Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Harriet "Hattie" Thomas, 1865-1935
By Samantha Yip, University of California, San Diego
Harriet "Hattie" Park Thomas was born on March 3, 1865, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her father, James Park, was a minister at Knoxville's First Presbyterian Church and a principal at the Knoxville Female Seminary. Her mother, Pheby Park, was a housewife. She was the second youngest in her family and had two older sisters, three older brothers, and one younger brother. Harriet married her husband, William Isaac Thomas, in Tennessee on June 6, 1888. Shortly after their marriage, they moved first to Germany and soon thereafter to Ohio, where her husband became a professor at Oberlin College. The Thomases then relocated to Chicago in 1895, when her husband became a sociology professor at the University of Chicago. W.I. Thomas had a national reputation. Co-author of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1913), his career at the University of Chicago was cut short due to a sex scandal in 1918. It was in Chicago that Hattie Thomas became drawn into club work and activism. A contemporary commented on the straining of their relationship: "Mrs. Thomas and the professor had separate interests. Theirs was simply a matrimonial alliance."
Harriet and her husband enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle in their early years in Chicago, but their standard of living declined over time. In 1900 their Chicago household included three live-in servants; in 1910 they had one live-in servant. The Thomases left Chicago in 1918 and took up residence in New York, often living apart. In 1930 Harriet had returned to Chicago and resided with a brother-in-law in a household without live-in servants. The Thomases were formally divorced in 1934.
Harriet gave birth to five children: William A. Thomas in 1891, Edward B. Thomas in 1892, Robert B. Thomas in 1894, Madeline Thomas in 1897, and another child who was born and passed away sometime between 1880 and 1900. She suffered a great deal of tragedy as a mother. Their daughter Madeline passed away at two years and six months in December 1899, and their son Robert drowned in 1904.
Harriet joined the Chicago Woman's Club shortly after moving to Chicago, with the earliest evidence of her involvement being a mention of her name in the 1895 Chicago Woman's Club meeting minutes. However, most of her activism occurred after 1900. Harriet was a good friend of the suffragist and settlement house leader Jane Addams, and the two frequently worked together. Harriet and Jane are often mentioned alongside each other in newspaper articles, particularly in the Chicago Tribune. Harriet was supportive of the suffrage movement, but her activism seems to have focused mostly on the peace movement. There is little recorded evidence about Harriet's direct involvement in the suffrage movement, but some can be pieced together through letters her husband wrote to Jane Addams and articles in the Chicago Tribune describing the activity of the suffrage movement in Illinois. For instance, in April of 1909, Harriet accompanied Jane along with members of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association to Springfield, where they addressed the House Charter committee. In 1916, an article in the Chicago Tribune states that Harriet denounced the Chicago riot where female suffragists who were silently protesting were attacked. Additionally, according to the Chicago Tribune, Harriet was present at a meeting in 1918 where Dudley Field Malone, who was known as a "champion of votes for women," gave a speech about the need to raise national awareness about the women's suffrage amendment.
Harriet's interests extended well beyond the suffrage movement. In 1911 she served on the Executive Board of the Women's Trade Union League. In 1916 she addressed a conference at the University of Texas, speaking on "Social Needs of the Woman in Industry, the Child in the Community, and on Madam, Who Keeps Your House?" Harriet was also very active in the peace movement, especially during World War I. She served as the executive secretary of the Woman's Peace Party, and was often quoted in newspaper articles across the United States advocating for peace. Suffrage was a major part of the Woman's Peace Party's platform, as they believed that attaining women's suffrage was a crucial stepping stone to achieving peace. Some of Harriet's quotes supporting the pacifist movement reveal her strong support for women's rights, as she was quoted in The Times Dispatch saying "As human beings and the mother-half of humanity, we demand that our right to be consulted." She frequently gave speeches throughout Chicago in support of the peace movement, and attended the women's peace conference held in 1915 in The Hague. In 1918, she also served on the Executive Board of the antiwar group, The People's Council in America. After World War I she was active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Harriet passed away on June 5, 1935, at age 70 in Chicago at her son William's home after she fell ill. She was survived by two of her sons, William and Edward.
"Bring Back Their Son's Body." Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1904, pg. 2. https://www.fold3.com/image/92262847
"Call Issued for Women." The Times Dispatch, March 21, 1915, pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/image/168163118
"Club Notes." Chicago Tribune, February 6, 1918, pg. 10. https://www.fold3.com/image/176717548
"Deaths." Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1899, pg. 7. https://www.fold3.com/image/84038636
Karsten, Eleanor Daggett. "Eleanor Daggett Karsten to Jane Addams, May 6, 1920." Jane Addams Digital Edition. https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu/items/show/20335
"Harriet 'Hattie' Park Thomas." Find a Grave, www.findagrave.com/memorial/62628461/harriet-thomas
Gillmore, Inez Haynes. The Story of the Woman's Party. United States: Harcourt, Brace, 1921.
"Plea for Peace in Vaudeville," Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1915, pg. 17. https://www.fold3.com/image/117437120
Robert, Throop and Lloyd Gordon Ward. "A Beautiful and Impressive Southern Woman of Decidedly Individualistic Outlook: Notes on the Life of Harriet Park Thomas." Mead Project. 2007. https://brocku.ca/MeadProject/Scrapbooks/Holding/Harriet_Thomas2.html
"Says Europe Wants Peace." Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1915, pg. 4. https://www.fold3.com/image/117431546
United States Federal Census, 1870, database on-line, Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/discoveryui-content/view/12037131:7163
United States Federal Census, 1880, database on-line, Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/discoveryui-content/view/41717820:6742
United States Federal Census, 1900, database on-line, Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/discoveryui-content/view/11592765:7602
United States Federal Census, 1910, database on-line, Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/discoveryui-content/view/104510267:7884
"Woman's Party Plans Go Awry on Miss Addams." Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1916, pg. 3. https://www.fold3.com/image/159251344
"Women Want Peace." The Daily Gate City, March 21, 1915, pg. 6. https://www.newspapers.com/image/168497164
Obituary, Chicago Tribune, 6 June 1935, reprinted in Find-a-Grave entry.