Emma Louise Richards (1859-unknown)
By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian
This biographical sketch was first published on the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States and appears here by permission. That database is accessible at https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/VOTESforWOMEN
Secretary of the Equal Franchise League of New Jersey, President of the Essex County Suffrage Society, member of the Woman’s Political Union of New Jersey
A teacher and suffragist, Emma Louise Richards was born October 20, 1859, to Eva and William Richards. Her mother, Eva Lou Wagner, was from Bavaria and her father was from New Jersey. The couple married in 1858 and had six children; however, only four lived to adulthood. Emma and her three sisters, Mary Helena Richards, Lucy Anna Richards, and Josephine Richards, grew up on Jagler Street in Newark, New Jersey. Her father was one of 18 children born to Thomas and Elizabeth Richards. He died sometime before 1880, as records show that by 1880 Eva was a widow. Emma graduated from Newark High School in 1876. She continued her education at Wellesley College, attending from 1877-1881, where her sister Mary also attended. For the final stage of her education, she attended Cornell University for a year in 1899. Throughout her adult life, she and her three sisters lived with their mother at 464 Summer Avenue in Newark. None of the four sisters ever married, and all became teachers.
It seems Ms. Emma Richards led a busy life, as she was active in many civic organizations, including the YWCA, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the Eighth Avenue Day Nursery. In addition, she was a member of the New York Wellesley Club and of the Contemporary and Civic Clubs of Newark. She considered herself a Universalist—a person who advocates loyalty to and concern for others without regard to national or other allegiances.
It is not known the exact year of her initial involvement in the suffrage movement, but she was active in several groups. Initially she joined the Equal Franchise League (EFL) begun by Katherine Duer Mackay in New York. The EFL was an organization that offered women of wealth a way to channel their political activism within a socially acceptable setting. Its vision was to unite the many woman suffrage groups into a single body and had a prohibition against militant tactics. At a 1910 meeting at the home of Mrs. Richard Stevens of Castle Point, Hoboken, New Jersey, the Equal Franchise League of New Jersey (NJEFL) was organized and became the first branch of the EFL outside of New York. Miss Richards was elected the secretary of the NJEFL. In November 1910 she attended the annual state Equal Suffrage League (ESL) meeting representing Newark. She acted as the corresponding secretary from 1910-1911. Miss Richards was also a member of the Woman’s Political Union of New Jersey. She helped organize a variety of suffrage events, including running a booth at the Olympic Park Fair. She was president of the Essex County Suffrage Society (ECSS) and a member of the Orange Political Study Club. In September 1915, as the president of the ECSS, she partnered with several other suffrage organizations to create a series of events around an automobile tour bringing speakers from New York to New Jersey. The multiday event began with a suffrage demonstration which began down Broadway in New York City and then traveled by ferry to Jersey City. Next, rallies and speeches were given in Elizabeth, Trenton, and New Brunswick, finally culminating in meetings in Newark. Miss Richards spoke at the Suffrage Convention held in Elizabeth in January 1916. The focus of the convention was to analyze the reasons why woman suffrage had been defeated the previous fall.
One of her great loves was traveling. She sailed to England in 1909 and again in 1911. During her visit in June 1911, the processions and coronation ceremonies for King George V were in full swing. Suffragists from around the world, including the militant exponent Mrs. Wostenhome Elmy, decided to hold their own procession, naming it the Coronation Procession of Women. The march was described by “General” Mrs. Drummond as the “greatest procession of women in support of the suffrage movement that the world ever has seen.” Between 40,000 and 50,000 women marched five abreast in gowns of color creating a parade seven miles in length. A group of 700 women who had served time in Great Britain’s penal institutions dressed in drab prison clothing and formed the “prison pageant” portion of the parade. Prominent leaders of the movement including Mrs. Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst, and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence led the historical portion of the pageant, where women dressed to represent prominent women in English history. In addition, a hundred brass bands and several groups of women pipers energized the marchers and public with their music. A thousand girls dressed in white held pro-suffrage banners. The marchers came from all walks of life and included Lady Frances Balfour, the Countess de la Warr, actresses, writers, factory workers, teachers, mothers, and domestic servants. Both militant and non-militant suffragists marched in unity on this occasion.
As of 1927, Emma Richards was still living in Newark. No information could be found as to when she died.
- Federal Census of 1880, 1900, 1910
- US City Directories 1822-1995
- NJ Marriage Records 1670-1965
- NJ Census of 1905, 1915
- US School Catalogs 1765-1935: Wellesley College Record of 1875-1900, pg. 257.
“New State Society for Suffragists,” The Central New Jersey Home News, January 19, 1910, pg. 2.
“State Suffrage Annual Meeting,” Plainfield Courier News, November 1, 1910, pg. 10.
“Parade for Vote by 50,000 Women,” Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1911, pg. 2.
“Brigade is Lead by Women Pipers,” The Salt Lake Tribune, June 18, 1911, pg. 3.
“50,000 Women in Parade,” The Baltimore Sun, June 18, 1911, pg. 2.
“Women Sound the Governor,” The Courier-News, November 6, 1911, pg. 1.
“Suffragists’ Tour Started Yesterday,” The Courier-News, September 9, 1915, pg. 11.
“Suffrage Convention Tomorrow Night,” The Courier-News, January 20, 1916, pg. 1.
Leonard, John W., Woman’s Who’s Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, (New York: The American Commonwealth Company, 1914 ), pg. 684. https://books.google.com/books?id=2Gs4AAAAMAAJ
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan Brownell Anthony, Ida Husted Harper, Matilda Joslyn Gage, History of Women Suffrage, Volume 6, (New York: J.J. Little & Ives, 1922), pg. 416-17.