Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Amy E. Harris, 1854-1938
By Elisa Miller, Associate Professor of History, Rhode Island College, Providence, Rhode Island
Member, Executive Committee of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association; Trustee, Bell Street Chapel; Member, Board of Directors, Rhode Island Woman's Club, Sister of artist and suffragist, Sarah J. Eddy
Amy Eddy was born on December 5, 1854 in Boston, Massachusetts to James Eddy and Eliza Frances Jackson Merriam. Her father, James Eddy, was a wealthy real estate investor and art dealer. The family moved to Providence, Rhode Island in the 1860s. The Eddy family had historic roots in New England dating back to 1630 in the Plymouth colony. Samuel Eddy, a Rhode Island ancestor, was a political leader in the United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, serving as U.S. Secretary of State, a member of the U.S. Congress, and Chief Justice of the Superior Court.
Eddy's family had a long tradition of supporting women's rights and other social justice causes. Francis Jackson, her maternal grandfather, was an abolitionist who had worked with William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. When he died in 1861, he had donated money in his will to women's rights leaders, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony, although the bequest was overturned by the courts on the grounds that women's rights was not a legitimate charitable cause. Eliza Eddy, her mother, was also an advocate for abolition and woman's rights. When she died in 1881, following her father's lead, Eliza Eddy donated her estate in her will to Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, directing them to use it for "the woman's rights cause." Unlike her father's will, Eliza's woman's rights donation was upheld by the courts. Lucy Stone wrote an obituary for her in the suffrage newspaper, The Woman's Journal, and called Eliza "one of the earliest of the Woman Suffragists." When he died in 1888, James Eddy donated money in his will to the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association. The Eddy family was also acquainted with Frederick Douglass and Eddy's sister, Sarah J. Eddy, painted his portrait. (Sarah J. Eddy was active in the Rhode Island woman suffrage movement and served on the executive committee of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA) in the 1880s. In the early twentieth century, Sarah J. Eddy came to national prominence in the suffrage movement when she painted several portraits of Susan B. Anthony.
James Eddy, a religious iconoclast, funded the building of the Bell Street Chapel in Providence. It was meant as a home for the Free Religious Society, which promoted religious freethinking and opposed organized religion. Eddy and the society had a falling out, though, and the chapel was mostly unused after his death in 1888. Before he died, James Eddy appointed his two daughters as trustees of the Chapel. At the request of the board of trustees, Reverend Anna Garlin Spencer, officiated at Eddy's funeral. Spencer was the first woman in Rhode Island to be ordained as a minister and was a leading social reformer and suffragist in the community. The board appointed her to head the Bell Street Chapel in 1891 and developed it into a prominent religious organization under her leadership.
Amy Eddy married Dr. Edward Mowry Harris on December 15, 1887 in Providence, Rhode Island. Dr. Harris was a physician who became prominent in the field and served as president of the Rhode Island Medical Association. He also was a real estate investor and art and antique collector. His brother, William T. Harris, served as the U.S. Commissioner of Education. Dr. Harris was active in local politics and was a president of the Progressive League of Rhode Island and a presidential elector in 1912 for the Progressive ticket. The Harrises had two children, James Eddy Harris (b. February 21, 1891) and Edward Mowry Harris (b. May 24, 1892). Both sons died young; Edward Harris died in 1912 of carbon monoxide poisoning after a troubled life that included a nervous breakdown and residence in a sanitarium and James Harris died in 1919 from the Spanish flu. The family lived in Providence, RI and had a summer home in Putnam, Connecticut.
Amy E. Harris was an active member in the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA), usually using the name "Mrs. Edward M. Harris." It is not clear when she first joined RIWSA; the earliest reported activity was suffrage meeting that she hosted at her home in 1906. However, she was likely involved prior to that given her family's strong support of woman's rights in the nineteenth century. The treatment of the Rhode Island suffrage movement in The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 praised Harris for her hospitality in making her home available for suffrage events. Amy Harris served on the RIWSA executive committee at some point. From 1909 to 1912, she chaired RIWSA's program committee. In 1916, suffragist Alice Park traveled to Rhode Island to speak on woman suffrage; while in Rhode Island she stayed in Amy Harris's home. In addition to her suffrage work, Harris was active in the community in other organizations. She served on the board of directors of and raised money for the Rhode Woman's Club, as a member of the Children's Friend Society, vice president and treasurer for the MacDowell Club, a women's music organization, and chairman of the Sruetama, another musical club.
Her husband, Dr. Harris, was also active in the suffrage movement. Sara M. Algeo, a leading Rhode Island suffragist, wrote in her memoir that Dr. Harris was one of the "good men" who supported woman suffrage. He gave suffrage speeches in Putnam, Connecticut during a "Votes for Women" automobile tour in the summer of 1914 and testified in support of woman suffrage as a representative of the Progressive Party at the Rhode Island State Constitutional Commission in 1913.
In 1924, Amy E. Harris and her husband moved to Pasadena, California where they had previously spent several winters. On April 3, 1925, Dr. Edward Harris died. After his death, she remained in Pasadena, living with her sister, Sarah J. Eddy, and several cousins. Amy E. Harris died on January 14, 1938 in Pasadena, California after suffering a blood clot in her brain. She was buried in the Putnam Heights Cemetery in Putnam, Connecticut alongside her husband and sons' graves. She died a wealthy woman and donated her estate of $875,000 to various charitable organizations, including several hospitals, the American Humane Society, and African American educational institutions, Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute.
Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J. J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]
"A History of the Bell Street Chapel," https://bellstreetchapel.org/history.
"Amy Eddy Harris," Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/12132675/amy-harris
"Art Authority Dies," Los Angeles Daily Times, April 4, 1925.
"Disputed Will Leaves Big Sum to R.I. Hospital," The Providence Journal, February 1, 1938.
"Eddy, Amy," Eddy Family Genealogy, http://www.eddyfamily.com/rootspersona-tree/eddy-amy-6/
"Eddys Are 300 Year Old," The Providence Journal, October 26, 1930.
"Former Providence Physician Is Dead," The Providence Journal, April 4, 1925.
"Hearing Held in Rhode Island," The Woman's Journal 44, No. 11 (March 15, 1913), 86.
"James Eddy," The Providence Journal, May 19, 1888.
James Eddy: Biographical Sketch, Memorial Service, Selected Thoughts. Providence, RI: J.A. & R.A. Reid, Printers, 1889.
Joanna M. Doherty, "Biographical Sketch of Sarah J. Eddy," The Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States, https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/d/1010026809.
L.S. "Mrs. Eliza F. Eddy," The Woman's Journal 13, No. 1 (January 7, 1882), 5.
L.S. "The Eddy Heirs," The Woman's Journal 15, No. 37 (February 23, 1884), 62.
L.S. "The Legacy of Eliza F. Eddy," The Woman's Journal 16, No. 18 (May 2, 1885), 140.
L.S. "The Legacy of Mrs. Eddy," The Woman's Journal 14, No. 37 (September 15, 1883), 292.
National American Woman Suffrage Association, National American Woman Suffrage Association Records: Subject File, -1953; Connecticut suffrage associations; 1 of 21.-1953, 1851. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mss3413201566/. https://www.loc.gov/resource/mss34132.mss34132-034_00200_00252/?sp=47
Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island, Vol. I. Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1908.
Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association Records, 1868-1930, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, RI.
Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925).
"Woman Suffrage Campaign Will Open Tomorrow," The Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), June 14, 1914.