Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1880-1920

Biography of Clara B. Arthur, 1858-1929

By Brenden Barco, Ph.D., Raleigh, N.C.

Clara Blanche Arthur (née Peters) was born in St. John, New Brunswick on October 25, 1858 to Alexander Peters and Martha H. Lewis. While details on Clara's early life are unclear, she immigrated to the United States by 1882 and around the same time was married to fellow Canadian immigrant James Arthur. By 1900, James was supporting the family as a studio photographer, and the Arthur Studios supplied numerous photos of Clara and other women to local papers.


Clara B. Arthur, circa 1913

Clara joined the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association (MESA) soon after its formation in 1884. She rose through its ranks, serving as its vice-president from 1900-1906 and president from 1907-1913. Much has been written about Clara's leadership of MESA, where she was noted for her efforts to pass a state suffrage amendment. In 1908, she joined Carrie Chapman Catt and other suffragist leaders in asking the state constitutional convention for the vote. Later during her tenure, Michigan women came tantalizingly close to achieving this goal. In two separate occasions in 1912 and 1913, the suffrage amendment lost at the ballot box. The 1912 campaign, in particular, was notable for its defeat by just a few hundred votes in an electoral process that was widely viewed as fraudulent on the part of the anti-suffrage movement. Following her retirement as president, she was elected as member of the executive committee of NAWSA.

Clara was a prominent activist well beyond the bounds of the suffrage cause. She helped establish public baths for the poor and was a charter member, trustee, and president of the Detroit Tuberculosis Society. In the area of education, she was an ardent supporter of co-education of boys and girls. She also helped establish some of the first public playgrounds in the city, a feat for which she eventually became known as the "Mother of the Playground Movement." Late in life, Clara even dabbled in early environmentalism, advocating for a bill that would help preserve threatened populations of native wildflowers from invasive species. Clara died on July 26, 1929, survived by her three children.


20 Years Ago - January 9, 1908. Detroit Free Press, Jan 9, 1928, 6.

Aged Social Worker Dies. Detroit Free Press, July 27, 1929, 2.

Arthur, Clara B. Detroit Historical Society.

Arthur, CB. How the Woman Supports the Family. Detroit Free Press, Jan 21, 1903, 12. ProQuest.

Arthur, CB. The English Suffragettes. Detroit Free Press, Apr 25, 1909, D2. ProQuest.

Asks Action in Behalf of Child Labor Bill. Detroit Free Press, Apr 12, 1908, 23. ProQuest.

Clara Arthur. Find A Grave.

Clara Arthur. Michigan Women Forward.

Dames and Daughters. The Richmond Palladium (Richmond, IN), July 30, 1906, 2.

Delegates to Suffrage Meeting Pronounces Convention Just Ended Most Successful in Many Years. Lansing State Journal (Lansing, MI), Nov 7, 1914, 7.

Denies Belonging to Klan. Detroit Free Press, Oct 24, 1924, 14.

Federation Plants Yearly Banquet. Detroit Free Press, Mar 15, 1925, 8.

Hughes Pleases "Suffs." Detroit Times, Aug 2, 1916, 1.

Included Estimate for Public Playground. Detroit Free Press, Feb 11, 1903, 5. ProQuest.

Independent Voters Elect New Officers. Detroit Free Press, May 18, 1924, 4.

Items of Interest From the M. E. S. Association Appearing in the Charlotte Tribune. Marshall Statesman (Marshall, MI), Nov 21, 1902, 15,

Leads Michigan Equal Suffragists. Muncie Evening Press, Feb 9, 1914, 1.

Leads Suffragists in Wolverine State. Spokane Daily Chronicle, May 5, 1913, 20.

Michigan and Grand Rapids Suffrage Organizations Leadership by Year. Grand Rapids Women's History Council.

Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1952, 118025.

Mrs. Clara B. Arthur President Equal Suffrage Club. Detroit Free Press, Oct 8, 1905, 33.

Mrs. Clara B. Arthur Suggests Plans for Detroit's Playground. Detroit Free Press, Jul 6, 1907, 12.

News of Interest to Clubwomen. Detroit Free Press, Mar 22, 1925, 4.

Regulating Public Conveyances. Asbury Park Evening Press (Asbury Park, NJ), Apr 17, 1913, 7.

Rockall DM, 1995. A Powerful Voice for Seventy Five Years: The League of Women Voters in Michigan: Its History. Rockall Limited: Northville, MI, 7-20.

State's Wild Plants Menaced, Is Claim. Detroit Free Press, Apr 12, 1925, 9.

Suffragists Urge Teachers' Pensions. Lansing State Journal (Lansing, MI), Nov 8, 1913.

Suffragists Watching Michigan Vote. Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar 30, 1913, H2. ProQuest.

To Plan Michigan Suffrage Campaign. The Weekly Town Talk (Alexandria, LA), Nov 8, 1913, 6.

Twentieth Century Club. Detroit Free Press, Jun 8, 1895, 8, Proquest.

United States Census, 1900. Supervisor's District 116, Enumeration District 9, Ward 1, Detroit, Wayne County, MI, 15A-B.

United States Census, 1910. Supervisor's District 1, Enumeration District 22, Ward 1, Detroit, Wayne County, MI, 14A-B.

United States Census, 1920. Supervisor's District 1, Enumeration District 86, Ward 2, Detroit, Wayne County, MI, 3B.

Votes For Women Majorities Are Reversed in Many Sections of Michigan as Against 1912. Detroit Free Press, Apr 8, 1913, 1. ProQuest.

What Women Are Doing. Washington Post, Jan 30, 1910, MT2. ProQuest.

What Women Tax Payers Say. Detroit Free Press, Oct 30, 1915, 7. ProQuest.

Women of Michigan Open Campaign. Pittsburg Press (Pittsburgh, PA), Nov 5, 1913, 14.

The Year Michigan Won Universal Suffrage - Almost. Chronicle (Historical Society of Michigan), Fall 2020, 13-16.

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