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Upton, Harriet Taylor

UPTON, Harriet Taylor

Born 17 December 1854, Ravenna, Ohio; died 5 November 1945, Pasadena, California

Daughter of Ezra B. and Harriet Frazer Taylor; married George W. Upton, 1884

Harriet Taylor Upton's family had a long history of pioneering and public service. Her father, a lawyer and later a judge, was a member of the U.S. Congress for 13 years. She and her husband, also a lawyer, lived in Warren, Ohio, and in Washington, D.C., when Congress was in session. Upton had ample opportunity to develop her interest in politics.

At first, she was antipathetic to the woman suffrage movement and worked actively against it; but in 1890, she changed her mind and joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She served as acting chairman of the congressional committee and through her efforts the national headquarters was for some time located in Warren. From 1902 to 1910, Upton edited the monthly Progress, which became the official organ of the association in 1907. When, in 1920, the vote of Tennessee was crucial in gaining acceptance of the 19th Amendment, Upton and Carrie Chapman Catt waged an active campaign there which was instrumental in winning approval.

Upton's political work was done primarily through the Republican party. During the Harding administration, she served as vice chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, probably the highest ranking position a woman had yet held in America. Later she did important social work in Ohio as liaison officer between Governor Myers Cooper and state institutions. She was also instrumental in opening the diplomatic corps to women, in placing women on the Advisory Committee of the Conference for the Limitation of Arms, and in the final reporting out and passage of the Child Labor Bill.

Upton wrote children's stories for Wide Awake and St. Nicholas. For a book for children, Our Early Presidents and Their Wives and Children, from Washington to Jackson (1890; also serialized in St. Nicholas), she did considerable research and wrote to the descendants of the presidents. The review in the Nation (22 Jan. 1891) acknowledges the minute detail in the description of home life, but the author is accused of "an absolute affectation of intimacy" in her style: "This kind of baby talk is much to be regretted, for it weakens a book which otherwise appears to be thorough, authentic, and useful." Upton also wrote two several-volume works of local (Ohio) history.

The New England Magazine (March 1899) published an avant-garde love story by Upton, about a young Hollander, Rita, who is jilted by an American businessman. Rita still believes the U.S. is "a woman's own land, and she can do what she wants to. She can study, work, go to college, and vote." Obviously, this was fantasy, as Upton recognized six years later. In 1905 she, Ida Husted Harper, and Susan B. Anthony visited President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House to call his attention to the action of Congress in forbidding the legislature of Hawaii to extend the suffrage to women, and "to ask him to see that this outrage is not repeated in the Philippines." At this point he exclaimed with scorn, "What! Give the franchise to those Oriental women!"

Upton contributed articles on women's rights to the Ladies' Home Journal and Harper's Bazaar. Characteristic is "A Woman's View of Practical Politics," the lead article in the Woman's Home Companion (Aug. 1921). She urges a humanistic rather than a tough-minded approach to political problems. Politics, she feels, are only as good as the people themselves: "Therefore, it is of the most tremendous importance that the women-people repudiate 'practical politics' as an excuse for dealing with government concerns in ways which they would never tolerate in their own personal affairs, and, instead, give to 'practical politics' its real meaning of straightforward, honest understanding of the science of government." She concludes by prophesying that men will not come to understand women's point of view in her generation: "It is our granddaughters who will profit by men learning to understand women."

In spite of her advanced ideas, Upton was a woman of her time, who still thought in terms of "feminine" traits and "mascu-line" traits and seemed unaware these might be the result of conditioning. The writer of this entry knew her personally and corresponded with her between 1920 and 1934. She was once told by Upton, "You can do any job a man can do, but never forget that you are a woman. Always keep your shirtwaist and skirt pinned together so the safety pin doesn't show."

Other Works:

A Twentieth-Century History of Trumbull County (2 vols., 1909). A History of the Western Reserve (3 vols., 1910).

Bibliography:

Harper, I. H., The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (1908).

Other references:

Century (Aug. 1923). Ladies' Home Journal 39 (Aug. 1922). Literary Digest 81 (May 1924). Outlook 136 (Jan. 1924). Woman Citizen (May 1924).

—FRANCELIA BUTLER

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