Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Harriet Celinda Wirick, 1843-1935

By Blair Forlaw, Citizen Researcher

Harriet Celinda Patrick was born in 1843 in the Pennsylvania pioneer town of Troy, in Bradford County. How could she have imagined the full nine decades that lay ahead of her, traveling westward through frontier settlements of Illinois and Kansas -- places that would become part of the breadbasket of America's Midwest? Her life experiences made her strong; she grew up to be a dedicated and resourceful wife and mother and an activist in the cause of woman suffrage.

Harriet was the seventh child and first daughter of Simeon and Lydia Patrick. Troy had been established as a town in 1793, and the Patricks were among its early residents. Many -- including Lydia Patrick's parents -- had arrived from northeastern states like New York and Connecticut, seeking fresh starts and new opportunities.

In 1861, at the age of 18, Harriet left Troy and moved to Paw Paw, Illinois, where she married 23-year-old John Eugene Wirick. Harriet's parents and brothers remained in Pennsylvania and available records do not indicate how or why the young Harriet traveled 700 miles due west to start a new home. This would not be the end of her pioneering.

Paw Paw was a small community in the northern part of the state, west of Chicago, where white settlers arrived in 1834 to establish farms and provide a place for pioneers heading west to rest and secure supplies. Peaceful town life was often interrupted by skirmishes with Native Americans and the lawless activities of horse thieves and counterfeiters. In this frontier community, John and Harriet Wirick had three children: Wilbur, born in 1862; Lewis, born in 1864; and Eva, born in 1867. Census records indicate that John and the boys were occupied in farming and herding, while Harriet was tending house.

By 1870, the family had moved south in Illinois to Mendota in LaSalle County, a community formed in 1856 at the juncture of several important railroad lines. Because of rail access, the community was well suited as a center for shipping. Agricultural products and timber were the economic drivers, and the settlers established schools, churches, stores, libraries, and cultural resources. More than 2,000 people lived in Mendota at the time the Wirick family was there.

By 1880, the Wiricks were in Kansas. They became part of a community of only 70 people in the town of Alexander in Rush County. Alexander was a trading post established in 1869 at the terminus of major rail lines. It was a place where pioneers transferred from trains to stage coaches as they headed westward.

By 1890 the family finally settled down in the fast-growing town of Yates Center, in Woodson County, Kansas. Yates Center was on the site of several natural springs, which gave residents access to the fresh water not easily available in some parts of Kansas at that time. People made their livings from agriculture and livestock and developed commerce, churches, schools, libraries, and other cultural resources. Between 1880 and 1900, the population of the community mushroomed from 350 people to 1,634.

Although available records do not provide many details, there is no doubt that the experiences of pioneer life in settlement towns of Illinois and Kansas honed the skills, interests, and grit of the Wirick family. By 1900, they were making positive contributions to quality of life in the Yates Center community.

John (then 62 years old and referred to in the records as "J.E.") was a lawyer litigating railroad cases as well as the manager of the Apollo, a performance and meeting hall in Yates Center. Daughter Eva (then 33) was a librarian who was active on committees supporting social causes. And Harriet (aged 57 and referred to in the records as "H.C.," "Mrs. H.C. Wirick," or "Mrs. Wirick") was an activist and financial contributor to the effort for woman suffrage in Kansas.

When Harriet Wirick was appointed president of District 4 of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association in 1911 and again in 1912, she became a leader in perhaps the most dynamic and important years in the history of woman suffrage in Kansas. Her district included Woodson County (where Yates Center was the county seat) and eight additional counties in the vast and sparsely settled state.

Admitted to the United States in 1861, Kansas was one of the earliest states to push for women's right to vote. State amendments for woman suffrage were on the ballot in 1867 and again in 1894. Both initiatives failed to pass, although the legislature did allow women to vote in school board and municipal elections. In 1910, members of the Kansas Equal Suffrage League decided to attempt a state constitutional amendment again. Trying to avoid earlier mistakes, suffragists developed a highly organized and tightly-run campaign with the intent of contacting every woman in every county of the state. Harriet Wirick and her team had responsibility for nine of those counties.

The campaign focused on organization, education, and publicity. In almost all of the eight districts, there were parades, rallies, speeches, bake sales, picnics, children's essay contests, plays, musicals, and more. Those who had cars decked them out with banners and drove them in parades. Others drove their vehicles through rural areas to engage hard-to-reach women. Those who had telephones made calls. Others sent telegrams. Those who had gardens and farm animals donated food for community meals. Women with access wrote newspaper columns, circulated petitions, and hosted outside speakers. Women worked themselves into exhaustion. There was seemingly no end to their drive and commitment.

The statewide initiative was not limited to the efforts of the Kansas Equal Suffrage League. The organization collaborated with and was supported by a number of others that shared the goal: Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Kansas Federation of Women's Clubs, Kansas Association of Colored Women and Girls, Council of Churches, State Teachers' Association, Council of Churches, State Federation of Labor, and the Woman's Relief Corps among them.

Available records do not specify the activities of District 4, but there is no reason to believe that Harriet's efforts fell short of the high bar set by district leaders throughout the state. She had support from family members in this endeavor, as well. In 1909, daughter Eva Wirick was appointed chairman of the Library Extension Committee of the State Federation of Women's Clubs -- a group that helped educate the public about the cause. And in 1912, Eva became corresponding secretary for the Woodson County initiative for woman suffrage.

John Wirick was also supportive, if indirectly. The Topeka State Journal credited him (identified in the record as "Judge J.E. Wirick") with the construction of the new Apollo Hall, "a suitable place for large gatherings" of as many as 1,000 people. This facility was no doubt a welcomed resource for the growing movement for suffrage in District 4. It appears today in the Yates Center register of historic buildings as the "Wirick Building, ca. 1900."

Imagine how excited the family must have been on November 5, 1912 when the hard work of women like Harriet and Eva Wirick paid off. Kansas voters approved the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state Constitution by a margin of 52% to 48%. In doing so, Kansas became the eighth state in the nation to recognize the rights of women to vote. On June 16, 1919, Kansas voters took their commitment one step farther by ratifying the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When Tennessee provided the final vote needed for ratification in August 1920, suffrage for all women was assured.

John Eugene Wirick died three years later, in 1923. Harriet Celinda Wirick and her daughter Eva lived together until Harriet died in 1935. The parents, daughter, and elder son are all buried in Yates Center Cemetery. The younger son had returned to Illinois to start his own family there.


1904 Patrons' List, Woodson County, Kansas.

Caldwell, Martha B. "The Woman Suffrage Campaign of 1912." The Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. XII, Number 3 (August 1943), pp. 300-26., records accessed for Harriet Celinda Wirick, John Eugene Wirick, Eva Wirick, Wilbur H. Wirick, and Lewis Arthur Wirick.

"From the Field. Eight Kansas Districts Report to Headquarters." The Topeka state journal. (Topeka, Kansas), 02 Nov. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

History of Alexander, Rush, Kansas.

History of Mendota, Illinois.

History of Paw Paw, Illinois.

History of Troy Township, Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

History of Yates Center and Woodson County, Kansas. and

"Kansas and the 19th Amendment." National Park Service.

Polk's Kansas State Gazetteer and Business Directory. Volume X. Published by R.L. Polk & Co., 1904.

"Mrs. Johnston Chosen. Topeka Woman Again Heads Suffragists -- Big Rally Ends." The Topeka state journal. (Topeka, Kansas), 09 May 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Roll of Attorneys of the State of Kansas. Compiled and Corrected up to November 1, 1913 by D.A. Valentine, Clerk of the Supreme Court. Kansas State Printing Office. 1913.

Suffragists Memorial of Kansas.

"The program for the thirtieth annual convention of the Kansas Equal Suffrage League." The Topeka state journal. (Topeka, Kansas), 17 May 1913. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

United States Census. Records for Harriet Celinda Patrick and John Eugene Wirick accessed for 1850 and 1860. Records for Harriet Celinda Wirick, John Eugene Wirick, and their three children accessed for 1870, 1880, 1900, and 1910 from database with images,

"Women Organize. Woodson and McPherson Counties at Work for Suffrage." The Topeka state journal. (Topeka, Kansas), 25 April 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

"Women's Clubs: From the State President." The Topeka state journal. (Topeka, Kansas), 06 March 1909. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <> and 24 April 1909. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

"Woodson Counties, Kansas: The Bench and the Bar." J.E. Wirick enrolled as member of the legal fraternity of the county.

Woodson Yates Center Courthouse Square Historic District. Kansas State Historical Society.

Underwood, June O. "Civilizing Kansas: Women's Organizations, 1880-1920." Kansas History. pp. 291-306. Kansas State Historical Society. 1984.

"Yates Center's New Hall" The Topeka state journal. (Topeka, Kansas), 03 Jan. 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <

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