Local Suffrage Activists

Nathaniel Schmidt (1862-1939) came to Cornell by invitation of Jacob Gould Schurman to create a new department of Semitic Languages and Literatures. He was an eminent and unorthodox scholar who had been put on trial at Colgate Divinity School for heresy in 1895. An enthusiastic suffrage supporter, he had spoken at the Rochester Political Equality Club as early as 1893, before coming to Cornell. In 1909, he addressed the Ontario Woman Suffrage Convention in Phelps, N.Y., speaking on “Government by the People.” He introduced Max Eastman (“secretary of the Men’s Equal-Franchise Society”), speaking on woman suffrage in 1910. In 1911, The Voter quoted him in an article on the “Progress of the Suffrage Movement,” and he testified in favor of suffrage before the U.S. Congress in 1913. A charter member and vice president of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, he also frequently attended Cornell meetings, introducing speakers, speakinghimself, and writing articles in the Cornell Daily Sun and the Ithaca Journal. His wife Ellen Alfvén Schmidt was also very active in local suffrage groups.

Harriet May Mills and Helen B. Owens held meetings in towns across Delaware County, N.Y. from July 7 to July 12, 1913.

Helen Brewster Owens (1881-1968, Ph.D. 1910), the daughter of a suffrage pioneer from Linn County, Kansas, graduated from the University of Kansas in 1900. She married a fellow student and mathematician, Frederick William Owens. When he became a mathematics professor at Cornell, she began graduate studies, receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics from Cornell in 1910. While teaching math, and raising two daughters, she also served as chairman of the Resolutions Committee of the NYSWSA in 1910, and as an officer of the Political Study Club of Ithaca from 1910-1916. She helped organize the College Equal Suffrage League at Cornell in 1911, and was elected as Press Work chairman for NYSWSA that year. In 1913 she was elected as president of the Tompkins County Suffrage Association. She campaigned for suffrage in Kansas and New York, and served as paid organizer and chairman of the Sixth Judicial District for the Empire State Campaign Committee from 1914 to 1917.

Harriet May Mills (1857-1935, Class of 1879) came from a family of prominent Syracuse abolitionists. After graduating from Cornell in 1879, she became a noted leader in the suffrage movement, especially in the New York State Woman Suffrage Association. She traveled and organized across New York State, frequently lecturing in Ithaca and elsewhere.

Isabel Howland came from Sherwood, N.Y. She was the niece of Emily Howland, a noted Quaker reformer, philanthropist, abolitionist, and suffragist, who supported the local suffrage movement. After graduating from Cornell in 1881, she served as corresponding secretary of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, and with Harriet May Mills, as an organizer of the 1894 Ithaca convention and the petition drive.

Gertrude Shorb Martin graduated from the University of Michigan in 1894, and received a Ph.D. from Cornell in 1900. She taught English and German at Ithaca High School from 1894-1896, and married Clarence Martin in 1896. In 1909 she was appointed Advisor of Women at Cornell, a position she held until 1916. She was active in local social and philanthropic activities, serving as the first woman member of the Ithaca Board of Education in 1913. She was a member of the Political Study Club, the Cornell Suffrage Club, the Ithaca Women’s Club, and the Campus Club.

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