Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Alumna Highlights Philanthropists’ Influence on Suffrage Movement

Demarest, NJ: “Follow the money” became a catchphrase during the Watergate era, and helped unravel a national scandal. More recently, author Joan Marie Johnson, Ph.D., followed the money to discover how female philanthropists helped propel the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

Dr. Johnson recently returned to the Academy of the Holy Angels, her alma mater, to discuss her findings with current students and faculty members. She sparked a lively conversation as she presented snippets from her new book, “Funding Feminism.”

During her talk, the alumna author pointed out that, after facing opposition from men at a 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., suffragists realized how important it was for the women to make the changes themselves. They then turned to wealthy women to help fund their efforts to gain the right to vote.

The author highlighted conflicts that arose within the suffragists’ organizations, including the language being used. While some suffragists adopted the language of maternalism, through which they asserted they had a special role in the world as mothers, others, notably Katharine Dexter McCormick, simply stated that women are equal to men.

Dr. Johnson also covered the question of who was included, commenting on the racial tension within the movement. In particular, Dr. Johnson spoke about Ida B. Wells, who was forced to march at the back of a parade because she was an African-American.

Another conflict centered on whether the suffragists should push for a constitutional amendment that would allow them the right to vote, or whether the change should be made at the state level.

Getting to the heart of the funding issue, Dr. Johnson spoke about Alice Paul, who was considered a threat to some because she was raising money that others could not control. The speaker also mentioned Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, a high society woman who funded the White House pickets. Belmont’s social connections drew coverage from the press, including The New York Times.

The movement actively sought positive press, and ran an educational campaign spearheaded by several full-time publicists. This outreach was fueled by the $1 million inheritance Carrie Chapman Catt received from Mrs. Frank Leslie.

Dr. Johnson explained that she refers to Leslie as Mrs. Frank Leslie because this suffragist formally took her husband’s first and last names after his death. Leslie took the reins of her husband’s publishing business and made it a success. When she died, Leslie had amassed $1.7 million, which she left to Catt. Other claims to the fortune left Catt with $1 million to pour into future suffragist events and causes.

One of those causes was paying for food for the families of women who went on strike. Another cause was funding women’s education, which led to greater financial independence and increased access to careers.

Dr. Johnson’s informative presentation drew multiple questions and comments from the students, one of whom asked what became of the families of striking women who were arrested. Based on the author’s reaction, it appeared as though she had gained as much inspiration from the AHA students as they clearly received from her.

Dr. Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is program coordinator for the associate provost for faculty at Northwestern University. Before she took on her current responsibilities, she taught American women’s history at Northeastern Illinois University. She writes about the history of women and gender, social reform, education, and philanthropy.

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in New Jersey. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.

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