Elnora Monroe Babcock

Elnora M. Babcock, c. 1902

Born: January 11, 1852

Birthplace: Freehold Township, Pennsylvania

Died: December 29, 1934

Place of Burial: Levant Cemetery, Poland, New York

Contribution: Suffrage leader, writer, and publicist

Elnora Monroe Babcock was born in Freehold Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania on January 11, 1852 to Hiram L. and Mary Ann (Dewey) Monroe. She married Professor John W. Babcock of Jamestown, New York on December 1, 1870 at the age of eighteen. In September 1880 the couple moved to Dunkirk, New York, where John accepted a position as superintendent of schools and where Elnora became instrumental in the local women’s suffrage movement.[1] They had two children: a son named Frederick, and a daughter named Maude.[2]

In 1889, Elnora helped to found the Political Equality Club of Dunkirk and was voted its first president. She was later elected president of the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club. Under her leadership, the county suffrage club expanded to more than 1,400 members, making Chautauqua County the best organized county in the nation for women’s suffrage.[3] Babcock also was noted for convincing the Chautauqua Institution’s management to “proclaim the one day a year that they devoted to discussions of political rights as Political Equality Day.”[4]

In 1894, she was instated as the New York State suffrage association’s Chairman for Press Work and in 1899 she rose to the position of Superintendent of Press Work for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).[5]  In announcing her appointment to the national post, a NAWSA publication pointed to the “wonderful results” she had achieved in her parallel responsibilities in the “conservative state” of New York. It also extolled her “courage, persistence, consecration, tact and level-headed judgment.”[6] She continued in this work through 1906.[7]

As the publicist for the national movement Babcock wrote and organized the distribution of purposeful newspaper articles advocating women’s suffrage, sending out approximately 200,000 articles annually.[8] At the turn of the twentieth century, she reported that she was furnishing “150 papers with articles regularly, some every week, others once in two or three weeks. Fifty papers are supplied with one column a week of plate matter,” she continued, “and the American Press Association, the Columbia Press Co., and New York Newspaper Union of New York and A. N. Kellogg and Western Newspaper Union of Chicago are also furnished with suffrage matter.”[9]

Babcock’s approach to championing women’s suffrage was versatile and candid. She designed her newspaper articles according to which anti-suffrage argument she was disputing. A clippings bureau was employed to track down as many anti-suffrage articles as possible so that the Press Committee could counter the claims directly. During the state suffrage convention of 1899, held in Dunkirk, Babcock reported that the clippings bureau was finding more pro-suffrage articles than those against enfranchisement. Even newspapers which initially resisted publishing the women’s suffrage articles had embraced the debate, a notable shift in cultural perception.[10]

After resigning from her national post in 1906, Elnora remained active in the local movement. She died on December 29, 1934 at the age of 82, leaving behind an influential legacy for women’s rights in the Western New York area.[11] Her burial site can be found at Levant Cemetery in Poland, New York.[12]

Compiled by Sara Kibbler, 2018

Women's Political Union Headquarters, Dunkirk, NY, 1914
Babcock can be seen standing to the right of the tent in this 1914 photo of the temporary tent headquarters set up for the Women’s Political Union in Dunkirk. A new suffrage organization based in New York City, the WPU was in the midst of a summer suffrage campaign targeting towns along the Erie Railroad. A quarter-century after joining the Dunkirk Political Equality Club, Elnora was still active in the movement then, although younger women had taken up leadership positions. She is the third woman from the right edge of the photo, standing in profile. Photo courtesy of the Dunkirk Historical Society.
Primary Sources to Explore

Elnora Babcock’s history of the Chautauqua County Political Equality Movement

Biography of Elnora Babcock published in A Woman of the Century (1893)

Article about Elnora appearing in The Dunkirk Evening Observer (1892)

Obituary of Elnora Babcock published in The New York Times (1934)

To read some of Elnora’s newspaper editorials, see Sara Kibbler’s post “The Suffrage Writings of Elnora Babcock”

References

[1] “Mrs. Elnora Babcock,” Dunkirk Evening Observer, December 3, 1892, 4,  http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn93063775/1892-12-03/ed-1/seq-4/.

[2] “Elnora M. Babcock, Suffragette, Dead; Organized Feminist Movement in Chautauqua County Under Susan B. Anthony,” New York Times, December 30, 1934.

[3] Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, eds., A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life (Buffalo, N.Y.: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893), 40-41,    https://books.google.com/books?id=zXEEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA40#v=onepage&q=Elnora%20babcock&f=false.

[4] Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello, Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2017), 35.

[5] Elnora Monroe Babcock, “Political Equality Movement,” in The Centennial History of Chautauqua County, New York (Jamestown: Chautauqua History Company, 1904), 1: 519, https://archive.org/stream/centennialhistor01chau#page/510/mode/2up.

[6] “The New Press Chairman,” National Suffrage Bulletin 4, no. 9 (May 1899), 4.

[7] Elnora Monroe Babcock Folder, Dunkirk, N.Y. Historical Society.

[8] Babcock, “Political Equality Movement,” 519.

[9] “Suffragists Now in Convention,” November 3, 1899, Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, Scrapbook 3, 49-51, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/rbcmil.scrp1005101.

[10] “Suffragists Now in Convention.”

[11] “Elnora M. Babcock, Suffragette, Dead; Organized Feminist Movement in Chautauqua County Under Susan B. Anthony,” New York Times, December 30, 1934.

[12] “Elnora E. Monroe Babcock,” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/106846795/Monroe#, accessed February 7, 2018.