“Aunt Margret Newkirk” is written on the back of this cabinet card that was found in Auburn, Indiana. The sitter is Margaret (nee Warwick). The inscription leads me to believe this photo belonged to Maud Kelley, a foster daughter, who lived in the Newkirk home for some years, and who fondly referred to the sitter as Aunt Margret (a variation of Margaret.)
Margaret Newkirk was a daughter, a wife, and a mother. But, she wasn’t defined by the traditional roles of women in the 19th century. You see, Margaret was a suffragette!
Five years before she was born, the first women’s rights convention was held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, calling for equal rights for women, including voting rights. In 1869, as Margaret was coming into womanhood, the National Women Suffrage and the American Women Suffrage Associations were born. The national association sought to achieve voting rights by a congressional amendment to the Constitution, while the American association ventured to gain these rights via amendments to individual state constitutions. In 1890, the two merged into one, The National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
Margaret found a place to fight for women’s voting rights as a member of The Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The WCTU was founded in 1874, as a crusade against alcohol, but soon encompassed much more. Women were unhappy with their lack of civil rights. They couldn’t vote, had no legal protections, including when it came to rape and child custody in cases of divorce, and in many states weren’t allowed to own property. By 1894, the WCTU fully endorsed women’s suffrage and grew to be one of the most influential women’s groups of the 19th century in regards to many social reforms, such as labor laws, prison reform, legal aid and more. It is still in existence today.
In 1893, Colorado was the first state to adopt an amendment granting women the right to vote. (Although, Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote, in 1869, by way of passing a women’s suffrage law.) Other states soon followed with amendments; Utah and Idaho in 1896, Washington in 1910, California in 1911, Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona in 1912. However, in Indiana, the place Margaret called home, women did not get the right to vote until 1920. And Margaret fought hard for that right!
She wrote a letter on Women’s Suffrage that was picked up by her local newspaper.
In 1911, Margaret, President of the WCTU at the time, gave a speech “Why Women Need the Ballot.” On September 3, 1912, she spoke on suffrage at the Kingsley chapter of the WCTU. And, as passionate as she was about the issue, I’m sure she did much more that wasn’t reported by the newspapers.
Margaret died in 1936, aged 86. Not only did she live to see women vote, but she also was witness to other historical firsts for women in Indiana, including:
- 1921 Catherine Dinklage, the first woman elected to office in Indiana (Fort Wayne City Council)
- 1923 Elizabeth Rainey, the first woman elected to the Indiana House of Representatives
- 1933 Virginia E. Jenckes, first Indiana woman to the U.S. House of Representatives
Interesting Tidbits –
Margaret’s sisters, Leona and Lulu, lived through one of the great disasters, the San Francisco earthquake on April 18, 1906. A letter the sisters sent to Margaret after the event was shared in the local newspaper.
Margaret was a businesswoman, selling Spirella corsets. If I’d had the pleasure of knowing Margaret, I’m sure I would have made a fitting appointment!
Swayzee Press, Swayzee, Indiana
The Tipton Daily Tribune, Tipton, Indiana
The Kokomo Tribune, Kokomo, Indiana
Timeline of Women’s Firsts
1906 San Francisco Earthquake
Women’s Christian Temperance Union
Women’s History – WCTU
RetroIndy: The women’s suffrage movement in Indiana