Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Annie Howes Barus, 1854-1928
By Elisa Miller, Associate Professor of History, and Katerina Andrews, Undergraduate Student, Rhode Island College, Providence, Rhode Island
President and Secretary of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae; Scholar; Officer of the Rhode Island Consumers' League; Vice-President of the Rhode Island Women's Club; Chairman of the Rhode Island Child Labor Committee; Representative to the National Child Labor Committee; Member of the Providence School Committee; Member of the Executive Committee of the College Equal Suffrage League; Member of the Executive Committee and Vice President of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association; Member of the Rhode Island Executive Committee of the New England Woman Suffrage Association;Vice-President of the United League of Women Voters of Rhode Island
Anna Gertrude Howes was born in South Yarmouth on Cape Cod, Massachusetts on July 29, 1854. She went by the nickname, "Annie" and was the second youngest of nine children of Osborn Howes and Abby Crowell Howes. Her father was a wealthy ship merchant who also served as a director of the China and India Mutual Marine Insurance Companies and director and president of the New England Marine and Fire Insurance Company. The family had homes in both Boston and Cape Cod and had historic family roots in Massachusetts and Cape Cod. On her father's side, she was a descendant of Thomas Howes, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1637, and on her mother's side, John Crowe, who came to Massachusetts in 1635. Howes and Crowe were in the group of the first European settlers in Yarmouth in 1638, over two hundred years before Annie Howes was born. Howes attended the Everett School, a girls' school in Boston. Howes's mother died when she was eleven years old in 1865 and her father later remarried.
When Annie was fourteen years old, a friend of her cousin's wrote a letter describing her experiences as a student at Vassar College. Howes later remembered that the friend stated that, "The girls at Vassar have as much fun as the boys at Harvard." Howes wrote that this claim appealed to her and her cousin's "desire for adventure" which led them "to beg our parents to let us go away to boarding school." Howes began in the Vassar College preparatory school in 1869 at age fifteen and later graduated with a B.A. in 1874. She had some complaints about her time at Vassar and said that she chafed at the "ultra-Victorian conservatism as regards freedom of dress, movement and speech." However, Howes became one of the most active and dedicated Vassar alumnae in subsequent decades.
After graduating, Howes traveled extensively around the world, including throughout Europe, around Cape Horn, and several months in Japan, at times serving as a guide for younger students. She studied at the Sorbonne in France and did graduate work in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She served on a local committee in Boston conducting admission examinations for Vassar College and did community work as treasurer, secretary, and member of the board of managers of the South End Diet Kitchen, which provided food and work opportunities to people in need.
She also became active in the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (ACA), later renamed the American Association of University Women, an organization that advocated for higher education for women. In the ACA, she worked with leaders in women's education including Ellen Richards and Marion Talbot. Howes also began a long and accomplished career of conducting research and producing scholarship on various women's issues. In the late-nineteenth century, college education for women was increasing but also highly controversial, with critics claiming that it hurt women's physical and mental health and reduced their reproductive capacities. Howes chaired a committee for the ACA to examine this issue. She collaborated with Carroll Wright, a well-known labor official and scholar, to research the health conditions of women college graduates to try to disprove concerns about the negative effects of education on women. In 1885, their extensive research that involved data from over 700 alumnae, was published in the report, Health Statistics of Women College Graduates: Report of a Special Committee of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae and demonstrated that women college graduates did not have negative health outcomes compared to women who did not attend college. She continued this line of research in subsequent years, explaining that these investigations should resolve any concerns about women and education and lead to "a better appreciation of [women's] possible achievements...We can feel confident that higher education for women is in harmony with that vast law of the survival of the fittest." In addition, she lead an effort by alumnae to promote women's physical health by building a gym at Vassar. Barus said that she "hoped the time would come when the type of female physical perfection would be the college student, and the Vassar girl of to-morrow will be stronger and healthier than the Vassar women of to-day." In The Woman's Journal, a suffrage newspaper, noted women's rights activist, Alice Stone Blackwell heralded Barus's research, writing that "the old theories concerning the physical and mental possibilities of women are rudely contradicted by the facts."
On January 20, 1887, Howes married Dr. Carl Barus in Boston. Barus had a Ph.D. in physics and had recently returned to the United States after graduate study in Germany. The couple lived in Washington, D.C. and Carl Barus held several different scientific positions for the United States Department of Interior's Geological Survey, the U.S. Weather Bureau, and the Smithsonian Museum. In the early years of their marriage, Annie Barus assisted him in his laboratory and helped edit his publications. They had two children, Maxwell (b. 1889), and Deborah (b.1892).
In addition to her family duties, Barus was active in public service in DC and in alumnae work. From 1891-1903, she served as president of the Vassar Alumnae Association and from 1892 to 1894, she served as president, and later secretary from 1895-1898, of the ACA. She believed that college-educated women had an important role to play in society and would "prove helpful to progressive womanhood." As a member of the Civic Center organization in Washington, she produced a report about health conditions in public school buildings. She was a member of the Ladies' Historical Society and an Anthropological Society in Washington and served as president of the Washington branch of the ACA. She continued her social science research and writing, often focusing on motherhood and childhood issues and highlighting the new field of Child Study. She published essays in popular journals, including The Forum and The Chautauquan, and gave a speech on mothering to the Congress of Representative Women at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In the early twentieth century, she became an advocate for the field of eugenics, a now discredited racial science whose proponents claimed that society could be improved by studying and intervening with genetics of individuals and groups. At an ACA meeting in 1907, she gave a speech praising eugenics and connected it to higher education for women. The Woman's Journal reported on the event and quoted her as stating:
I believe the new science of eugenics will do for humanity what physics has done for nature; that there will be as long a reach from the undeveloped human beings of today to the better-developed human beings of the future as there has been from Newton's apple to wireless telegraphy. If the lower orders of animals can be much improved by cultivation and the observance of nature's laws, why not the human race?...Some day--perhaps a hundred years from now--no woman will be allowed to marry unless she has a college degree."
Carl Barus developed a reputation as a prominent and world-famous scientist and was hired as a professor of physics at Brown University and later as dean of the Graduate Department. The family moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1895 and Annie Barus became a leader in the community on issues related to education, children, labor, and woman suffrage until her death in 1928. She participated in efforts to develop a women's college connected to Brown University and served on the advisory committee for that new school, the Pembroke College in Brown University, for many years.
Continuing her interest and service in public education, Barus was a founding member of the Public Education Association in Providence in 1899 and served as its secretary for several years. In this organization, she advocated for kindergarten education and playgrounds for children among other issues. She became active in the Rhode Island Women's Club and served as a vice president and chair of committees on civics, social and industrial conditions, and legislation. She used her research skills to write a report investigating conditions for women and children in Rhode Island in 1900. Her report urged clubwomen in Rhode Island to pressure politicians for new legislation on issues such as child labor and education. She also was elected a vice president of the Rhode Island Mothers' Congress.
Labor conditions, particularly child labor, became a central topic of Barus's activism at the turn of the century. She chaired a committee on child labor for the Rhode Island branch of the ACA. She helped found a Rhode Island branch of the Consumers' League, an organization that advocated for labor reforms, and became a director and vice president of the organization. The first president of the Rhode Island Consumers' League was Anna Garlin Spencer, a leader in the Rhode Island woman suffrage movement. As a member of the Rhode Island Consumers' League, Barus hosted Florence Kelley, the leader of the National Consumers' League and a noted activist, at her home on numerous occasions. In 1908, she became chair of the Rhode Island Joint Committee on Child Labor, a collaboration of several different philanthropic groups. In this capacity, she also served as a representative on the National Child Labor Committee and became a leader in the movement against child labor in Rhode Island and nationally.
She frequently gave speeches, wrote letters to the editor, and lobbied politicians about the need to end or reform child labor. In public lectures, Barus charged that children as young as five and six years old worked out of their homes for the jewelry industry and that more than 6,000 children were employed in Rhode Island factories. She accused Rhode Island of being a pioneer in child labor, which she claimed first emerged as a problem at Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the first cotton mill in the United States. At a House committee hearing in 1909, she spoke in favor of a proposed law that would prevent women and children from working more than nine hours a day. arguing that "the death rate among babies in the cotton mill cities was larger than in other cities" and that women workers "were overtaxed and that the lives of the coming generation were being sacrificed to furnish material for the present generation." When a child labor bill was passed in 1910 by the Rhode Island Legislature, Governor Aram Pothier gave Barus the pen he used to sign the act in honor of her work in getting it passed. In addition to child labor, Barus also worked for protective labor laws to improve conditions for women workers, mothers' pension laws, and efforts to establish safe and wholesome leisure and housing options for working women.
Barus's work on child labor seems to have been the entry to her suffrage activism. She had given a speech at the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA) in 1898 about the ACA at a meeting devoted to "Women's Progress for Fifty Years." She also collaborated with many RIWSA suffragists in her child labor, women's clubs, education, and working women's activism. However, she did not become an active suffragist until the 1910s. At a Rhode Island Women's Club meeting in 1909, Barus gave a speech about child labor and urged the Rhode Island club women to educate themselves about the problems and laws about child labor and "then do all in their power to aid the cause." The RIWSA newspaper, The Woman Citizen, published an editorial about Barus's speech, stating:
At the last meeting of the Federation of Woman's Clubs, Mrs. Carl Barus, who is at the head of the legislative work of the clubs of the State, reported that the acts in which they were interested had become law when men with votes in their hands had striven to obtain them, but that their plea that children under fourteen years of age should not be employed in factories until they were able to read short simple sentences in the English language had been so far disregarded.
The editorial said that Barus stated that women needed politicians to vote for child labor legislation and responded, "She is right. Why does not Mrs. Barrus [sic] ask for the ballot?" The editorial criticized Barus for her silence on woman suffrage and not acknowledging that votes for women would be a powerful tool against child labor.
It is not clear exactly when Barus became active in the Rhode Island suffrage movement. Her earliest known involvement was when she gave a speech at the Rhode Island College Equal Suffrage Association in 1910 arguing that women working in industry needed the vote and that woman suffrage would help reformers influence legislation on labor and other issues. This was the very idea that the RIWSA editorial had wanted Barus to support the previous year. By 1911, she was elected a member of the executive committee of the College Equal Suffrage Association, that had a mission to get women college students and graduates into the suffrage movement, and chair of its legislative committee in 1913. Barus strongly believed that woman suffrage would help advance reform interests such as child and women's labor reform, public education, and others. She frequently gave speeches on child labor at suffrage meetings. Sara M. Algeo, a leading suffragist in Rhode Island, claimed that Barus's "analytical mind" was an asset to the Rhode Island suffrage campaign.
Barus's ideas about suffrage were linked to her ideas about reform and womanhood. She wrote an essay in support of voting rights for women as part of a debate series on suffrage published by The Providence Journal in 1912 in which she argued that woman suffrage would be beneficial to the country. Barus stated that women needed the vote in order to protect children, which she considered the special skill and responsibility of women. She explained that "Potential motherhood in one half of humanity instinctively puts that half on the defensive to cherish and protect the race as against the masculine incentive to utilize and exhaust." Their innate maternal nature, Barus claimed, was:
compelling women to ask for the power of the ballot in behalf of children, that they may help control the conditions that surround their labor, their education and their play; that they may efficiently help in solving the questions of the State's dependents--the aged and the sick--the responsibility for whose care and comfort was deemed their special vocation.
She cited evidence from a study that demonstrated "the 11 countries where children are best cared for are the 11 where women have equal power with men in controlling governmental and social practices." Barus claimed that this proved the "power of the ballot to aid women in the fulfillment of the special function of their sex--motherhood" and that nature had put "her stamp of approval on equal suffrage." She also explained that it was not surprising that the biggest opponents of woman suffrage were "the saloon man, the corrupt politician, and the trafficers in vice." She drew on similar ideas about womanhood and suffrage when she testified at a hearing for the House committee on special legislation in 1912. She argued, "it was the home and not the woman that needed the vote...The question of the moral life of children is confined to the community, and, to partake in its molding, woman needs the vote."
In addition to promoting her ideas about suffrage, Barus opposed those of militant suffragists. At a speech in 1913, she criticized Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous British militant suffragist who was visiting Rhode Island. Barus explained that she admired Pankhurst for her "courage and sincerity" but that "I am wholly out of sympathy with Mrs. Pankhurst's being here in America. Her coming here is not wise. It is unwise for her own purposes. Her presence here may put back suffrage in America because it is impossible to separate Mrs. Pankhurst from her methods." Eschewing Pankhurst's protest tactics, Barus worked within the political system to try to influence lawmakers.
As she had for child labor legislation, Barus became active in lobbying legislators about woman suffrage, particularly a presidential suffrage bill that would allow women to vote in presidential elections. The College Equal Suffrage League, RIWSA and the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party joined forces to work for the bill and Barus chaired a joint presidential suffrage bill commission for the organizations. In 1914, she 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 presidential suffrage bill. Barus and three other suffragists led an effort to interview every member of the Rhode Island House and Senate about woman suffrage. She also joined with other suffragists to "invade" the Rhode Island Republican convention in 1914 to pressure the party to include support for woman suffrage on their platform. This effort was unsuccessful and when the presidential suffrage bill also failed in 1914, Barus said that she was disappointed but that woman suffragists "will now use indirect influence and continue the fight."
Barus began as a member of the College Equal Suffrage League. However, she also became a member of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party and RIWSA. In addition to her work in Rhode Island, Barus served as an officer of the New England Woman Suffrage Association, as a member of the Rhode Island executive committee in the 1910s. She chaired a committee in 1914 that coordinated joint efforts of the three suffrage organizations and in 1915, RIWSA, the College Equal Suffrage League, and the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party merged and became the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA). Barus was elected a vice president of the new association. She also helped found a new Women's Peace Party in Rhode Island in 1915, that had many suffragists as member and adopted a platform supporting woman suffrage.
In April 1917, the state legislature finally passed a presidential suffrage bill, which Rhode Island suffragists had been campaigning for since 1892. The Providence Journal interviewed Barus about this major victory for the Rhode Island suffrage movement and she declared, "It is very pleasing. I didn't see how any people, after the action of England and Canada, could do otherwise than pass such a bill as this. We are fighting, as President Wilson has said, that all nations, large and small, shall be governed by the consent of the governed." During World War I, like many suffragists associated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), she participated in activism to support the war effort. She served on a food conservation committee of the Woman's Council of National Defence in Rhode Island. She also participated in Americanization programs and expressed concern about the influx of immigrants to the United States after the war. Prior to the U.S. entry into the war, she was already a member of the Immigrant Education Bureau in Rhode Island and in her child labor work had advocated for educational efforts for foreign-born children in which "they will be brought into touch with American standards of living and American ideals of citizenship." In 1918, Barus ran and won a seat on the Providence School Committee as the only woman member of the board. She soon was elected vice president of the board.
Barus served as vice chairman of the RIESA legislative committee as the organization pushed state leaders to ratify the woman suffrage constitutional amendment in 1919. She and a large group of suffragists attended a July 1919 meeting with the Rhode Island governor, R. Livingston Beeckman, to lobby him to call for a special session to ratify the suffrage amendment. At the meeting, Barus spoke powerfully to the governor, stating:
We come before you, Governor, as the representatives of the executive committee of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association, the body which for 50 years has been interviewing Governors and members of the Rhode Island Assembly in behalf of votes for women. We have again and again filled the State House with our constituents in behalf of women suffrage, and we can assure you that your answer to our present appeal to call a special session of the assembly will be eagerly watched by many women throughout the State.
Besides making a political threat to Beeckman, Barus argued that passing the suffrage amendment would be a proud accomplishment for the state. She stated, "We feel that Rhode Island women have a right to ask of its men, that in the future their children shall be able to point with pride to Rhode Island's position on this roll of freedom." Because Rhode Island, she pointed out, had been "the last of the 13 colonies to accept the Constitution, we are doubly eager to have Rhode Island among the first to accept this great constitutional change." Beeckman ended up supporting the special session and Rhode Island ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in January 1920.
In 1919, as the suffrage amendment neared ratification, NAWSA developed the League of Women Voters, an organization to continue women's citizenship and social reform efforts after the suffrage victory. Barus wrote a letter to the editor in The Providence Journal explaining and advertising the mission of the League of Women Voters. She participated in a RIESA event in May 1920 that marked the organization's "demise" after the ratification of suffrage. RIESA members marched from the headquarters to the Rhode Island State House where they deposited their records in the state archives to preserve them for posterity. Barus was a member of the United League of Women Voters in Rhode Island and was elected as a vice president of the organization in 1921. In 1922, she gave a speech on child labor, one of her most important causes, at a League of Women Voters' event on "National Child Labor Day" and helped lead classes on international relations for the League.
In the early 1920s, Barus curtailed her public activities due to her declining health, including difficulties with her eyesight and hearing and hardening of the arteries. She died on September 19, 1928 at her Providence home and was buried at the Quaker Meeting House Cemetery in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. (Her mother had been Quaker). In her eulogy, Barus's husband noted that she conducted her extensive public service "quietly without ostentation wherever she saw that help within her reach was necessary." Dr. Barus, a noted scholar, stated that he "he usually referred to her as his most cherished honorary degree, the highest which he had reached and the least deserved." Her daughter, Deborah Barus, followed in her footsteps by graduating from Vassar College and working as a social worker and child welfare expert. In 1930, as part of celebrations for the tenth anniversary of the founding of the League of Women Voters, the Rhode Island League nominated Annie Barus as one of five women on the Roll of Honor of the State Leagues of Women Voters. The league's material for the honor roll included the family's short biography about Barus from her funeral in 1928 and called her a "leader in educational, child welfare, and suffrage movements."
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"A Half Century of Suffrage." The Providence Journal, June 1, 1919.
Algeo, Sara M. The Story of a Sub-Pioneer. Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925.
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Barus, Annie H. "The Life of Ellen Richards." The Vassar Miscellany 42, No. 2 (December 1912): 110-116.
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"Talks to Students; Mrs. Carl Barus Speaks at Women's College on 'Child Labor Problem.'" The Providence Journal, April 17, 1908.
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