Ida Holt Riley (1875-1940)
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
C.L. Riley family photo from Ancestry.com U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925
Vice President of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, President of the Plainfield Equal Suffrage League
Ida Elizabeth Holt was born September 23, 1875 in New York to Robert Steven Holt, a merchant, and Constance Burrill. In 1904, at the age of 28, she married Champlain Lord Riley (1877-1937). Initially the couple lived in Summit, New Jersey, on Beekman Terrace. By 1910 they had moved to Plainfield and were a prominent family in the community. Finally, in 1930, they moved to Watchung, where they lived their final years. They had four children: Edward Champlain, Philetus Holt, Constance B., and Robert Steven Holt. Champlain Lord Riley attended Cornell University and studied Mechanical Engineering. By 1913 he was President of the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers and a partner in Clark, MacMullen & Riley, an engineering consulting firm. His mother, Louisa Lord Riley (1836-1917) was active in the suffragist movement beginning in the 1870s.
Both Ida and Champlain Lord Riley were active in the Woman Suffrage Movement, as well as other organizations, such as the First Unitarian Church and their local schools. Ida Holt Riley’s first notable community engagement was in March of 1909, when she was elected to the Executive Committee of the Consumers League of New Jersey. Her husband was involved in the local school commissions and was instrumental in obtaining Parker Field for the Plainfield public schools. Champlain died in 1937 and Ida followed in 1940.
The first year Ida Riley’s involvement in the suffrage movement was noted was 1907, when she was a New Jersey delegate at the thirty-ninth Annual Convention of the National America Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) held in Chicago. She regularly gave speeches to women’s groups, including one given in March 1910 at the Women’s Christian Temperance Union meeting. There she made a speech titled “Facts and Theories of Suffrage.” May 2, 1910 was Suffrage Day across New Jersey. Meetings were held all over the state by different suffrage leagues, and suffrage editions of newspapers were published in multiple cities. Champlain Lord Riley was Chairman of the Suffrage Day program in Plainfield. That day, the local branch of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association (NJWSA) took over the editing of the Plainfield Daily Press (PDP). With Mrs. Edward F. Feickert as the editor and Ida H. Riley as one of the assistant editors, the suffragists created what they considered to be an ideal newspaper from the woman’s point of view. In an article she wrote for the suffragist edition of the PDP, Ida wrote about the Equal Suffrage League (ESL) saying, “It has formed a plan of work which if faithfully carried out will acquaint every soul in the city or borough with the reasons why woman suffrage is the most important next step in the development of democracy – the most important, in fact, that the country has to solve at the present time.”
In October 1910, at the Equal Suffrage League’s meeting held at the YMCA, Mrs. Riley introduced guest speaker former mayor William L. Saunders and said, “Last year criticism was made of the league for holding their meetings too privately. It was said that there were many who were interested in equal suffrage, though not committed to it, who felt some embarrassment in attending meetings held in private houses. We have profited by this criticism and are going to hold four evening meetings in the YMCA auditorium during the winter.” In November 1910, at the twentieth Annual NJWSA Convention in Plainfield, she gave the opening speech as president of the Equal Suffrage League (ESL). In her speech she said, “I bid you all welcome with a great deal of pleasure and with the conviction that there has never been a time when a suffragist convention could meet with so much of hope and added faith. ” During the convention she was elected vice president of NJWSA. Her duties as president of the ESL continued throughout 1911.
As president of ESL, she was present at many important suffrage events. In March 1912, she was part of a large delegation that marched on Trenton to witness the suffrage amendment hearing at the State house. In May 1912, she joined a parade of approximately 15,000 women, organized by the Women’s Political Union in New York City. As the New Jersey representative on the NAWSA Committee on Education, she gave a report at the October 1912 NAWSA Convention in Kentucky. In her report she highlighted that New Jersey Governor Wilson approved of school suffrage for women, that the New Jersey Federation of Women’s Clubs was working on school suffrage, and that New Jersey Senator Frelinguysen recommended that women be appointed to board of education posts. In November 1912, she attended the twenty-second NJWSA annual meeting in Trenton as vice president.
Mrs. Riley went to Newark in February of 1913 to meet “General” Rosalle Jones and the “suffrage army of invasion,” which was on their “hike” to Washington. The Plainfield ESL accompanied the army as far as Elizabeth. A mass suffrage meeting was held in Newark at Proctor’s Theater in March of 1913. Both Rileys attended, along with all of the presidents of the various New Jersey suffrage leagues and interested legislators. At the April 1913 ESL meeting, she was again elected its president. In her report at that meeting, she reminded members to read her regular column of suffrage news published weekly in the Plainfield Daily Press. In August of 1913, she was one of the representatives of the National Congressional Committee who presented petitions to New Jersey Senator James E. Martine asking for the submission of the Federal Amendment. Senator Martine then unwillingly presented these petitions of several thousand names to the United States Senate. In an interview with the Courier Post in October 1915, she said, “Suffragists believe that the dignity of woman is not lost in doing her duty as a citizen. “ She also said in the same interview, “Woman suffrage brought about no startling revolutions in the countries where it has been tried, but it has shown a tendency to gradually improve conditions for all, and especially to better the conditions of women and children.” Mrs. Riley was a charter member of the League of Woman Voters of Plainfield (LWVP), formed in May 1920. By September 1920, due to the work of LWVP, more than 3,000 women in Plainfield had registered to vote.
Champlain Lord Riley was also an active supporter of the Woman Suffrage Movement. At the evening session of the November 1910 NJWSA Convention, he was asked to address the attendees on the subject of forming a men’s league. In his comments he said, “As the women cannot now vote unless the men give them that privilege, it is strictly up to the men to do it,” and there was no better way than to begin by forming clubs with the aim of helping the cause along. Along with 17 other men in attendance that night, he formed the Men’s League for Equal Suffrage (MLES). The group elected William L. Saunders President. At the 1913 Suffrage Dinner in Plainfield, Mr. Riley presided over the program and made the opening remarks, along with former mayor William L. Saunders. In January 1914, representing the MLES, he served on the NJWSA Judiciary Committee as treasurer of the legislative sub-committee. The Judiciary Committee was a group made up of members from the four woman suffrage organizations in the state. As a member, Mr. Riley worked on the arrangements for their presentation, pushing the suffragist resolution before the Committee on Judiciary of the Assembly in Trenton. He then joined the committee when they traveled to Trenton to listen to the hearing before the State Legislature citing the pros and cons of passing the suffrage amendment. In October 1915, several prominent men, including Mr. Riley, sent a letter to the editor of the The Daily Home News, refuting New Jersey Senator James E. Martine’s anti-suffrage pamphlet.
Picture of the suffragist editors on May 2, 1910- Suffrage Day in New Jersey, “Editors of Today’s Press at Work.” Plainfield Daily Press, 5/2/1910, page 1.
- 1880, 1910, 1920, 1930 Federal Census
- NJ Marriage Records 1901-1914
- US City Directories 1822-1995
- Chris Riley family tree
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan Brownell Anthony, et al. The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 6, (Boston: Fowler & Wells, 1922), page 417. https://books.google.com/books?id=rIoEAAAAYAAJ&vq=Mrs.%20Champlain%20Lord%20Riley&pg=PA417#v=snippet&q=Mrs.%20Champlain%20Lord%20Riley&f=false
National American Woman Suffrage Association, Proceedings of the Forty-third Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Volumes 43-45, (New York: The Association, 1912), pages 49-51. https://books.google.com/books?id=FzM2AQAAMAAJ
National American Woman Suffrage Association, Proceedings of the Thirty-ninth Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, (Warren, Ohio: W. Ritezel & Co., 1907), page 139. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100566000
Plainfield Public Library: League of Women Voters of Plainfield (1920-1981) www.plainfieldlibrary.info>LWV
Bridgewater Public Library: Ken Kaufman, Librarian, Adult Services
“Elected on Executive Committee.” The Daily Press, 3/1/1909, page 1.
“Facts and Theories of Suffrage.” The Constitutionalist, 3/24/1910, page 1.
“For Votes For Women.” The Constitutionalist, 10/20/1910, page 1.
“Suffragist Convention.” The Daily Press, 10/20/1910, page 1.
“Women as Watchers at Elections’ Polls.” The Daily Press, 11/1/1910, page 1.
“Mayor Fisk Recruited for Votes for Women.” The Daily Press, 11/2/1910, page 1.
“Keep Their Gaze Fixed on Trenton.” Plainfield Daily Press, 3/8/1912, page 1.
“Local Suffragists to March in Parade.” Plainfield Daily Press, 4/23/1912, page 1.
“Mrs. Feickert is Suffragist Head.” Plainfield Daily Press, 11/8/1912, page 1, 4.
“Forward March Says Gen. Jones.” Plainfield Daily Press, 2/12/1913, page 1.
“Equal Suffragists Gather at Dinner.” Plainfield Daily Press, 3/25/1913, page 1.
“Mrs. Riley Heads Suffrage Assn..” Plainfield Daily Press, 4/15/1913, page 1.
“Suffragists Going to Trenton on Wednesday Confident of Victory.” The New Brunswick Times, 1/24/1914.
“Legislators Hear Women.” Plainfield Daily Press, 1/29/1914, page 1.
“Suffragists to Edit Daily Press.” Plainfield Daily Press, 4/4/1914, page 1.
“Prominent New Jersey Men Refute Martine’s Anti Suffrage Pamphlet.” The Daily Home News, 10/7/1915, page 2.
“Champlain Riley, an Engineer Here.” The New York Times, 4/18/1937, page 21.
“C. L. Riley Rites Today.” The Courier News, 4/19/1937, page 14.
“Mrs. Ida H. Riley is Laid to Rest.” Courier News, 6/17/1940.