Women’s Philanthropy and Women’s Suffrage: Celebrating the 19th Amendment and the legacy of Mrs. Frank Leslie

One hundred years ago today, the Congress of the United States of America passed the bill authorizing the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Over the next year work continued to ensure its passage in the States, with ratification occurring August 18, 1920. Pictured above at left: Alice Paul sews a star onto the NWP Ratification Flag, representing another state’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. Photo via Library of Congress.

The work of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Woman’s Party (NWP) was largely funded by the generosity of women. The NAWSA’s publicity efforts were significantly bolstered thanks to the gift of the entire estate of businesswoman, editor, and writer Mrs. Frank Leslie. The gift, which ultimately amounted to nearly $1 million, was left to the NAWSA with no strings attached, enabling president Carrie Chapman Catt to shift from a state-by-state approach to a centralized “Winning Plan”, a plan which ultimately led to the passage of the 19th amendment.

Today we celebrate the passage of the 19th amendment and the legacy of Mrs. Frank Leslie, whose plan to support the cause of women’s suffrage upon her death changed the course of American history. Here is a piece of her incredible story, sourced via the Gotham Center for New York History:

New Yorker Mrs. Frank Leslie’s Million Dollar Gift to Women’s Suffrage

New Yorker Mrs. Frank Leslie donated more money than any other individual to the woman suffrage movement, leaving her entire estate to Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to win the right to vote for women.

Born in 1836 in New Orleans, Miriam Folline was known for a series of marriages, divorces, and scandalous affairs. Miriam was also an astute businesswoman, writer, and editor, who fought to be taken seriously in the publishing world. When her third husband, Frank Leslie died, she changed her name to Frank Leslie, inherited his publishing business, and quickly turned the in-debt company into a profitable enterprise. She did so owing both to her editorial eye and to her business acumen — for example, consolidating publications and famously scooping other magazines with an illustration of the deathbed scene of President Garfield.[1]

Although she was not an activist, Leslie consistently supported the suffrage movement with small donations for well over two decades before leaving her estate to Catt. Moreover, she demonstrated through her life choices and business acumen that women were capable of economic independence. Together, Leslie’s love life and business achievements reveal that she took control of her own life and her finances, despite the steady stream of men in her life — men on whom she could not rely. This independent spirit was probably the source of her dedication to woman suffrage. It should not be surprising that Leslie wrote that the woman of the future “must free herself from her swaddling clothes and go into the world with courage and self-reliance,” traits she had already proven to have herself.[2] Leslie decided to leave her considerable fortune to Catt to use for the suffrage movement in order to provide other women a means to the independence and power she had been able to develop through the publishing business she inherited. Read More >>