Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Agnes L. O'Donnell (Mrs. W.J. O'Donnell), 1874-1924
By Naomi Rosenmoss, undergraduate student, Tulane University
Agnes L. O'Donnell: President, Louisiana League for Woman's Suffrage; City Chairman, Suffrage House, Woman Suffrage Party of Louisiana.
Agnes Laura Lowrie was born in Girthon, Kirkcudbright, Scotland on October 8, 1874 to Peter Lowrie and Mary Jane Brian. She immigrated to New York in 1889 and married William Joseph O'Donnell on January 16, 1890. The couple subsequently moved to New Orleans where they had four children: William L. O'Donnell (b. 1891), Peter O'Donnell (b. 1892), Mary Agnes O'Donnell (b. 1894), and Eileen O'Donnell (b. 1897).
It is unclear when exactly O'Donnell became involved in the Louisiana women's suffrage movement, but various correspondence and newspaper articles indicate her increased visibility as a leader in New Orleans suffrage beginning in 1917. According to an article from March 1917, O'Donnell founded the Louisiana League for Woman's Suffrage (LLWS) that month out of her home with the help of Mrs. Van Meter and Mrs. W.J. Roach. O'Donnell was subsequently appointed president of the new organization. The LLWS was the fifth independent women's suffrage organization formed in Louisiana. In a letter critical of the LLWS, New Orleans suffragist Ethel Hutson described O'Donnell as "a novice in suffrage work." Hutson's letter also suggests that LLWS supported the more radical Congressional Union (National Woman's Party). It is unclear whether members of the LLWS affiliated with either the National Woman's Party or the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
By the end of 1917, the Louisiana League for Woman's Suffrage had joined forces with the Woman Suffrage Party of Louisiana, an affiliate of NAWSA. O'Donnell was elected New Orleans city chair of the Woman Suffrage Party; other prominent leaders of the organization included Mrs. H.B. Myers, Lydia Wickliffe Holmes, and Ethel Hutson. As city chair, O'Donnell presided over Suffrage House, the organization's headquarters located at 1109 St. Charles Avenue, where she regularly hosted meetings, events, and fundraisers. One clipping from an unknown newspaper explained that O'Donnell "hoped to establish [Suffrage House] as a center for all woman's work in New Orleans." In December 1917, O'Donnell traveled with Holmes and others to Washington, D.C. to attend the 49th annual convention of NAWSA. On January 2, 1918, O'Donnell wrote a letter to Congressman John E. Raker (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Woman Suffrage, urging him to "lend the weight of [his] great influence to liberate [women] for further war service by granting [them] the vote." O'Donnell described herself as "president of the Louisiana League for Woman Suffrage," indicating the continued existence of that organization in some capacity. O'Donnell's letter was included in the official record of Hearings Before the Committee on Woman Suffrage, House of Representatives, Sixtyfifth Congress, Second Session on H. J. Res 200. January 3, 4, 5, and 7, 1918.
In July 1918, O'Donnell co-signed the Woman's Suffrage Party's resolution to endorse the "Haas-Powell Bill," which was placed on the Louisiana ballot for November 1918 and would have allowed for a state constitutional amendment for women's suffrage. From July to November, O'Donnell, along with other prominent Louisiana suffragists, organized an expansive media campaign out of Suffrage House aimed at educating voters on the need for women's suffrage. In a statement to the press published on September 11, 1918, O'Donnell urged voters to ratify the constitutional amendment, saying, "Men and women are dying on the battlefields of Europe for democracy while we women at home are denied the vote, which is true democracy." Despite efforts on the part of Louisiana suffragists and legislators, the amendment failed in the November 6th election.
O'Donnell officially left the Woman's Suffrage Party of Louisiana in the weeks following the November 1918 election. Among Ethel Hutson's correspondence is a list of resolutions passed at the annual convention of the Woman Suffrage Party of Louisiana on November 22nd, 1918. The list is typed on stationery containing the official letterhead of the organization, which includes the names and addresses of all office-holders. W.J. O'Donnell's name, along with those of some other leaders, has been blacked-out and under "State Headquarters," the writer has crossed off "Suffrage House" and its address, replacing it with a new address at 829 Canal St. Additionally, on December 6th, 1918, an article published in The Times Picayune reported that "a group of New Orleans suffragists, headed by Mrs. W.J. O'Donnell [had] withdrawn from Suffrage House with the intention of forming an independent organization." The article quotes Ethel Hutson's explanation of the split as resulting from the desires voiced by some members of Suffrage House to be allowed a greater degree of autonomy from the state board of the Woman's Suffrage Party of Louisiana.
The O'Donnell Family lived in New Orleans' 11th Ward until at least the end of 1918, later moving to San Rafael, California at some point prior to 1924. Agnes Lowrie O'Donnell died at the Dante Sanitorium in San Francisco on March 7, 1924 at the age of fifty.
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Year: 1900; Census Place: New Orleans Ward 12, Orleans, Louisiana; Roll: 575; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0120; FHL microfilm: 1240575. Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Original Data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls. http://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgibin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1900usfedcen&h=19766978&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=mRp478&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&rhSource=7884
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Armantine M. Smith, The History of the Woman's Suffrage Movement in Louisiana, 62 La. L. Rev. (2002) Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/lalrev/vol62/iss2/5. Pp. 556. Accessed 2/28/17.
Anthony, Susan B., Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida Husted Harper, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. History of woman suffrage. Salem, NH: Ayer Co., 1985. Pp. 228. Accessed February 21, 2017. https://books.google.com/books?id=rIoEAAAAYAAJ&q=o%27donnell#v=onepage&q&f=false
Ethel Hutson papers, Manuscripts Collection 14, Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118. Folders 1436, 1437, 14422. (Images of articles and correspondence referenced in this essay are attached.)*
* "This collection consists of personal and professional papers of Ethel Hutson. Included are handwritten and typed correspondence, her works on women's suffrage, her works about Lafcadio Hearn, photographs, newspaper clippings and other printed items." This collection contains correspondence and media coverage describing Agnes O'Donnell's involvement in the Louisiana suffrage movement from 1917 to 1918. Online finding aid: http://specialcollections.tulane.edu/archon/?p=collections/controlcard&id=377