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Laura Clay and the Woman's Rights Movement

Laura Clay and the Woman's Rights Movement

Paul E. Fuller
With a Foreword by A. Elizabeth Taylor
Copyright Date: 1975
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Laura Clay and the Woman's Rights Movement
    Book Description:

    Laura Clay was the daughter of abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay and an important and controversial figure in the woman's rights movement. Paul E. Fuller traces this remarkable woman's career, from her early successes in Kentucky to her emergence as the most prominent southern suffragist. He devotes particular attention to the problems encountered by the suffragists in organizing the South, to the strategy of their alliance with the Woman's Christian Temperence Union, and the to peculiar dilemma of southern suffragists and race. Clay's many important contributions to the struggle for women's rights have been overshadowed by her brief apostasy, when in the final months of the suffrage struggle, her states' rights convictions caused her to withdraw from NAWSA and support state rather than federal enfranchisement. Though she remained active in politics until her death in 1941, she is remembered most for her participation in the attempt to block ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. This new edition balances the record on Laura Clay and her accomplishments.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4870-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    A. Elizabeth Taylor

    When i began my research on the woman suffrage movement, I was only vaguely aware of Laura Clay. As I continued my research, however, I became increasingly aware of her woman suffrage activities in her native state of Kentucky, in other southern states, and throughout the nation. I recognized her as a person of superior ability and as a tireless worker for the cause. I learned also that there was a collection of her papers in the Margaret I. King Library at the University of Kentucky. The collection consisted of thousands of items relating to the status and rights of...

  5. I THE EARLY YEARS, 1849–1866
    (pp. 1-12)

    Laura Clay, who was to play an important and controversial role in the movement for woman’s rights, was born less than a year after an event usually regarded as the beginning in the United States of the struggle for the emancipation of her sex. In July 1848 the Seneca Falls Convention, called by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, and other pioneers of the feminist movement, issued a Declaration of Principles modeled on the Declaration of Independence. Half a year later, on February 9, 1849, Laura Clay was born on her father’s estate, White Hall, near Richmond, Kentucky. Born...

    (pp. 13-29)

    The dissolution of the union between Cassius and Mary Jane Clay developed gradually over a period of several years. Their marriage had not been happy despite its long duration and the ten children which it produced. Years later Clay claimed that he had thrown away his wedding ring in 1845. Whatever the complete picture of their problems, financial difficulties were a recurring irritant. Mary Jane, the prudent and able manager, saw more than one of her husband’s financial ventures fail as she labored through both the Mexican and Civil wars to attain solvency for the family. Although their marital situation...

    (pp. 30-50)

    Although Laura Clay had become a life member of the suffrage movement in 1881, she dated her active work from 1888. Marriage, family, and career had partially diverted her sisters from their work in the movement. Throughout the 1880s, Mary spent a considerable part of each year in Ann Arbor, continuing to work on her degree and keeping a boardinghouse, while raising her three boys. Sallie kept interest in the cause alive in Richmond, but could be counted on for little more because her five children, even with the help of her understanding husband, James Bennett, kept her occupied most...

    (pp. 51-72)

    By the middle of the 1890s Laura Clay, the recognized leader of the woman’s rights campaign in Kentucky, was prepared to play a broader role in the woman’s rights movement. During this decade she became the champion of southern interests in the NAWSA, badgering it to expend more of its meager resources on the South, organizing suffrage affiliates in the section, and actively campaigning to get woman suffrage written into the new state constitutions which were replacing those of the Reconstruction period. She had become a familiar figure in suffrage circles, and the picture one can draw of her at...

    (pp. 73-93)

    Laura Clay’s election to the board of officers of the NAWSA could hardly have been a surprise to her or to other suffragists. It came after her contribution to the cause had won praise and her forthright stand on several controversial issues before the annual national conventions had gained public attention. Typical of the notice her work was receiving outside Kentucky was an article in theSpringfield(Ill.)Daily Republicanon January 19, 1892, which pointed to the growing influence of southerners in the NAWSA and acknowledged Laura Clay as one who “attracts attention by her fine appearance and her...

    (pp. 94-112)

    Laura Clay attained the peak of her influence in national suffrage affairs during the period from 1904 to 1910, years in which the suffragists grew in numbers, though somewhat slowly, and won full suffrage for Washington in 1910. Although dwarfed by the rush of successes in the second decade of the century, the accomplishments of these women were important in laying the groundwork for future victories. By 1910 woman suffrage was a respectable, almost fashionable, cause, and such prominent and wealthy women as Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont and Mrs. Clarence Mackay of New York lent their names and some...

    (pp. 113-127)

    The internal dissension that marred Laura Clay’s last months on the Official Board was similar, in some respects, to the bickering that both preceded and followed her sixteen years as an officer of the NAWSA. Jealousies and rivalries were, perhaps, to be expected in an organization that included individuals with strong personalities and firm opinions. The infrequent officers’ meetings contributed to failures in communication, and the lack of clearly delineated areas of responsibility made clashes among some leaders almost inevitable.

    The dissension that existed from 1909 through 1911 differed from that of other years. While earlier troubles were most frequently...

    (pp. 128-144)

    When Laura Clay found time to take stock of the recent events at Louisville, she wrote a friend that she found “considerable consolation” in the convention’s outcome. She admitted that her continued presence on the Official Board, following her recent clashes with Anna Howard Shaw, “would not have been without a nervous strain” and that her only suggestion for the association’s financial problems would have been economy, “which there seemed to be no disposition to practice.” So, she rationalized, perhaps her removal from authority was for the best, and others could take up the task of finding money to finance...

    (pp. 145-161)

    Speaking to the forty-eighth annual convention of the NAWSA at Atlantic City in 1916, President Wilson gave the suffragists great hope that their long struggle would soon be over. He reiterated his support of woman suffrage and, more importantly, indicated that he was no longer opposed to federal legislation as a method of achieving it: “I get a little impatient sometimes about the discussion of the channels and methods by which it is to prevail. It is going to prevail…. We feel the tide; we rejoice in the strength of it, and we shall not quarrel in the long run...

    (pp. None)
  15. X OTHER CAUSES AWAITING, 1920–1941
    (pp. 162-170)

    Although Laura Clay remained opposed to the Nineteenth Amendment, fearing that it had seriously altered the relationship between the states and the federal government, she was not embittered. She regretted the passage of what she termed a “needless and mischievous” law and continued to be concerned about what she believed was a trend toward the centralization of power in Washington. The strength of American government, she wrote a friend, “is the large measure of local self-government which is given to the people, and I am therefore jealous of any movement which endeavors … to diminish the people’s watchfulness over the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 171-204)
  17. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 205-210)
  18. Index
    (pp. 211-217)