Ida A. Husted Harper was a prominent woman in the American suffrage movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born Ida A. Husted, she lived the early part of her life in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she married Thomas Harper, a lawyer, in 1871. Her husband was a politician as well as an attorney and was an associate of Eugene V. Debs, the American labor movement leader. With this background and connections in Terre Haute, she wrote for local newspapers.
For twelve years, Harper wrote a column for the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail. Her ideas in “A Woman’s Column” had a mixed reception. For the following nine years, from 1884 to 1893, she wrote a column for women for the Fireman’s Magazine, a union publication known later as the Locomotive Fireman’s Magazine.
Harper’s first experiences in politics occurred in 1887 when she helped organize an Indiana State women’s suffrage society, concentrating on voting rights for women. With her writing skills, she became the secretary of the organization. She was divorced from Harper in 1890 and continued to work in newspapers. She attended Stanford University briefly, from 1893 to 1895, before devoting herself to the suffrage movement beginning in 1896.
After her experience as head of press relations for the campaign by the National American Woman Suffrage Association for a suffrage amendment in California, Harper’s work came to the attention of national leaders of the movement. As a result of her close working relationship with women’s rights crusader Susan B. Anthony, Anthony asked Harper to become her official biographer. In 1897, Harper left California and moved to Anthony’s home in Rochester, New York. The first two volumes of The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony appeared in 1898. The third volume was published in 1908.
This exhaustive work was the result of Harper’s study and organization of more than twenty thousand letters in Anthony’s collection as well as multiple diaries written over a fifty-year period. These works were used by Harper for the personal story of Anthony but also the story of the development of the American suffrage movement. In her preface to volume I, Harper says her intent was to trace a life and “a condition.”
In addition to her writing, Harper continued her activism in the suffrage movement. She served as chairperson of the press committee of the International Council of Women from 1899 to 1902 and also as a delegate to the conventions of this organization in London, in 1899, and Berlin, in 1904. Her journalism skills continued to be of value to the organizers of the national campaign for women’s rights. She edited women’s columns in major newspapers such as the New York Sunday Sun (1899-1902) and national magazines like Harper’s Bazaar (1909-1913). The wide circulation of these publications helped bring the issues of the suffrage movement to a larger audience. Harper is also credited with contributions published in major newspapers in Boston, Chicago, New York,...
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