for people she could see from her bedroom window as they passed up and down the street." One can only hope that her son, Louis, had, indeed, taken this generous, tireless and peripatetic campaigner into his home during her last days!


"Alvah Marlatt." California Voter Registers, 1866-1898.

Baptist Convention of the State of Michigan. Minutes of the Forty-fifth Annual Meeting of the BaptistConvention of the State of Michigan held with the First Baptist Church in Jackson, Oct. 15-19, 1880. Hathi Trust Digital Library, #85, p.83.

"California Women Suffrage Centennial: A Brief Summary of the 1911 Campaign," by Robert P. J. Cooney, Jr. - National Women's History Project." [Sacramento]: Secretary of State, n.d.

"Died." The Pacific Friend (Whittier, CA). Vol XX, no. 11 (First Month, 1914). p. 16.

Find a Grave: Catharine Pearce Jacobus (Memorial ID 119469226); Thomas Jacobus (Memorial ID 119468681); Alvah Marlatt (Memorial ID 80896790); Josephine Marlatt (Memorial ID 219635366); Louis B. Marlatt (Memorial ID 75453136)

Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States. New York: Atheneum, 1972. (see pp. 185; 255)

Friends World Committee for Consultation, "Kinds of Friends."

The History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 6 (1900-1920). Edited by Ida Husted Harper. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, [1922]. Goggle Books (see footnote on p.40; Chapter IV: California) [LINK]

Knights of Labor of America. Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Knights of Labor ofAmerica, 1891-1893. Minneapolis, MN: General Assembly, 1891. Hathi Trust Digital Library, #61, p. 17; #87, p.43.

"Letter from California." A True Republic (Cleveland, Ohio). Vol. VII, no. 2 (1897), p. 32. (Nineteenth Century Collections Online/ Courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University.

"Louis B. Marlatt." Marriage Index, 1800s-1999.

The New Era. Vol. I, no. 1 (1885). Editor Elizabeth Harbert. Previous title: OurHerald. (Hathi Trust Digital Library, #197, pp. 184-85)

"A New Library." The Daily Journal of Commerce, Kansas City, Missouri, May 16, 1873, p.4.

The Daily Journal of Commerce (Kansas City, Missouri), May 16, 1873.

The Summit County Beacon (Akron, Ohio), June 15, 1881.

The Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1893, August 5, 1893, August 11, 1893, September 25, 1893, January 15, 1894, January 18, 1894, December 30, 1894, August 27, 1895, February 9, 1896, September 2, 1896, November 20, 1897, December 25, 1897, March 6, 1902, February 14, 1903, September 10, 1905 (image of Josephine Marlatt on p.15), August 16, 1906.

Los Angeles Herald, May 26, 1893, September 21, 1894, October 14, 1896, March 24, 1897, March 25, 1897, April 9, 1897, October 13, 1897, November 25, 1897, December 25, 1897, May 17, 1906, July 27, 1906.

The Evening Express (Los Angeles). August 11, 1893, October 30, 1893, January 18, 1894, August 4, 1894, December 28, 1894.

Daily Independent (Santa Barbara, CA), June 7, 1894, June 14, 1894.

Whittier Register (Whittier, CA), October 18, 1895.

Whittier Daily News (Whittier, CA): April 21, 1910.

San Francisco Examiner, November 19, 1895.

San Francisco Chronicle, November 24, 1895.

Los Angeles Record, October 21, 1896, June 21, 1897, November 19, 1897, September 28, 1900, December 10, 1900, February 6, 1907.

Cincinnati Enquirer, June 30, 1897.

Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, November 19, 1897.

Los Angeles Evening Express, May 8, 1900.

Daily Progress (Pomona, CA), August 8, 1901.

Los Angeles Express, November 18, 1905, December 30, 1908.

San Francisco Call, July 4, 1909.

The San Francisco Call, July 4, 1909. Series on suffrage, p. 3-5. "The American Woman's Battle for the Ballot," "Eminent Opinions on Woman Suffrage," "Suffrage Campaigns in California,"

"Temperance Women Will Flock Hither." The Los Angeles Times, September 10, 1905, p. 15 (see photo of Josephine Marlatt).

Willard, Frances E. Do Everthing: A Handbok for the World's White Ribboners. Chicago: The Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, The Temple, 1895.

"Woman's Christian Temperance Union." website: Wikipedia

"Woman's Parliament of Southern California." Wikipedia

"Women's suffrage in California." Wikipedia.

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995: Toledo, Ohio, 1890, 1891, 1892; Kansas City, Missouri, 1873, 1874; Columbus, Ohio, 1892, 1893; Los Angeles, California, 1892, 1894, 1895, 1901, 1904, 1909.

U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865.

U.S. Federal Census: 1850, 1870, 1900, 1910.

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