Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Nettie E. Bauer, 1873-1942
By Elisa Miller, Associate Professor of History, and Jack Covino, undergraduate student, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI
Secretary of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party; Vice President and Chairman of Ways and Means of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association; Member of the Rhode Island Executive Committee of the New England Woman Suffrage Association; Member of the Executive Committee of the Red Cross of Rhode Island; Charter Member of the League of Rhode Island, Rhode Island State Division; National and Rhode Island Republican Party Organizer; Deputy Jury Commissioner of Rhode Island
Nettie E. Bauer was born on July 22, 1873 in New York City. Her given name was Nanette (sometimes spelled "Nannette"), in honor of her paternal grandmother. Her parents were Felix L. Bauer and Eva Schiffer Bauer and she was one of six children. The family were German Jews and her father had emigrated from Germany. Felix Bauer was a successful businessman in New York, a partner in the Bernheim and Bauer company, a clothing manufacturer, and a member of the board of directors of the Manhattan Light Company. Nettie Bauer's family had been successful merchants for some time and operated their own ships for trade between New York and New Orleans. In 1895, Felix Bauer moved to the family to Providence, Rhode Island when he became secretary and treasurer, and later president, of the R.L. Rose Co. grocery company. It is not clear if or where she attended college. She never married, lived with her siblings until at least 1910, and became a suffrage and political activist and a career woman. She was a long-time member of the Alliance Francaise, a French language and cultural organization, and was elected its secretary in 1911. She was also an active golf player and competed in local tournaments.
In the 1910s, Bauer joined the Rhode Island suffrage movement. Her earliest known involvement in suffrage was in 1912. The Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA) engaged in a large publicity campaign and secured a booth for the first time at the Pure Food Fair held by the Retail Grocers' association in 1912. This was a prominent event in the community and RIWSA wanted to use it to raise awareness about woman suffrage. The National American Woman Suffrage Association's The History of Woman Suffrage reported that Bauer was one of the suffrage workers at the event and praised her and the other volunteers as "unselfish workers" who did "arduous work." The report also noted that at the event:
thousands of new members were enrolled, tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed, and publicity work was done. The "suffrage map" was in evidence, showing the many States that had been won, an irrefutable argument against the emanations of the anti-suffrage booth. At no other time and place could so many classes of people be reached.
Also in 1912, the College Equal Suffrage League included Bauer on its mailing list of "people interested."
Bauer explained her motivations for becoming a suffragist at a symposium held by the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA) in January 1915. At the event, Bauer explained that the first suffragist she listened to was "Sylvia Pankhurst who almost made me an 'anti,' while Mary Johnston converted me, and Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt convinced me that I should work for the cause." She then stated that she "considers the suffrage movement the most important reform of the age, and predicts its final adoption." Mary Johnston was a prominent suffragist from Virginia who gave a speech for RIWSA in 1913 and Carrie Chapman Catt was the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The RIWSA minutes report that she mentioned Sylvia Pankhurst. However, Bauer worked at a 1913 Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party event where Emmeline Pankhurst, Sylvia's mother and a more prominent militant British suffragette, spoke. In addition, Emmeline Pankhurst gave a high-profile lecture at a RIWSA event in 1911. The minutes may be incorrect and Bauer more likely meant Emmeline Pankhurst instead of Sylvia.
In 1913, Bauer became a member of the newly formed Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party (RIWSP). The founders of the organization hoped to energize and advance the Rhode Island suffrage movement with new political organizing and tactics. In October 1913, she sold candy at a "Votes for Women" booth at a RIWSP event where Emmeline Pankhurst gave a lecture. Bauer was a worker at a three-day bazaar held by RIWSP in December 1913 to raise awareness and money for woman suffrage. In 1914, she coordinated the bazaar and Sara M. Algeo, RIWSP president, stated of the event that "with her usual remarkable executive ability Miss Bauer brought it to a successful issue." RIWSP participated in a local and national "Votes for Women" campaign in the spring of 1914. As part of that effort Bauer supervised the "Woman's Journal Day" to sell copies of The Woman's Journal, a suffrage newspaper, in public. Bauer also gave a speech about the "Woman Suffrage Party" during the week-long activities. At the RIWSP annual meeting in October 1914, Bauer was elected secretary of the organization.
Bauer engaged in political pressure with RIWSP as well. In January 1914, Bauer and Sara M. Algeo registered with the Rhode Island Secretary of State as legislative agents for RIWSP to lobby for a presidential suffrage bill. The following month, Bauer participated in a political effort at the Rhode Island State House in which "woman suffragists stormed the State House...and made a verbal assault upon the members of the General Assembly." The suffragists "buttonholed" members of the legislature, confronting them in the State House's corridors, stairs, and elsewhere to promote the cause of women suffrage and the presidential suffrage bill. During the summer of 1914, Bauer led organizing efforts for RIWSP and the organization passed a resolution praising, "the efficient work done by the summer committee, under the leadership of Miss Nettie E. Bowers [sic]." During the 1914 election campaign, Bauer and other RIWSP members gave speeches at open air rallies in Providence. They traveled to the events in a car decorated with suffrage banners. At one of these rallies, Bauer told the audience, "Beware who you select for your Representative. Be sure the man represents the best interests of his constituents. It makes little difference whether a man belongs to one party or another if he is an honest representative of the interests of the people."
In 1915, the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party, the College Equal Suffrage League, and the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association joined forces and became the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA). Bauer was active in the new organization. By 1916 she was elected as second vice-president of the organization, a position she held until the woman suffrage amendment was ratified. Bauer represented RIESA as a delegate to the NAWSA conventions in 1915 and 1916. She also served as a member of the Rhode Island Executive Committee for the New England Woman Suffrage Association starting in 1915. Showing a variety of skills, Bauer designed elaborate costumes of "royal blue capes with hoods of yellow and close fitting blue hats with yellow rosettes" for Rhode Island suffragists when they marched in a Boston suffrage parade.
RIESA continued to lobby for a presidential suffrage bill in 1916. As a member of the organization's legislative committee, Bauer worked at the Rhode Island State House conducting interviews with every state senator about woman suffrage. She and another suffragist met with Rhode Island Governor R. Livingston Beeckman to lobby him on woman suffrage and ask him to support adding suffrage to the state Republican platform. Bauer also testified before a Rhode Island Senate committee to refute accusations that suffrage opponents had sent to the committee. One senator asked her if "school suffrage [the ability for women to vote on educational issues] was not more important to women than presidential suffrage." The Providence Journal reported that Bauer replied that, "although school suffrage was of great importance to women, it was not within the power of the Legislature to grant this privilege, as it was within its power to grant presidential suffrage." She stated that what the suffragists really wanted, though, was the "absolute equal franchise." During the 1916 election year, she also gave speeches on woman suffrage at political campaign rallies.
In addition to her legislative work, in 1916 Bauer was elected chair of RIESA's ways and means committee. Agnes Jenks, RIESA president, wrote an essay about the history of the organization and stated that "Miss Nettie Bauer is our able chairman of Ways and Means, and marked advance in our work is largely due to her capability in raising the sinews of war." Bauer initiated a fundraising campaign for RIESA in 1917. She invited women to a suffrage tea at her home and explained the critical importance of giving money to RIESA now. She also helped compile and interview a list of people to appeal to for donations. The Woman's Journal reported in 1916 that "Miss Nettie Bauer and Miss Helen Emerson have been touring the state in their little suffrage ford arranging meetings" and helping establish local suffrage leagues.
In April 1917, the state legislature passed a presidential suffrage bill, which Rhode Island suffragists had been campaigning for since 1892. The Providence Journal interviewed Bauer about this major victory for the Rhode Island suffrage movement and she declared:
I am delighted at the passage of this bill in both the Senate and House of Representatives and I firmly believe that all women in this State are. I have worked hard for three years to get this measure passed and I naturally feel gratified with this victory. I believe it will be a test vote for the women of Rhode Island. The bill had the support of the ablest men of the State and we all feel grateful to Governor Beeckman for his aid and advocacy of it. This is the first step toward full franchise, which we will ultimately get. In the meantime we will carry on an educational campaign so the women of Rhode Island will be citizens in the best sense of the word. I am delighted that it was a non-partisan vote and grateful to both Republicans and Democrats who gave us their strongest support the passage of the measure.
Nettie E. Bauer and a handful of other prominent Rhode Island suffragists attended and were featured in a photograph when Governor Beeckman signed the suffrage bill. Beeckman used four pens at the signing and awarded them to individual suffragists afterward, including one for Nettie Bauer. Sara Fittz, a RIESA suffragist, wrote articles for The Providence Journal and The Woman's Journal about the presidential suffrage victory. In her account, Fittz praised Bauer's political skills as a member of a group of suffrage speakers for their ability to "to present convincing arguments and help mobilize organized sentiment, which, . . . proved so important in impressing Representatives with the strength and numerical importance of the movement."
Following the presidential suffrage victory, Bauer continued to work for the federal suffrage amendment. At the Rhode Island Democratic Convention in 1918, she and several other suffragists sat in the balcony and hung a banner in support of the suffrage amendment. Bauer also became active in World War I voluntarism, a common tactic of NAWSA suffragists who believed that war work would help prove women's patriotism and advance the woman suffrage cause. She served on the executive committee of the Rhode Island Red Cross and was hired by the Rhode Island Bureau of Military Census to direct the woman's census in Rhode Island. Bauer supervised hundreds of volunteers in tabulating all women workers in the state by occupation to support the war effort. She helped mobilize women for nursing training and served on duty at the Rhode Island Hospital during the Spanish influenza epidemic. In addition, she gave public speeches about Liberty Loans, women's industrial work, and other war activities.
After the war Bauer was a charter member of the League of Women Voters, Rhode Island State Division, that emerged out of the RIESA organization. She gave speeches, including one on "Women's New Obligations" at the Providence Council of Jewish Women, in which she urged women to be educated and informed about their new duties as citizens. Bauer also emerged as a local and national advocate for the Republican Party in the 1920s.
During the 1920 election, the first one after the ratification of the woman suffrage amendment, the national Republican Party hired Bauer as an organizer. She campaigned in numerous states, including Nebraska, North Dakota, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island, and both Carolinas, giving speeches, recruiting women to the Republican Party, and helping set up women's Republican clubs. In a speech in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the newspaper reported that Bauer told the audience:
She was glad that the women of the United States were now on an equal footing with the men, and whether or not they wanted suffrage it was their duty to go to the polls and cast their ballot. She said that the men had too long neglected the opportunity afforded them by the ballot and that the women of the country must come to the rescue.
Specifically, Bauer urged women as new voters to join the Republican Party and work for its success and not to remain non-partisan. She claimed, "Non-partisanship is non-effectiveness." To a Nebraska audience, Bauer declared, "Two parties are necessary, and I have no objections to the Democrats, except they must be in the minority." In various speeches, she argued that women should support the Republican party "because it had done more for the women of the United States than any other party in existence.", She argued that the Republican Party was the more progressive party and that states governed by Republicans had accomplished more on issues such as mother's pensions, child labor, and education than in Democratic states. Bauer also criticized prominent Democratic leaders in her campaign speeches, including President Woodrow Wilson, and former presidential candidate and secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan. She accused Bryan of trying to sway women to change party affiliation to the Democratic Party which she labelled a "shameful" act that would "corrupt the women's first vote." She also urged women to vote for the best candidate regardless of their genders, saying, "Don't try to put a woman in if the man is doing well...Officeholding is new to women and I hope women will not try to rush in."
During Bauer's political campaigning, a newspaper in Nebraska called her "a forceful and interesting speaker." In contrast, her efforts in the largely Democratic South were less welcomed. A Virginia newspaper referred dismissively to her as, "Miss Nellie [sic] Bauer, the Republican lady orator sent out of the North to instruct Southern women how to vote" and claiming that even Republican politicians who attended her event audibly disagreed with her points. Several accounts mocked her for being German and accused her of criticizing President Wilson's handling of the war effort due to her ethnic background. When Bauer was campaigning in North Carolina, a racial controversy emerged. Newspapers reported that flyers advertising Bauer's talk were being circulated that urged "negro women to attend the meeting" and that Bauer was "organizing colored Republican clubs for women."
Bauer was also active in the 1920 election in Rhode Island. Her Republican politics put her at odds with some former suffrage colleagues. Elizabeth Upham Yates had been a long-time president of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association and was running for the Rhode Island lieutenant governor position as a Democrat in 1920. Bauer publicly criticized Yates for her support of the Democratic Party, asking her why she wanted "to bring Rhode Island into the columns of the less efficient party" and arguing that Republican states offered better education and laws against child labor.
Following the 1920 election, the National Congress of Mothers and the Parent-Teachers Association hired Bauer as an organizer and she spent a couple of months in 1921 in Maine visiting many towns and setting up local branches of the organization. In 1923, she was elected an officer and secretary of the Mortgage Guarantee & Title Company in Providence. Bauer also was active in Rhode Island Republican politics. She was a leading member of the Women's Republican Club of Rhode Island and gave speeches at the club and at political rallies. She was elected secretary of the Women's Republican Club in 1929 and established and served as chairman of the Business and Professional Women's Unit of the Women's Republican Club in 1935. The Rhode Island Republican Party appointed Bauer as co-chair of their Republican Speakers' Bureau in 1923. The chair of the party explained that "Miss Bauer is an active young woman in the business world, and due to her experience as a public speaker and a national campaigner for the Republican party, is likewise a valuable asset to enlist in this new link in the party's machinery." She participated in a speakers' school held by the national Women's Republican Committee in 1924. Bauer also served as editor of The Rhode Island Elephant, the newspaper of the Women's Republican Club.
Bauer's last prominent political activism was during the 1936 election. She campaigned on behalf of Republican presidential candidate, Alf Landon, against the Democratic incumbent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In speeches, she criticized Roosevelt and his New Deal programs, calling the Works Progress Administration [WPA)] "a fundamental evil." Bauer argued that "The New Deal ideas are contrary to the fundamental principles which have built up our nation. Instead of thrift--enormous spending and wasting; instead of industry, laziness and indifference; instead of contributing to our country as we and our forefathers have done the whole morale of our people has been changed; not 'what can I do,' but 'what can I get.'"
As a political activist and supporter of women's civic involvement, Bauer gave a speech in 1925 where she advocated that women should participate in jury duty. She said that she "believed the whole judiciary system could be bettered by women who were willing to serve on juries and advocated a change in the method of selecting jurors, both men and women." The following year, Bauer was appointed the deputy jury commissioner of Rhode Island. The Providence Journal reported that she was the first woman to hold this kind of office in the country. In 1929, as deputy commissioner, Bauer completed an extensive analysis of women and jury service and revealed that the great majority of women declined to perform jury service. She urged women to do jury service enthusiastically "as a patriotic duty" and stated that women make "every bit as satisfactory jurors as men. Sex has nothing to do either with the ability or qualifications of a juror." Bauer served as deputy commissioner until 1935, when the office was dissolved. She continued to support women's jury service and in 1937 gave a speech on the topic at the Rhode Island League of Women Voters. She also remained active in Red Cross drives and was a charter member of the Altrusa Club of Providence, a women's service organization.
Nettie E. Bauer died at her home in Providence on May 31, 1942 after being ill for several years. The obituary in The Providence Journal heralded her as "a pioneer in the suffrage movement, she was identified with all the lobbying, mass meetings and personal interviews that were carried on to win support for the cause in Rhode Island."
"Nettie E. Bauer," The Providence Journal, October 31, 1917. From the John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, RI.
Rhode Island Governor Beeckman signing the presidential woman suffrage bill, April 18, 1917. Left to right: Unidentified woman (most likely Ethel W. Parks), Helen R. Parks, Mabel E. Orgelman, Senator Henry B. Kane, Agnes M. Jenks, Governor R. Livingston Beeckman, Elizabeth Upham Yates, Anna G. Smith, Nettie E. Bauer, Representative Richard W. Jennings, Mildred Glines. From A. G. Spencer, History of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI.
"Keeping up with Suffrage," The Woman Citizen 2, No. 14 (March 2, 1918), 268.
Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]
Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association Records, 1868-1930, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, RI.
Agnes M. Jenks, "A Brief History of Woman Suffrage in Rhode Island," 1916, Box 1, Folder 1, League of Women Voters Records, MSS 21, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, RI.
A. G. Spencer, History of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI.
Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Jubilee Convention (1869-1919) (New York: National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company, Inc., 1919).
Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925).
"A Constitutional Test of Strictest Sort Be Imposed," The Daily Free Press (Kinson, North Carolina), October 18, 1920.
"Aims and Purposes of the Parent-Teacher Assoc.," The Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine), March 16, 1921.
"Baker 'Canned' Many Beans; Lady Orator Charges War Secretary Withheld Large Quantity of Choice Food--Democrats Guilty of Many Sins," Clinch Valley News (Tazewell, Virginia), October 8, 1920.
"Business Women Form G.O.P. Group," The Providence Journal, July 31, 1935.
"Canvass Rhode Island for Suffrage Funds," The Woman's Journal 48, No. 8 (February 24, 1917), 45.
"Democrats Scored by Miss Bauer in Address Thursday," The High Point Enterprise (High Point, North Carolina), October 15, 1920.
"Editorial Paragraphs," Clinch Valley News (Tazewell, Virginia), October 8, 1920.
"Explain Why They Are Suffragists," The Providence Journal, January 15, 1915.
"Felix L. Bauer Dead," The Providence Journal, November 17, 1908.
"Gov. Beeckman Signing Presidential Suffrage Bill," The Woman's Journal 48, No. 16 (April 21, 1917), 1.
"Governor Beeckman, Prominent Woman Suffrage Workers and General Assembly Leaders Laud Passage of Bill by Rhode Island Legislature," The Providence Journal, April 18, 1917.
J.A.L, Jr., "No Republican from Eastern VA.," Clinch Valley News (Tazewell, Virginia), October 15, 1920.
"Johnston; Miss Nettie E. Bauer Addresses Women's Republican Club at Headquarters," The Providence Journal, August 18, 1936.
"Keeping up with Suffrage," The Woman Citizen 2, No. 14 (March 2, 1918), 268.
"League Will Not Win the Senate," The Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), October 13, 1920.
"Many Decline to Serve," The Newport Mercury (Newport, Rhode Island), April 23, 1929.
"Many Jews Hold Office under G.O.P. Regime," The Jewish Herald (Providence, Rhode Island), November 4, 1932.
"Miss Bauer Deplores Conditions in the South," The Providence Journal, October 31, 1920.
"Miss Bauer Gives Strong Address," The Custer County Republican (Broken Bow, Nebraska), April 8, 1920.
"Miss Nettie Bauer Talks to Republican Women Here," The Providence Journal, October 26, 1920.
"N.C. State News," The Independent (Elizabeth City, North Carolina), October 22, 1920.
"Nettie E. Bauer," The Providence Sunday Journal, October 31, 1920.
"Nettie E. Bauer Dead at Her Home" The Providence Journal, June 1, 1942.
"Nettie E. Bauer; Funeral Services Held for Rhode Island Civic Leader," The Providence Journal, June 3, 1942.
"Organizing the Women Voters," The Hebron Journal (Hebron, Nebraska), May 7, 1920.
"Pelkey to Speak in Kent County," The Providence Journal, November 18, 1923.
"Republican Women Engage Organizer," The Evening State Journal and Lincoln Daily News (Lincoln, Nebraska), March 9, 1920.
"Republican Women Engage Organizer," The Lincoln Journal Star (Lincoln, Nebraska), March 19, 1920.
"Republican Women Plan Busy Season," The Providence Journal, September 29, 1925.
"Rhode Island," The Woman's Journal 47, No. 29 (July 15, 1916), 229.
"Rhode Island Passes Presidential Suffrage," The Woman's Journal 48, No. 16 (April 21, 1917), 1.
Sara L.G. Fittz, "How We Won Suffrage," The Providence Sunday Journal, April 29, 1917.
Sara Fittz, "How Rhode Island Won," The Woman's Journal 48, No. 16 (April 28, 1917), 97-98.
"Senator Sherman Named Jury Chief," The Providence Journal, May 2, 1926.
"Sherman Is Renamed Jury Commissioner; Nettie E. Bauer, Deputy, Also is Reappointed to Post," The Providence Journal, January 27, 1929.
"State Democrats Name Candidates and Pledge Support to be President," The Providence Journal, September 24, 1918.
"Suffrage Leaders Reply to Letters," The Providence Journal, March 9, 1916.
"Suffrage Party Sends President Condolence," The Evening Bulletin (Providence, RI), August 12, 1914.
"Suffragist Hits Eaton and Sumner," Providence Daily Journal (Providence, RI), October 27, 1914.
"Suffragists at State House," The Bristol Phoenix (Bristol, Rhode Island), February 13, 1914.
"The Bauer Poster," The Kinston Free Press (Kinston, North Carolina), October 23, 1920.
"Suffragist Hits Eaton and Sumner," Providence Daily Journal (Providence, RI), October 27, 1914.
"Term Extended," The Newport Mercury (Newport, Rhode Island), February 1, 1929.
"Two Speakers Urge Women Not to Avoid Jury Duty," The Providence Journal, February 28, 1925.
"Urges Women to Keep Good Men in Office," The Fremont Herald (Fremont, Nebraska), April 2, 1920.
"Victory in Rhode Island and Michigan," The International Woman Suffrage News 11, No. 8 (May 1, 1917), 122.
"Woman Republican Worker in West is Speaker Here," The Providence Journal, April 1, 1922.
"Woman Suffrage Plans for Week Nearly Complete," The Evening Bulletin (Providence, RI), April 24, 1914.
"Women Accepting Privilege of Jury Duty But 12 1/2 Per Cent of Names Drawn," Newport Mercury And Weekly News, August 23, 1929.
"Women Delegates Make Their Bows," The Lincoln Journal Star (Lincoln, Nebraska), May 11, 1920.
"Women Join in Political Work," The Grand Island Daily Independent (Grand Island, Nebraska), April 6, 1920.
"Women on the Juries," The Meriden Daily Journal (Meriden, Connecticut), September 6, 1929.
"Women's Republican Club of Rhode Island," The Providence Journal, April 2, 1922.
"Would Corrupt Woman Vote." The Evening State Journal and Lincoln Daily News, March 29, 1920.