Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Edith Morris Hughes, 1876-1939
By Jacalyn Kalin, teacher (retired): Montgomery College, Maryland
Allen County Museum Collection, date unknown.
One of four children, Edith Morris was born on April 28, 1876 in Knightstown, Indiana. Her father Aaron was a minister and her mother Anna Adeline (nee Harlan) was a homemaker. Edith taught English at the local high school after graduating from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. She married Kent Worley Hughes, an attorney, on June 28, 1904, and moved to Lima, Ohio. The Hughes had two children, a daughter and a son.
Edith's work in the Lima Federation of Women's Clubs (LFWC) led to her notable participation in the suffrage movement. The club formed in 1904 to "create a network of women's clubs to help initiate leadership among women" and to advance their common interests, such as civic betterment. The club worked to educate the public on equal suffrage by bringing in local, national, and international speakers, such as Sylvia Pankhurst, a well-known English suffragette, by campaigning door-to-door, by sponsoring parades, and by offering civic presentations.
As chairman of the education committee, Edith sponsored suffrage speakers and talks on civil government to prepare women for the responsibilities of citizenship. "We all will be better citizens beyond doubt," she wrote in a letter to a local paper about the lectures. She also served as a member of the planning committee led by her husband Kent Hughes that coordinated Suffrage Day in Lima in October 1914.
The Lima Republican-Gazette described the Suffrage Day march as "...the most significant and spectacular demonstration of public sentiment ever shown in Lima for the votes-for-women movement..." A thousand people, consisting of groups from clubs in the city, church organizations, schools, Civil War veterans, and out-of-town suffragists, mainly from the surrounding towns and counties, marched that day. Ten thousand lined the streets. The suffrage color of yellow appeared everywhere - the roses worn by marchers and spectators alike, the pennants bearing slogans, and even on the tails of horses decorated with bows. Soap box brigades stopped at street corners to give suffrage speeches, banners carried by school girls read "Future Voters," and school boys riding in a pony cart recited a rhyme:
"Mother mends my pants, and socks; mother mends my coat;
bet you she could mend the laws, if only she could vote."
A mass meeting of two thousand people that evening capped the day's events. The women and men cheered speeches by Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and Harriet Upton, president of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association (OWSA), an organization founded in 1885.
"City Federation Names Mrs. Hughes President" read a newspaper headline on January 17, 1915. The article stated that Edith "...has a personality that attracts. She is regarded as one who has amply demonstrated executive ability." Edith gave the welcoming address at the OWSA convention held in Lima in 1916 and served as a delegate to the convention. The OWSA elected her corresponding secretary for the organization. She stepped down from the presidency of the LFWC to focus on suffrage measures at the state level. Edith and the other executive officers assisted in carrying out the work of the association. While OWSA's chief activities were in cities, it also held events in rural areas, including suffrage speakers at picnics, county stores, and school houses. Petitions for a new state constitution that included woman suffrage were circulated and suffragists appeared at legislative hearings considering suffrage measures and lobbied legislators at the state and national levels. Edith gave reports at OWSA conventions, and in 1917 she served as chairman of the plan of work committee.
Edith remained as corresponding secretary until 1920, the year OWSA held the last of its thirty-five annual conventions. OSWA's work was completed. On June 16, 1919, Ohio became the fifth state to ratify the federal amendment that granted woman suffrage. When the necessary thirty-sixth state ratified the 19th amendment to the Constitution on August 26, 1920, women were guaranteed the right to vote, seventy years after Ohio held its first women's rights convention in 1850.
A state League of Women Voters (LWV) was organized in 1920. Edith became a member of LWV and the National Council of Women. A delegate to the National Democratic Convention in 1920, Edith was one of five women appointed by the National Congressional Committee to its executive committee with the goal "...to capture the women vote for their party," according to The Washington-Times.
Edith Morris Hughes died on July 25,1939 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Lima, Ohio. "Prominent Club Leader Succumbs" headlined an article about her death in a local Lima newspaper. Edith's well-known reputation resulted not only for her suffrage work but also from other civic activities such as helping to establish in Lima the Visiting Nurse Association, the PTA, and the Civic League and serving as a member of the State Board of Education. She chaired its committee to recruit capable teachers.
"Campaign for Votes: Woman Suffrage in Allen County." https://allencountymuseum.wixsite.com
"City Federation Names Mrs. Hughes President." The Lima Morning Star and Republican-Gazette. January 17, 1915, p. 9.
"Democrats Favor Women." The Washington-Times, Sept. 28, 1920, p. 8.
"Educational Committee Endorses Movement Teacher Recruiting." Sandusky Register, March 12, 1920. p. 6.
"Federation Club Women." The Times-Democrat. April 3, 1913, p. 4.
Harper, Ida Husted et al., eds. History of Woman suffrage, Vol. 6, New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
"Thousands Mass Streets to See Big Demonstration of Sentiment Favoring Franchise for Women." Republican-Gazette. October 21, 1914, p. 5.
"Urges Larger Use Of School Houses In Social Work." The Lima Morning Star and Republican-Gazette. April 5, 1913, p. 7.
U.S. Bureau of the Census: 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910. Ancestry.com