Edith Houghton Hooker(1879 – 1948)

Born in Buffalo, New York in 1879, Edith Houghton graduated from Bryn Mawr College, and enrolled in the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, one of the first women accepted in that program. There she met Dr. Donald Hooker and, following their marriage and a year of study in Berlin, she returned to Baltimore and began a career in social work. She and Dr. Hooker founded the Guild of St. George, a home for unwed mothers and their babies.

Edith Houghton Hooker became convinced that progressive reform would occur quickly and completely if women achieved the right to vote. Maryland’s suffrage movement was experiencing a renaissance, and in 1909, Hooker organized the Just Government League and affiliated her organization with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In 1910, the defeat of suffrage in the Maryland General Assembly led Hooker and others to believe that, while they should continue to press the state legislature for suffrage legislation, the answer lay in passage of a national constitutional amendment.

It was clear to organizers like Edith Houghton Hooker and Elizabeth King Ellicott that if reluctant members of state and national lawmaking bodies were to be persuaded to enact women’s suffrage, suffragists would have to extend their influence and their argument across the state. They also realized that while there were several local and statewide suffrage organizations, they would have to present a united front in Annapolis. Activists would also have to conduct an effective public information campaign.

The creation in 1912 of the Maryland Suffrage News by Edith Houghton Hooker as the official organ of the Just Government League, addressed each of those needs: unity, a statewide presence, and public information. The News became the weekly voice, not just for the Just Government League, but for the suffrage movement in Maryland, since general circulation newspapers paid little attention to suffrage. The Newsincluded such information as the latest count of prosuffrage states, techniques for countering antisuffrage arguments, and helped women feel connected with like-minded women throughout the state. In addition, it informed its subscribers, most of whom were middle class, of the needs and circumstances of working class women, and the problems associated with education, crime and corruption, and negative aspects of industrialization. In 1917, Hooker was asked to serve as editor of The Suffragist, the official publication of the National Women’s Party.

Hooker also took to the streets using an automobile, from which she conducted open air meetings in various locations throughout the state. In 1913 alone, the Just Government league held 214 “parlor” meetings, with a total attendance of over 19,000 people, conducted 86 open air meetings, and distributed suffrage literature to more that 114,000 people. By 1915, the Just Government League had 17,000 members.

Although the Maryland Senate passed a suffrage bill in 1916, the House of Delegates continued to defeat the measure.

After the Nineteenth Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919, Hooker, now president of the Maryland Suffrage Party of Baltimore, led an intensive ratification campaign. Even though, she and other suffrage leaders met with new Governor Albert C. Ritchie in February 1920, and presented a petition signed by more than 125,000 people, to the General Assembly, ratification was rejected. Ultimate victory was assured with Tennessee become the thirty-sixth and deciding ratifying state.

The many bound volumes of the Maryland Suffrage News now reside in the Maryland Historical Society, where girls and women of newer generations can understand the drama of the suffrage movement, the dedication of suffragists, and the importance of the result. Without the drive and dynamism of Edith Houghton Hooker, we would have little awareness of the commitment of Maryland suffragists to achieve the right  to vote. Edith Houghton Hooker died October 23, 1948. MD Archives