Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Charlotte L. Hill, 1833-1863

By Alora Riddell, Student, University of California San Diego

Charlotte L. Hill was born in Ellsworth, Hancock County, Maine, on March 4, 1833 to Barney S. Hill and Clarissa Lyon Hill. She was one of four children, of which she was the only daughter. She played violin and used this skill to teach violin lessons to large groups of local children as well as play music at local balls and parties, allowing her to make a living. Her father was a farmer, and according to accounts describing notorious writer Nathaniel Hawthorne's life, he was depicted as an ardent abolitionist," who despite a lack of genteel manners, was able to carry on a lively political conversation. Charlotte was raised on the wave of American Revolutionary War ideology and the conversation of the rights of citizens, cultivating an environment of radicalism and professionalization. Maine women had been involved in benevolent groups with religious and anti-slavery motives that provided the experience of organization and a forum for political discourse. The political awakening of women en masse was a result of many women's involvement in these reform movements. In the eyes of many Maine women, the promise of the Constitution would remain incomplete until both men and women had the right to vote. In the 1850s, Maine women were noted as being educated, possessing middle-class values, and being immersed in a print culture that allowed them to be engaged citizens. Many had the opportunity to receive academy educations and a few began to attend university out-of-state, in fact, the first class with females graduated from Oberlin College in 1841.

As the topic of women's rights was on the rise, it became apparent that there was still hostility in Ellsworth, Maine, towards the shift of gender roles in American society. Some men publicly condemned the women's rights movement and expressed their belief in the woman's sphere of the home and the church, going further to assert that affairs such as voting, business, and public speaking were activities reserved for men.

In light of this atmosphere and political climate, Anne Greeley, Sarah Jarvis and Charlotte Hill dubbed themselves as a committee and began organizing lectures in Ellsworth in 1857 to inform their community on topics such as women's rights. They took the financial responsibility of organizing these events, and Hill had the responsibility of inviting prominent female speakers to come speak in front of the people of Ellsworth. Some of the speakers included Caroline H. Dall, a lecturer on social hygiene; Dr. Harriot K. Hunt; Wendell Phillips, an internationally recognized abolitionist; as well as Susan B. Anthony. In fact, this speaking engagement is credited with bolstering Anthony's confidence as she continued to speak and gain more renown. A few of the lecture topics included the Rights and Position of Woman, Agitation, The Physiological Effects of Light, Color, Air, and Mental Condition, along with Human Rights. Prior to the lectures, not many members of the Ellsworth community had heard much about suffragists and their cause, but as Charlotte would later describe the lectures as a "gratifying success" cordially attended by individuals both for and against progressive public reform. Due to their positive reception by the town, Hill and her colleagues organized a "women's rights" ball on July 3 and 4, 1857, at Whiting's Hall in Ellsworth. This too was only met with minimal resistance and was well enjoyed, even though balls and dances were no longer popular as of the 1850s. However, while a majority of the community, both for and against women's rights, approved and enjoyed the lectures, some remained who did not. The women invited Dall, a known intellectual and scholar, to speak in front of Ellsworth in an effort to show that women despite their reputation of hysteria and fragility were worthy public speakers. Sadly, Dall's first lecture was interrupted by a false fire alarm that resulted in the lecture being cut short. Due to these three women's effort, commitment, courage, and persistence to the cause, their actions were used as an example by other suffragists throughout Maine. This allowed more women throughout the state to be exposed to new ideas and experience a political awakening that allowed them to acknowledge that they, like men, should have the right to vote as citizens of their country.

As Hill began her public role as a suffragist, she spoke openly in letters to friends about her engagement in organizing the lectures. She even sent a friend documents related to women's rights, encouraging her to read them and distribute them amongst trusted acquaintances.

She also confided in her friend, Mrs. Milliken, that she believed acquaintances in Cherryfield would be shocked by her suffragist political leanings, however it is hard to believe she was able to keep her role in the lectures secret as the lectures continued. She showcased a desire to understand the law, potentially in an effort to better challenge it. In a letter to Mrs. Milliken she expressed her desire for her and her friend's husband to attend upcoming lectures in the hopes that they not only would enjoy the lecture but also provide her the opportunity to ask Mr. Milliken about some laws in Maine. This wish to consult her friend's husband was accompanied with the explanation that she did not trust local lawyers to be honest with her and truly explain the nuances of how one or two laws pertained to women. One of Hill's designated roles amongst the trio to organize the lectures unofficially appears to have been writing letters to invite potential future lecturers. It is mentioned that she specifically invited multiple lecturers, two of which are archived and include an invitation from Hill to renowned suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stone who was on the lecture circuit at the time. Hill requested twice consecutively for Stone to come and lecture with a degree of persistence and emotion that showed Hill's devotion to the cause and her genuine desire to educate her town. She stated that she would not be satisfied" until she deigned to visit Ellsworth and speak, and specified to Stone that she wanted her to lecture for them to "prove to them [members of the community] woman's capacity for public speaking."

While Hill's engagement in the women's right movement offended certain members of the community, her persistence and diligence to the cause gained her a reputation of independence and sincerity. She was called a friend to the slave," and was described as having publicly expressed that anyone who looked down on her friendship with a local slave girl of her acquaintance would be met with disdain and disapproval. Hill was described in different accounts as being deaf, however it can only be confirmed that she was hard of hearing in her adult life. Regardless, this did not stop her from following her love of music to teach herself how to play the violin. It was recorded that once the lectures began, Hill's patrons threatened to withdraw their support, to which she replied, "Very well, I shall maintain my principles and if you break up my classes I can go back to the sea-shore and dig clams for a living as I have done before." She continued teaching her classes and the community did not hold back from dancing to her music.

Charlotte remained unmarried and lived with her parents into adulthood. Sadly, she passed before her time, catching diphtheria during a small outbreak in Gouldsboro and passing away on March 4, 1863, at the age of 30. She was buried at Hill Cemetery in West Gouldsboro, Maine. In her obituary she was described as being both delicate and hardy, like the Mayflower: "those most familiar with her saw a true Christian charity in her doing good to the poor and the oppressed, though she believed not in the gatherings in churches, nor in special consecrations."

Sources:

Anthony, Susan B. "Chapter XXXIV. Maine. Miss Charlotte Hill." In History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 3, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, 365. Salem: Ayer Company Publishers Inc., 1886.

Between the Covers: Rare Book Inc. "HILL, Charlotte [Letter]: Women Suffrage Lectures in Maine. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.betweenthecovers.com/pages/books/412898/charlotte-hill-susan-b-anthony/letter-womens-suffrage-lectures-in-maine

"Charlotte L. Hill." The Ellsworth American, June 5, 1863. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84022374/1863-06-05/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1833&index=0&rows=20&words=Charlotte+Hill+L&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=Maine&date2=1870&proxtext=Charlotte+L.+Hill&y=3&x=5&dateFilterType=yearRang e&page=1

Dall, Caroline Wells Healy. "Ten Years." In The College, the Market, and the Court, or, Woman's Relation to Education, Labor, and Law 342. Concord: Rumford Press, 1867.

Find a Grave. "Charlotte L Hill." Find a Grave Memorial. Last modified February 28, 2021. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/223681855/charlotte-l-hill.

National American Woman Suffrage Association. National American Woman Suffrage Association Records: General Correspondence, Hill, Charlotte L., 1839-1963. Manuscript/Mixed Material. http://www.loc.gov/item/mss3413200510/.

Maine State Museum. "The Maine Story. Charlotte Hill: Assurance and Radicalism." Women's Long Road - 100 Years to the Vote: The Maine Story. Constitutions, Abolition, and Women's Rights. https://mainestatemuseum.org/exhibit/suffrage/charlotte-hill-assurance-radicalism/

Original and Selected. The Portland Daily Press, July 28, 1863. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016025/1863-07-28/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1833 &index=1&rows=20&words=Charlotte+Hill+L&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=Maine&date2=1870&proxtext=Charlotte+L.+Hill&y=3&x=5&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

Risk, Shannon M. "In Order to Establish Justice: The Nineteenth-Century Woman Suffrage Movements of Maine and New Brunswick." PhD. thesis, University of Maine, 2009.

In Hawthorn and His Publisher, page #. Boston/NewYork: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913.

 

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