Collecting Delaware Books

Delaware Suffragists
by Paul Preston Davis


On a seemingly unremarkable day, May 2, 1914, a rather remarkable Delaware woman and her fellow suffragists joined thousands of other women from around the country and became part of something that would forever change the lives of women.

How often have we heard, "If only this photo could talk." Well let's try this one, bought by the author at a local paper ephemera show.

It shows a group gathered at the Wilmington, Del., train station that day for the a trip to Washington, D.C. Mrs. Florence Bayard Hilles (daughter of Thomas F. Bayard, former United States Senator, Secretary of State, and Ambassador to Great Britain) led this small contingent of Delawareans. This was to be the culmination of grand nationwide demonstrations which began on May 2 when local suffrage parades were held and resolutions were adopted in every state of the Union. I can only believe that Mrs. Hilles's thoughts were focused on the demeaning exclusion by the framers of the Constitution, which had come to mean (in the words of The Court of Errors and Appeals of the State of Delaware June Term 1888, The Right of Suffrage in Delaware, p. 41,43), "Infants, women, idiots, insane persons, paupers, and persons convicted of crimes deemed by law a felony are excluded from the right of suffrage. Thus infants and criminals from consideration of inability or unfitness and women by reason of social policy and their liability to undue influence."

Surprisingly, many women of the time were either against suffrage or preferred to maintain a non-partisan status. In 1914 there were nearly one thousand nine hundred women's club members in Delaware represented by a state federation of women's clubs. Although numerous Delawareans traveled to Washington on May 9, only about a dozen were women's club members. In a letter to the editor in the Wilmington Morning News for July 3, 1914, the organizers and marchers were severely criticized by the Women's Committee of Delaware Opposed to Women's Suffrage. The letter began, "It appears that some of the marching club members carried banners purporting to represent clubs of various towns. This farce is mortifying to the club women of Delaware. . . ."

It is also surprising that, as the May 9 march was being planned, it was feared that some states might find it difficult to send even one delegate.

Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution, failed when called upon to ratify the suffrage amendment. It became Delaware's lot to be portrayed around the country as a quaint backwater, too old-fashioned to accept such progressive reform. The national women's suffrage movement was finally rewarded with victory on August 8, 1920, when Tennessee pushed it over the top.

The year 1868 is the beginning of the suffrage movement in Delaware, but May 9, 1914, marks the beginning of serious marching and picketing in Washington, D.C. No members of this small group were arrested, however seven Delawareans went to jail in Washington later for their beliefs. Annie Arniel deserves special mention. A factory worker, Annie was arrested eight times and served a total of 103 days in jail. When finally released and returned to Wilmington after her last confinement of 60 days, her health had been broken. She never fully recovered.

All the women in the photo would continue to march and picket, but two in the photo, Mrs. Hilles and Annie Magee, were among those later arrested for picketing the White House. They were sentenced and served time in federal prison before being pardoned by President Wilson.

If only photos could talk.

The Picture

Delaware suffragists
Picture from the collection of Paul Preston Davis.

See high resolution copy of picture. May take time to load.


The author thanks Connie Cooper of the wonderful research library of the Historical Society of Delaware for help researching this photo. The names of the individuals pictured from left to right are —

Front Row

Miss Mabel Fowler, Mrs. John F. Thomas (Josephine), Miss Mayme Stantnekoo (see update below), Miss Mary R. de Vou, Mrs. Florence Bayard Hilles, Mrs. Frank Stephens, Mrs. Harry Yerger, and Mrs. Annie Magee.

Second Row

Mr. John F. Thomas, Miss Matilda Seipp, Mr. Donn Stephens, Miss Marguerite Wallace, Mr. Frank Stephens*, Mrs. Reuben Satterhwaite (Elsie), and Miss May Stroman.

* We see Delaware's Frank Stephens (Collecting Delaware Books, vol. 2, no. 4 and vol. 5, no. 4), guiding spirit of Arden, sculptor, orator, political crusader, poet, author, and song writer, standing behind his wife and proudly wearing his suffrage sash as a member of the Arden delegation.

Update on Identification

This article was published in the Spring of 1997. In October 2007, Ken Menard contacted this Web page. He believed that the person labeled Mayme Stantnekoo was actually his relative Annie Arniel. Ken has a biography and picture of Mrs. Annie Arniel on his Web site. We consulted the original author Paul Preston Davis, who felt the identification was reasonable. His list of names came from the Wilmington Sunday Star in 1914.

Ken points out and I have confirmed that the name Stantnekoo can not be found on Internet search engines. No one in the world seems to have had that surname. Ken also says that Annie had a "wicked sense of humor." She may well have made the name up and given it to the newspaper reporter.

There were only 12 women in the picture, but the paper says 22 made the trip. Annie Arniel was one of them. The original article above mentions her. She was one of the women subsequently arrested for picketing the White House. Annie served 60 days in jail. It is said that the experience broke her health, and she never fully recovered. — JPR

Selected Bibliography

The following bibliography of items of local interest was compiled by the Historical Society of Delaware with additions by the author.

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