Women’s History Month Wednesday: Harriot Stanton Blatch

In today’s language, Harriot Stanton Blatch was a suffragist nepo baby.

She was born in 1856 in Seneca Falls, New York, the sixth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s seven children. Throughout her childhood, reform occupied center stage in the household. Her mother was one of the organizers of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, which helped launch a movement that in some shape or form continues to this day. Harriot’s father, Henry, was an abolitionist, journalist, and politician.

Harriot received an undergraduate degree from Vassar College in 1878 and a master’s degree in 1894. In between, she joined the suffrage cause and helped her mother and her mother’s political partner, Susan B. Anthony, write their History of Woman Suffrage. Harriot also married a British businessman, William Henry Blatch, in 1882, and spent the next twenty years living in England with him and raising their two daughters, one of whom died young. By the 1890s, she’d become a proponent of “voluntary motherhood,” encouraging married women to choose when and how often to become pregnant, thus deciding when to have intercourse with their husbands.

(left to right: Nora Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriot Stanton Blatch)

The Blatch family moved to New York City in 1902, following the death of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Harriot immersed herself in reform causes that highlighted the intersection of workers’ rights and women’s suffrage. After joining the Women’s Trade Union League, she founded, in 1907, what would come to be known as the Women’s Political Union. This brought some 20,000 New York City working women into the suffrage movement. Harriot further revitalized the movement by organizing public parades at a time when “proper” women didn’t flaunt themselves in such a way.

Harriot Stanton Blatch’s tactics and ideology overlapped with those of feminist Alice Paul; in 1915 she merged her Women’s Political Union with Paul’s Congressional Union, which became the National Woman’s Party. When the United States entered World War I, Harriot took on the directorship of the Woman’s Land Army, an organization that guaranteed farm labor would continue as American men joined the military.

After the war, she published two books: Mobilizing Woman-Power, a celebration of women’s contributions to the war effort and a brisk reminder of their duties as citizens, and A Woman’s Point of View: Some Roads to Peace, which focused on the affects of war on women and children and the role of women in shaping peace.

The Nineteenth Amendment passed in 1920, guaranteeing most American women the right to vote. Harriot became a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, viewing it as the next necessary step to securing women’s rights. In 1922, she published a co-edited collection of her mother’s papers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton as revealed in her letters, diary, and reminiscences. Shortly before Harriot’s death in 1940, she finished (with the help of feminist Alma Lutz) her own autobiography, Challenging Years: The Memoirs of Harriot Stanton Blatch.

Historian Ellen Carol DuBois brought Harriot Stanton Blatch’s career to life in the 1997 prize-winning biography, Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage. DuBois, now retired as a professor of history and gender studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, is considered a pioneer in the field of women’s history. As a graduate student at Northwestern University, DuBois became involved with the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, the radical wing of the 1960s women’s rights movement. Her 1978 book, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869, was considered for many years as the best book on the suffrage movement, inspiring many other historians to explore its multiple facets.