Biographical Sketch of Florence Belle Swickard Brotherton

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Florence Belle Swickard Brotherton, 1857-1934


Credit: League of Women Voters of Michigan

First President, Michigan League of Women Voters; President, Detroit Equal Suffrage Club; Cofounder, Women's City Club; Cofounder, Wayne County Women's Republican Club; Officer, Women's Committee on World Disarmament; Member, Women's Press Association of Michigan; Chairman, Legislative Committee, Michigan Federation of Women's Clubs

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

Florence Belle Swickard was born in Franklin, Ohio on October 12, 1857. Her parents were Henry Swickard, a wheelwright and carpenter, and Sarah Ann Langham Swickard. Her siblings included Amelia Gertrude, William Ellsworth, Charles Robert, and Daisy Josephine. At the close of the Civil War, the Swickards moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Belle, as she was known, graduated high school. After working as a teacher for approximately four years, Belle enrolled at Ohio State University, where she majored in Latin and Greek, served as an editor for the campus newspaper, The Lantern, and worked as assistant librarian and a teaching assistant for freshman and sophomore Greek courses.

Belle married Wilber Brotherton on July 7, 1882 in Franklin, Ohio. The couple lived in Columbus until moving to Detroit, Michigan in 1888, where Wilbur worked as a manager for the Jerome B. Rice Seed Company. They had eight children: Norton Townsend (1884); Dorothea Josephine (1885); Bertha, (1887, and died in 1888); Lawrence Langham, (1889); Florence Belle, (1891); Edith Elizabeth (1893; Wilbur Esmond, (1894); and Joseph Jerome (1895).

Belle was a suffrage activist by 1911, when she was elected President of the Detroit Equal Suffrage Club and joined suffragists from all over the state who picketed the state capitol building in Lansing. In February 1912, she published a scathing response to a male professor's critical essay regarding woman suffrage in the Detroit Free Press. In part, she wrote, "From the day that [a] young man goes to the city hall to get a license to wed until the end, when a permit is obtained for his burial, the shadow of the city hall looms large, portentous and intimate over the domestic home. There is decided countless questions bearing on the moral, physical, and financial welfare of the family--pure water, pure milk, wholesome food, pure air, cleanliness of streets and alleys; disposal of garbage ... protection against fire; sanitary conditions of labor; control of public parks, playgrounds, and streets; regulation of theaters, moving picture shows, saloons, houses of prostitution; conduct of public schools and libraries; granting of franchises to gas, street car, water, telephone, and electric light companies. Is there one of these departments of municipal housekeeping which the mother of a family, the teacher (nine-tenths of whom are women), the factory girl (six millions in this country, the social service worker (three-fourths of whom are women), are not even more vitally interested than men? Surely public housekeeping is only private housekeeping writ large. Women, the majority of them, are asking the ballot that they may perform the duties that they owe their home, their families."

Belle was elected president of the Detroit Equal Suffrage Club in 1913, served as chairman of the Michigan Federation of Women's Clubs legislative committee in 1914, and was elected president of the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association in 1918. At the state annual suffrage convention in March of that year, Belle was appointed a congressional district chairman. As part of her duties, she helped organize a fundraising drive, membership drive, and a signature drive for petitions. According to The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6, Belle's "faith, devotion and work extended through three campaigns and she was one of those who could remain steadfast through the sowing until the reaping time."

At the April 1919 meeting of the State Equal Suffrage Association in Grand Rapids, Belle was elected chairman of the organization (newly dubbed the State League of Women Voters). In The History of Woman Suffrage, Ida Husted Harper gave Belle special recognition and thanks for helping her chronicle the woman suffrage movement in Michigan. In a 1922 meeting of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, Belle presented a history of woman suffrage in the state.

In 1930, Belle was named to the National League of Women Voters Roll of Honor and was later recognized by the organization as one of thirty-one "American women who had done the most to advance the suffrage cause."

In her later years, Belle enjoyed traveling to the western United States, including Washington and California. She died on January 18, 1934 in Detroit, Michigan and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Sources: 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data: 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

"Belle Brotherton Pamphlet 2015." The League of Women Voters of Michigan.

"Brotherton, Florence Belle." SNAC: Social Networks and Archival Context 10 August 2016.

Eleventh Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Ohio State University. Columbus: G.J. Brand and Co., 1882.

Find a Grave, database and images (, accessed 17 May 2021), memorial page for Florence Belle Swickard Brotherton (12 Oct 1857-18 Jan 1934), Find a Grave Memorial ID 86918209, citing Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, USA.

Find a Grave, database and images (, accessed 17 May 2021), memorial page for Wilber Brotherton (1 Mar 1858-17 May 1949), Find a Grave Memorial ID 12871689, citing Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, USA.

"Florence Belle (Swickard) Brotherton (1857-1934)." WikiTree 11 January 2018.

The History of Woman Suffrage vol. IV. Ed. Ida Husted Harper. New York: Little and Ives, 1922.

"Indian Stories Historical Meet." Battle Creek Enquirer 23 May 1922.,

The Lantern, 1 July 1881. Ohio State University, University Libraries

"Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2016," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 8 March 2021), Wilber Brotherton and Belle Swickard, 07 Jul 1882; citing Marriage, Franklin, Ohio, United States, , Franklin County Genealogical & Historical Society, Columbus; FHL microfilm.

Ohio State University Monthly, Vol. 12, Iss. 3, December 1920.

"Suffragettes to Storm Lansing." Detroit Free Press 30 January 1911.,

"Suffragists War Over Control of Coming Campaign." Detroit Free Press 30 January 1913.,

"Way Clears for Detroit Woman to Head Federation." Detroit Free Press 22 October 1914.,

"Women Make Sharp Replies to Prof. Kent's Article on Woman Suffrage." Detroit Free Press 25 February 1912.,

"Women Voters Bestow Honor on All Classes of America." Lansing State Journal 01 May 1930.,

"Women Voters Name National Honor Roll." Library of Congress

back to top