Susan Pecker Fowler (1823-1911)
By Diane Getzinger, independent historian from Audubon, New Jersey
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 New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, Corresponding Secretary of the Camden County Woman Suffrage Association
Susan Pecker Fowler was born on May 31, 1823 in Salisbury, MA to Jonathan (1795-1865) and Mary Fowler (nee Pecker, 1798-1859). She was the oldest of three children, including Helen (b. 1828) and Jonathan Warren Fowler (b. 1833).
A teacher for many years, she began wearing bloomers at age 28, partly because she believed it to be healthful, but mostly to reform. After donning reform dress, she became a merchant in Amesbury, MA. She purchased a five-acre farm in Vineland in the mid-1860s, becoming a pioneer settler. She did all of the work on the farm and regularly sold her produce at market well into her 70s (and weighing just 84 pounds).
Fowler served in leadership roles with the Vineland Grange, the Vineland Anti-Fashion Society, and the New Jersey Association of Spiritualists and Friends of Progress. Although perhaps most renowned for her attire, she was active and well-regarded in the suffrage movement at the local, state and national levels, including:
- November 1867 – attended founding convention, New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association (NJWSA)
- November 3, 1868 –one of 171 Vineland women who voted using a homemade ballot box made of two blueberry cartons covered with green fabric
- December 1868 –secretary, NJWSA
- December 1869 –corresponding secretary, NJWSA
- 1870 –corresponding secretary, Camden County Woman Suffrage Association
- February 1871 –executive committee, NJWSA
- 1872 –sent an open letter to editors of southern newspapers urging women of the South to join “the intelligent women of the North” in forming a new political party and “demanding the right of the ballot”
She paid her taxes under protest every year, declaring, “Taxation without representation is robbery, and women are not represented.” Her notes of protest were often published in local newspapers, demanding full restitution of the taxes she had paid – with interest.
At age 75, she announced that she would step down from actively campaigning for women’s causes in order to pursue a literary career.This resulted in a nationwide series of articles chronicling her eclectic life and views.
Susan Pecker Fowler held strong opinions on everything from the local curfew (which she supported), to national expansion, about which she thoughtfully declared: “Well, the world is my country, all its peoples are my brethren and any act of individual state or nation not in accordance with the golden rule does not have my approval. Therefore the only expansion I believe in is the expansion of loving kindness…If the millions of money…were spent in educating the masses regarding the laws of character building I believe that after a few generations we might approach that happy time when all would recognize the oneness of humanity and learn war no more.”
When asked about marriage proposals, Fowler replied, “Yes, I had a great many young men admirers, particularly men of intellectuality…I am not opposed to matrimony, mind you, and I am not living single for choice, for if I had a chance to marry my ideal man I would do so.” However, in response to one proposal that came via correspondence, she described marriage as “legalized immorality and quite unworthy to be entered into by any woman of advanced thought.” She announced her engagement in 1904 (at age 81) to a 46-year-old man from England (whose surname was also Fowler), though both the 1905 New Jersey and 1910 Federal census, still recorded her marital status as single.
Fowler died at her Vineland home on April 30, 1911 and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.
Burstyn, Joan N., Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women, (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1990), pages 138, 139.
Dodyk, Delight W., “Education and Agitation: The Woman Suffrage Movement in New Jersey,” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, 1997), pages 563, 564.
“The Founding Convention of New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association,”Vineland Independent (Vineland, NJ) December 4, 1867, p. 3. http://www.njwomenshistory.org/discover/topics/activists/founding-convention/
- “Some Odd Ways of Jersey Folks,” Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, Mercer, New Jersey), April 15, 1899, Page 6.
- “Oldest New Woman, “Kansas City Journal (Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri), April 23, 1899, Page 18.
- “In Bloomers at 75,” The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, United States of America), May 22, 1899, Page 6.
- “Yes, She’s had Her Romances,” The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America), June 13, 1899, Page 2.
- “Never Too Late to Love, “The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America), June 19, 1904, Page 48.
- “The Bloomer Woman Dead,” The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, Middlesex, New Jersey, United States of America), May 2, 1911, Page 10.
- Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
- Year: 1850; Census Place: Salisbury, Essex, Massachusetts; Roll: M432_313; Page: 23; Image: 382.
- Massachusetts Marriages, 1633-1850. Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data – With some noted exceptions all marriage records in this collection can be found at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
- New Jersey State Archive; Trenton, NJ, USA; State Census of New Jersey, 1905; Reference Number: L-13; Film Number: 8
- Year: 1910; Census Place: Landis, Cumberland, New Jersey; Roll: T624_875; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 0115; FHL microfilm: 1374888