Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Edna McDowell Barkley, 1868-1956

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Edna McDowell was born in Canada in 1868, the fourth of 7 children of E.M. and Anna McDowell. By 1880 the McDowell family resided in Champlain, New York, Edna attended school, and her father was a lumber manufacturer. In 1898 Edna married William E. Barkley in Boston.

Edna Barkley was dean of women at the state university in Lincoln and in that capacity led a November 1907 discussion of dress reform with the university's women students. She appears to have remained in this position from November 1906 until July 1909.

The 1910-1930 censuses found the Barkleys living in Lincoln, Nebraska. They had no children and William was recorded as a banker, bank clerk, and bank president in the three censuses. Edna had no recorded occupation in these years, but her obituary described her "as a young Canadian teacher" on her arrival in Lincoln. By 1930, the Barkley home was valued at $30,000, reflecting marked economic success.

Mrs. Barkley was active in women suffrage campaigns extending between 1912 and 1919. In 1912 she was in charge of speakers for the state suffrage association. In 1915 and 1916 she was elected president of the state suffrage association and she served as chair of the Legislative Committee of the association in 1917, the year that the State Legislature approved municipal and presidential suffrage for women. That year she was very active in investigating a statewide anti-suffrage petition and helping to expose the fraud employed in securing signatures calling for a referendum. In 1919 she served on the suffrage association's Ratification Committee that successfully lobbied for ratification of the 19th Amendment, which was approved unanimously in August 1919.

After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Edna Barkley remained active in state politics. In 1922, on behalf of the League of Women Voters, she opposed a bill that would have abolished direct primary elections for delegates to nominating conventions and permitted a "caucus system" to control nominations.

William E. Barkley passed away in 1942 and Edna McDowell Barkley died in Lincoln in 1956. After her death the Barkley Building was purchased from her estate for $180,000.


Federal Manuscript Censuses, 1880, Champlain, NY, for McDowell family; 1910-1930, Lincoln, NE, for William E. and Edna Barkley. Accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.

Find-a-Grave death entry for Edna Barkley, 25 August 1956. Accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.

Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK].

Obituary, "Mrs. W.E. Barkley," Lincoln (NE) Journal Star, 27 August 1956, p. 4.

"State University," Lincoln Star, 25 Feb. 1908, p. 8.

"Barkley Building Sold for $180,000," Lincoln (NE) Journal Star, 14 May 1957, p.1.

"The State University," Nebraska State Journal, 26 Nov. 1907, p. 11.

"State University," Lincoln Star, 25 Feb. 1908, p. 8.

"Referendum Not to Go on the Ballot," Lincoln Journal Star, 18 Oct. 1918, p. 1.

"Women Present Argument," Nebraska State Journal, 25 July 1922, p. 5.

"Twenty Years Ago Today," Nebraska State Journal, 19 July 1929, p. 8.

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