American suffragist Maud Younger (1870–1936) was a leading figure in the women's rights movement in the early part of the twentieth century. Rich and colorful, she brought passion and a high degree of enthusiasm into organizations such as the National Women's Party. In the city where she was born, San Francisco, she established the first waitresses' union. Later in her life, she was an early advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Born into Wealth
Exuberant, aggressive, charismatic, and even a bit flamboyant, Younger possessed the kind of character and set of personality traits typically exhibited by the most successful social activists. Driven yet compassionate, Younger generated the respect and affection of colleagues who worked with her in the labor and suffrage movements in the early part of the twentieth century. Almost through sheer force of will, she helped affect societal change. She certainly demonstrated the appropriate skills and talent: She knew how to work the political system, she was a powerful writer, and she could be a compelling public speaker, delivering a message with both force and humor.
Moreover, she had the personal empathy and financial resources to support the causes she embraced. Indeed, Younger, like other important figures in influential organizations like the National Women's Party, was born into a privileged, upper-class existence; but she was still able to easily identify with those who had to work for a living. To be sure, identification resulted from Younger's willingness to roll up her sleeves and work side-by-side with those she endeavored to help. Colorful she was; overly proud, she was not. Younger's wealth never hindered her credibility. Instead it helped build bridges between women of diverse backgrounds with common concerns and goals.
Younger was born in San Francisco, California, on January 10, 1870, into a wealthy family that included five children (four girls and a boy). She was the daughter of William John Younger and his first wife, Annie Maria (Lane) Younger.
Her father, who settled in San Francisco with his Scottish parents in 1848, was a prosperous and well-known dental surgeon. Through his success, the family had achieved high social standing, both in San Francisco and in Paris, France, where William Younger relocated his dental practice in 1900. Two of his daughters even married Austrian barons. As for Maud Younger, she enjoyed the advantages that wealth brought: She was educated in the best private schools in San Francisco and New York City, New York, and she frequently traveled to Europe and throughout the United States.
Became Advocate for Social Reform
Despite her family's prosperity and prominence, Younger could hardly be considered a spoiled socialite. Rather, she developed a strong social conscience. By the early 1900s, when Younger was around 30 years old, she had visited New York on several occasions, and she became exposed to the efforts of social reformers who worked in the worst parts of the city, where destitute immigrants faced a daily struggle to survive. This had a profound impact on her life course.
During one visit, Younger stayed at a New York settlement house (the College Settlement), intending to observe the kind of poverty suffered by some of New York's inhabitants. The concept behind settlement houses, which were established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, was to provide quarters in poverty-stricken areas for wealthy people and students. Once settled, these individuals could then evaluate the surroundings, help provide services to improve quality of life for local residents, and develop long-range solutions for improved existence. Settlement houses also provided adult education and English classes for immigrants as well as public health services.
Originally, Younger had planned on staying at the settlement house for a week (she had stopped there on her way to Europe). As it turned out, she remained for five years. During this period, she experienced a blooming of social consciousness and became a passionate believer in social reform at the grassroots level. She not only wanted to alleviate the suffering of the poor; she also became a supporter of trade labor unions and an advocate for the protective legislation for working women. Further, she dedicated herself to the woman suffrage movement. (Women suffrage involved the legal right of women to vote in national and local elections.) Later, commenting on her experience, she said that the New York's East Side had transformed her into a woman suffragist.
The "Million Dollar" Waitress
While living in New York, Younger wanted to gain some personal working experience, particularly in the service sector, which employed many women, so she took a job as a waitress. This led her to join the city's Waitresses' Union. Eventually, she wrote about her experiences in the March/April issue of McClure's magazine, a leading reform-oriented publication, in an article titled "Diary of an Amateur Waitress: An Industrial Problem from the Worker's Point of View."
When she returned to California, she took on another waitressing job and intended to join the labor union. However, she discovered that no such union existed in San Francisco, so she decided to organize one. By this time, she was nicknamed the "Million Dollar Waitress," and she became president of the union local she helped establish. Not only did she create San Francisco's first waitress union in 1908, she also helped facilitate the passage of several labor laws, including California's eight-hour workday law for women, which was passed in 1911. In these efforts, Younger proved to be an effective lobbyist, and she helped organize the testimony from affected workers that was so instrumental in getting the laws passed.
Championed Women's Rights
When the suffrage movement began gaining momentum in California, Younger encouraged her working colleagues and fellow union members to join in the cause. By this time, working and voting rights were closely related in Younger's mind—she considered suffrage for women as a means to fix other social problems—and she helped establish the Wage Earners' Equal Suffrage League for Working Women. She spread the message in speeches made at union halls and through her writing. She even targeted male members of the working class through pamphlets that she wrote such as "Why Wage-Earning Women Should Vote."
Also, demonstrating her flamboyant side in a 1911 Labor Day parade in San Francisco, she publicized the suffrage case by helping create a float that publicized the Wage Earner's Equal Suffrage League. The float was a wagon pulled by six white horses, and Younger assumed the reins. Younger became the first woman to ever drive a float in the parade, and the high-profile stunt attracted a great deal of attention in the press.
That same year, she lobbied for passage of the 19th amendment, a woman suffrage amendment to the California constitution. For that effort, Alice Paul, one of the leading figures in the women's suffrage movement, had recruited her. After the amendment was adopted by popular vote in October, she lent a hand to similar campaigns in other states.
Also in 1911, Younger returned to New York City, where she worked with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in their fight against the practice of subcontracting. The following year, she became involved in the "White Goods Strike," initiated by the city's female white goods workers, assisting the effort both in the courts and on the streets, where she joined the strikers on the picket lines.
Became a National Figure
In 1913, encouraged by Paul, Younger moved her activities beyond California and New York and onto the national stage. By this time, Paul wanted to fight for woman suffrage at a national, rather than state, level. To that end, Paul had established the Congressional Union of Woman Suffrage, a more militant wing of the suffrage movement and the forerunner of the National Woman's Party. Its agenda included a campaign for a federal suffrage amendment. Paul enlisted Younger as her "lieutenant" in this effort and suggested that she move to Washington, D.C. In the nation's capital, Younger applied her unique style and effective organizational skills to the federal initiative and, in the process, became a very active and highly visible member of the Congressional Union.
Younger worked with Paul for the next seven years. As a result, she later became one of the National Women's Party's most effective speakers, achieving a celebrity status within the organization. She made for a very distinctive figure, driving in a new convertible automobile accompanied by her dog, embodying the style of the emerging and trendy "flapper" era.
In 1915, Younger became the first lobby chairman of the Congressional Union, and remained at the post until the organization evolved into the National Woman's Party.
Became a Well-known Orator
The National Women's Party came into existence in 1916, with the purpose of mobilizing the votes of recently franchised women in the upcoming presidential election. At the Party's first convention, held in June in Chicago, Younger gave the keynote address. In late November, she gave the memorial oration at the funeral of Inez Milholland Boissevain, a lawyer and leading figure in the suffrage movement. In a gesture that Younger no doubt appreciated, on March 3, 1913, Boissevain had led a suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., riding on a white horse. Unfortunately, Boissevain suffered from pernicious anemia and collapsed while giving a speech in Los Angeles on October 22. She was taken to a hospital, where physicians administered blood transfusions, but she succumbed on November 25.
When not making appearances and giving speeches, Younger continued lobbying and organizing protests and demonstrations. For her lobbying efforts, she developed a very detailed index card system that included information about congressmen and senators and suggested the most effective ways to approach these politicians. Such efforts helped generate public support for the suffrage cause.
She chaired the National Women's Party's lobbying committee from 1917 to 1919 and its legislative committee in 1919. In 1917, she made speeches throughout the country about the party's picketing of the White House and she spoke out about the arrest and imprisonment of demonstrators. The suffragists had developed a strategy of "perpetual picketing," each day sending delegations of women to picket in front of the White House. But delegates were arrested. In their confinement they endured mistreatment and were subjected to injustice in the courts. Younger publicized these developments, generating outrage and sympathy that eventually helped with the final passage of the 19th Amendment by Congress in 1919.
Though great strides were being made, gains never came easy, as the suffrage movement met with considerable obstacles throughout the country. For instance, in Dallas, Texas, just as the United States was ready to enter World War I, National Women's Party organizers were prevented from hiring halls and hotel rooms for Younger and her colleagues. The mayor of the city refused to allow Younger to hold a street meeting. City officials even refused when Younger offered to submit her speech for review and possible censorship. The party met with similar obstacles in Tennessee. Reportedly, members of the War Association and Home Defense League went to every hotel and meeting place in the state and requested that Younger be refused rooms and halls. They also went to city mayors and asked that they refuse to grant permits for street meetings. In 1919, Younger wrote about her experiences in an article for McCall's magazine entitled "Revelations of a Woman Lobbyist."
Continued the Struggle
In 1920, Younger had to go to Paris, where her father was dying, and then return to San Francisco to settle his business affairs. She then traveled back to the East Coast in a solo automobile trip that was well publicized. Now that the suffrage amendment had become law, Younger sought other ways to help advance the cause of working women. She served on the advisory committee for the new Women's Bureau when it was set up in the Department of Labor in 1920. She also worked with the Women's Trade Union League and the National Consumers' League.
Younger also became very active in the National Women's Party campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. This proposed amendment, to the federal constitution, was designed to eliminate any remaining legal restrictions for women. In 1923, as the party's congressional chair (a post she assumed in 1921), Younger helped get the amendment presented to Congress. She campaigned for the amendment until she died.
Younger died of carcinoma on June 25, 1936, at her ranch in Los Gatos, California. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered.
She remained active in women's rights until the end. She continued serving as the National Women's Party congressional chair until her death. In 1928, she was an integral figure in the founding of the Inter-American Commission of Women. The Equal Rights Amendment, Younger's final cause, is still not part of the U.S. Constitution.
Dictionary of American Biography, Supplements 1-2: To 1940, Thomson Gale. 2005.
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