Melinda Scott (18**-1954)
By Kelsey Brow, Curator, King Manor Museum, Jamaica, New York
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
President, New York Women’s Trade Union League
Melinda Scott gave a speech as part of a 1914 delegation of trade union women presenting to President Wilson. At the meeting she said, “We hear about the sacredness of the home. What sacredness is there about a home when it is turned into a factory, where we find a mother, very often with a child at her breast, running a sewing machine? Running up third-seven seams for a cent?” Because she believed that suffrage would enable women to vote for laws that would give them safer working conditions, Melinda Scott campaigned for it throughout her career as an activist.
A hat-trimmer in Manchester, England, Melinda Scott immigrated to Newark, NJ at the age of sixteen. Her activism remained closely aligned with her trade; she was a leader in the Organized Hat Trimmers of Newark, a group that investigated factory conditions to prevent fires like the one in late November 1910, that killed nearly 30 workers, most of them women. Additionally, she organized the English-speaking workers of the New York Women’s Trade Union beginning in 1907. Scott participated in the New York laundry workers strike in 1911, the same year she became treasurer of the National Women’s Trade Union League. She held this position for two years before becoming vice-president, a position she held until 1919. During this time, she worked with unionizing and striking workers in New York and New Jersey (including Perth Amboy, Trenton, and Bound Brook).
Her work with so many different organizations gave Scott many opportunities to promote woman suffrage. Some of her important activities included: speaking before the New York Legislature in 1912, presiding over a mass suffrage meeting at Cooper Union in 1915, and defeating Rose Schneiderman to become president of the New York Women’s Trade Union League. World War I brought new opportunities for Scott, who was part of the American Labor Mission to Great Britain and France and in 1918 was appointed Assistant Director of the Woman’s Branch of the Employment Service in the War Labor department.
Melinda Scott, like many other worker women opposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), saying before a Senate Judiciary Committee in 1923 “the National Woman’s Party does not know what it is to work 10 or 12 hours a day in a factory; so they do not know what it means to lose an eight-hour-day or a nine-hour day law. The working women do know.” Trade unionists like Scott thought that the ERA would cause working women to lose special gender-based protections regarding working conditions and wages that they had fought hard to earn. This was one of the frictions that developed between working women and club women in the struggle for women’s suffrage.
Scott continued public work long after the 19th Amendment was passed; she was employed at the Newark City Tax Office when she passed away in 1954.
Hopkins, Mary Alden. “1910 Factory Fire,” McClure’s Magazine, Volume 36, Number 6. April 1911. https://www.oldnewark.com/histories/factoryfirearticle.php
“Needle Girl Strike Wins Suffrage Aid,” New York Times, February 11, 1916, pg. 21. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1916/02/11/100190396.pdf
National American Woman Suffrage Association. History of Woman Suffrage 1900-1920, (JJ Little & Ives Co. New York, 1922), pgs. 419, 422. https://books.google.com/books?id=aX5KAAAAYAAJ
Steiner, Gilbert. Constitutional Inequality: The Political Fortunes of the Equal Rights Amendment, (Brookings Institution Press, Washington D.C., 2011), pg. 7. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0815714297
Dodyk, Delight W., “Education and Agitation: The Woman Suffrage Movement in New Jersey,” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, 1997). pgs. 698-703