Harper, Ida Husted

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HARPER, Ida Husted

Born 18 February 1851, Fairfield, Indiana; died 14 March 1931, Washington, D.C.

Daughter of John A. and Cassandra Stoddard Husted; married Thomas W. Harper, 1871 (divorced 1890); children: one daughter

Ida Husted Harper was a prolific writer and journalist and an active feminist. A suffragist of international reputation, Harper traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe with Susan B. Anthony, who asked her to become her official biographer. She handled publicity for the National American Woman Suffrage Association when Carrie Chapman Catt served as president.

After leaving Indiana University to become principal of a high school in Indiana, Harper began her writing career at twenty by sending articles under a male pseudonym to the Terre HauteSaturday Evening Mail. Under her own name she then wrote a column, "A Woman's Opinions," for that same newspaper for 12 years. She simultaneously edited weekly discussions of women's activities in the Locomotive Fireman's Magazine, the official organ of the union of which her husband was chief counsel. After her divorce in 1890, she joined the staff of the Indianapolis News. From then on she devoted her life to her daughter, to writing, and to her activities in the woman suffrage movement.

Her career in journalism led her from Indiana to New York, where she wrote a column for the New York Sun (1899-1903) and, best known, a woman's page in Harper's Bazaar (1909-1913). She devoted most of this writing to the suffrage movement; her interests, unlike those of Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone, centered on the primary importance of the vote for women. She offered detailed reports about the status of women and their right to vote in countries all over the world. Her insight into international politics gave to her work the standards of accurate social history. In Harper's Bazaar, she reported on working women demanding suffrage, on women as officeholders in states with the vote, on the deaths of her friends who had "lived for the Movement," and on the joys of seeing her dreams become a reality: "Yes, woman suffrage is becoming fashionable and it is all very amusing to veterans of the cause. They understand fully that, underlying the fashion, are years of hard and persistent work yet ahead before a universal victory."

Her spirit is striking as she writes that "women of today who are not helping in the effort for the franchise do not know the joy they miss…so vital, so compelling, so full of the progressive spirit of the age." This same vigor appears in her two volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage, that monumental compilation begun by Anthony and Stanton. Harper helped Anthony edit volume four, and she alone edited volumes five and six, dealing with state and national activities from 1900 to 1920. While the History contains records rather than interpretations of documents, speeches, and state and national activities, it nevertheless forms a coherent pattern of immense value for historians.

Harper was Susan B. Anthony's Boswell: to her we owe a detailed study of Anthony's life and activities in two long volumes published in 1898. During later life she continued her work on the Anthony biography; volume three was published in 1908. The searcher for psychological insight will be disappointed by The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony. Its deepest penetration in explaining Anthony's personality and motivation is through its astute description of Anthony's Quaker family background and of the encouragement in her education given by both parents.

Otherwise, the biography remains largely a chronicle, dull at times and burdened with detail. Stylistically, it belongs to the tradition of sentimental 19th-century prose. Yet no historian concerned with Anthony's role in the 19th-century women's movement can ignore the intimate details of social history in Harper's story: Anthony's role as teacher, her support of both temperance and Amelia Bloomer, her acceptance of hydropathic medicine, and her relationships and correspondence with leaders of social reform, such as Garrison, Stanton, Stone, and Antoinette Brown.

Though close to her daughter, who continued her mother's work in the women's movement, Harper remained independent, spending her last years working in the headquarters of the American Association of University Women in Washington, D.C. Using her journalistic talent to good effect, Harper served the suffrage movement well. The extent and variety of her writing is impressive; 14 large indexed volumes of her writings stand in the Library of Congress.


Lutz, A., Susan B. Anthony (1959).

Reference works:

AW. DAB. Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1816-1916 (1949). NAW. NCAB.

Other references:

Indianapolis News (16 Mar.1931). NYT (17 Mar. 1931). Terre Haute Star (17 Mar. 1931).


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