Louisa Lord Riley (1836-1917)

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

Volunteer, Social Worker, Member of the Executive Committee of the New Jersey Suffrage Ratification Committee

Louisa Wait Lord was born in 1836 to George William Lord of Massachusetts and Ellen Wait Lord of Maine. Initially the family lived in Philadelphia, but resided in Brooklyn between 1855-1860. In 1862 her father died and she moved back to Philadelphia. She had four brothers, one of whom—George W. Lord—married Martha Patricia Mott, the daughter of Lucretia Coffin Mott. In 1870, Miss Lord married William Henry Riley (1834-1906) and they had two children, Champlain Lord Riley and Howard W. Riley. Initially the family lived in East Orange, New Jersey, where her husband was an accountant. By 1894, they had moved to Ithaca, New York, so that both Champlain and Howard could attend Cornell University. By the early 1900s, they had moved to Plainfield, New Jersey, where they  lived for the rest of their lives. Louisa and William were both active members of the All Souls’ Unitarian Church. Mrs. Riley died in 1917 at age 81 after a long illness and is buried in Philadelphia at Laurel Hill Cemetery with her husband.

Mrs. Riley’s involvement in women’s groups began in 1872, when she brought 15 women together at her home in East Orange and formed the Women’s Club of Orange (WCO). Having been familiar with work of the Brooklyn Women’s Club, she thought it would be “useful to the women of Orange in broadening their mental horizons and giving variety to their thoughts.” It was the first woman’s club in New Jersey and the fourth in the United States.  At their fourth meeting, Mrs. Riley was elected Second Vice President. Generally the club just held discussions on practical matters, including education, temperance, and social duties.  But, in 1873, the club created an evening school for girls taught by public school teachers. From 1874-1876, Mrs. Riley was President of the WCO.  Years later, in May of 1891, she attended the first meeting of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, which was held in East Orange. The meeting was hosted by the Women’s Club of Orange on the nineteenth anniversary of their founding. About 65 delegates were present representing clubs in 18 states. Mrs. Riley was also a member of the Orange Political Study Club (OPSC) and was one of its auditors under President Minola Sexton from 1900-1905. The OPSC joined the State Federation in 1901.

After her move to Ithaca in 1894, Mrs. Riley most likely attended the New York Women’s Suffrage Convention in Ithaca in November 1894. At the age of 58, inspired by Susan B Anthony’s speeches at that conference, Mrs. Riley decided to start a local women’s suffrage club. In 1895, she founded the Ithaca Woman’s Club (IWC), whose mission was “to awaken in its member an interest in topics of general and social importance by means of essays and discussions.” She realized that the women in Ithaca were quite conservative, so she devised a club agenda that focused on socially acceptable issues and discussed suffrage only every fourth week. There were 25 charter members in the group. Mrs. Riley was elected its first president, later becoming honorary president until her death in 1917. A gap developed between the IWC and its suffrage section, so those supporting suffrage decided to split off to create the Ithaca Political Study Club (IPSC) in 1899. The IPSC’s objective was “to secure to women the unrestricted exercise of all the rights of citizenship, and equal constitutional rights with men, and equal protection of the law.” The initial 13-member group consisted mainly of teachers and widows, but it expanded to a more middle-class segment and to the Cornell campus.

By 1900, the Rileys had moved to New York City, but a few years later they moved back to New Jersey, settling in Plainfield near their son and daughter-in-law, Champlain and Ida Riley. Louisa attended the foundation laying ceremony for the new building to house the Woman’s Club of Orange in 1905. It is not known how much she continued her involvement in the suffrage movement during this time, but Ida and Champlain were very active in supporting the suffrage cause. Mrs. Riley remained active in the community, supporting several charities, including the King’s Daughters, a charity helping disadvantaged children.


Whittemore, Henry, The Founders and Builders of the Oranges, (Newark: L.J. Hardman, 1896), pages 249-251. https://books.google.com/books?id=R9AwAQAAMAAJ

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady; Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Stanton Blatch, et al, History of Women’s Suffrage Trilogy, Part 2, (e-artnow, 2017).  https://books.google.com/books?isbn=8026874757

Croly, Jane Cunningham, The History of the Woman’s Club Movement in America, (New York: H.G. Allen & Company, 1898), pages 108-109.  https://books.google.com/books?id=OFJKn1HaKiAC

Cunningham, John T., This is New Jersey, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994), page 110. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0813521416

Dieckmann, Jane M., A Short History of Tompkins County, (New York: DeWitt Historical Society, 1986), page 147. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3979822-a-short-history-of-tompkins-county

Women’s Suffrage Timeline—The History Center in Tompkins County https://thehistorycenter.net/sites/default/files/documents/new_york_state_womens_suffrage.pdf#page=1&zoom=auto,-153,540

Tompkins Public Library digital archives, PDF Women’s Organizations, page 31. http://tcpl.org/local-history/documents/ithaca-tc/women-roots/womensOrganizationsp27-38.pdf#page=2&zoom=auto,-134,459

Sanchirico, Christine. “City Federation of Women’s Organizations—Capsule History,” (2002). http://www.womenbuildingcommunity.org/uploads/doc/CFWO-History-Capsule.pdf#page=1&zoom=auto,-100,792

Eschenbrenner, Donna. “Scrapbooks Trace Women’s Suffrage in Tompkins,” Ithaca Journal,  January 26, 2017. http://www.ithacajournal.com/story/news/local/2017/01/26/scrapbooks-trace-womens-suffrage-tompkins/97092798/

Reynolds, Nick. “Tompkins County’s Legacy of Women’s Rights Runs Deep,” Ithaca.com, March 8, 2017. http://www.ithaca.com/news/tompkins-county-s-legacy-of-women-s-rights-runs-deep/article_983be14a-041d-11e7-842c-9725952299ad.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=user-shares

Pastorello, Karen. “A Long Way in Coming: The Suffrage Campaign in Upstate New York,” 2009. Presented at Upstate New York Women’s History Conference, Hobart William Smith College, Geneva, NY.


  • Find a Grave
  • 1870, 1880, 1900 Federal Census
  • 1855 NY State Census
  • US Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast 1704-1930


“It’s Cornerstone Laid,” The New York Tribune, October 26, 1905, pg. 10.

“King’s Daughters Fund Increased,” Plainfield Daily Press, July 21, 1915, page 1.

“Orange Woman’s Club is 67 Years Old: First of its Kind in State of New Jersey,” New York Times, February 5, 1939, page 1.

“Mrs. Louisa Riley Died Last Night,” Courier News, July 20, 1917.

“Particular Mention,” The Daily Press, August 29, 1894.

Photo of Louisa Lord Riley: permission granted by The History Center of Tompkins County