Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Evelyn Walton Ordway, 1853-?
By Tova Steele, undergraduate student, Tulane University
Vice president, State Women Suffrage Association November 1896; President, Louisiana State Suffrage Association 1900; Professor of chemistry at Newcomb College
Evelyn Walton was born in January 1853 in Massachusetts. She married John Ordway in 1882, and they lived in New Orleans, Ward 11 with their cook, Marie Campbell, and servant, Mary Grey.
Ordway's earliest documented involvement in the Louisiana women's suffrage movement was in 1892, when the first Woman Suffrage club was organized in New Orleans. At the time, members did not advertise their meetings widely in order to avoid public scrutiny. The Drainage, Sewerage and Water Campaign of 1899 was the first time many New Orleans women voted in an election, and these women made up 1/3 of the votes cast. If it was not for their votes, the measure likely would not have passed. However, leading up to this election many of the women who were vital to the voting effort would have still claimed that voting is reserved for men and that they weren't interested in obtaining the right to vote. In fact, many didn't even know they had this right - but despite all these factors, they showed up to vote and became invested in the results of the election. The matter of sewage and drainage was very important to New Orleans, being below sea level and therefore needing a drainage system that will keep the city sewage-free. The election was based on whether the taxpayers were willing to finance this system, and with about 10,000 taxpaying women, the election was successful. Women were interested, Ordway explains in her writing "How the Women of New Orleans Discovered their Wish to Vote," because of the nature of their jobs as housekeepers. They require clean water - something that had become rare with the lack of sanitation throughout the city. Women were encouraged to come forward and share their views at mass meetings, which both men and women were thankful for after analyzing that the majority of the vote was won by women. During the election for municipal officers, this civic engagement held strong and was applauded by both sides, encouraging women to further their activism in local politics.
In February 1894, Ordway was active at the 26th Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C. Ordway's message representing the state of Louisiana was about the Portia Club, which was at this date the only suffrage organization in Louisiana. Attendance is increasingly good, and they are gaining more attention from the press. So far they are still too small of an organization to attract big name speakers, which Ordway claims they need in order to sway the public in the direction of accepting woman's suffrage and fighting for woman's rights. Ordway discusses the changes in Louisiana law benefitting women: Allowing women to go to medical and law school with the same qualifications as men and allowing women to take money out of their bank accounts without their husband's approval. She then reports on laws that are already in place relating to women. First, marriage laws should treat men and women equally, because women are fully capable of handling their own affairs and shouldn't be looked upon as a minor. With the current laws, the wife has no legal right to even her own clothes - despite if she earned them with her own salary. Second, while going through a divorce, the mother receives legal guardianship of her children. Third, women are rarely (if ever) appointed to be on the school board and therefore have no say in their children's public school education. Fourth, no women work for state or municipal service. Fifth, no women serve on boards of health or relief for the poor. Sixth, there are no women police matrons in jails or female physicians in insane asylums. Seventh, Tulane University medical school (the premier school in the South) still refuses admission to women. Finally, women are not allowed to sign a will as a witness. Ordway concludes by saying that there is much more work to be done, but as the ranks of suffragists grows, so does the success of the movement.
Mrs. Evelyn Walton Ordway was the first president of the Louisiana State Suffrage Association when it was officially created in 1900. While it was unheard of to recognize a club as a state association, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt decided to promote the Era Club to the state suffrage association. This was mostly due to the success and prestige of the Drainage, Sewerage and Water Campaign of 1899.
Ordway was also a professor of chemistry and physics at Newcomb College, after obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1881. It was unusual for Ordway to be employed at Newcomb College after her marriage; she received criticism for it but was ultimately granted the right of continued employment, which inspired many other women to pursue jobs as scientists and at universities. Ordway also fought for the right to have women admitted to Tulane medical school. The payment of salaries for Ordway and the other "first women" to be hired as professors at Newcomb is an unclear issue - there is no record of Ordway being paid by the college. It is possible that as a married woman, they were not eligible for a salary at most universities.
"How the Women of New Orleans Discovered their Wish to Vote," from Kate Chopin's The Awakening Sourcebook
The Hand Book of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (1894)
Miki Pfeffer, Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women's Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World's Fair (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2014)
Carmen Meriwether Lindig, "The Women's Movement in Louisiana, 1879-1920" (Ph.D. dissertation, North Texas State University, 1982).
The Gerritsen Collection, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University
Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, vol. 6 [LINK]
Susan Tucker and Beth Ann Willinger, Newcomb College, 1886-2006: Higher Education for Women in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012).