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Evans, Elizabeth Glendower (1856–1937)

Evans, Elizabeth Glendower (1856–1937)

American social and labor reformer. Born Elizabeth Gardiner in New Rochelle, New York, on February 28, 1856; died of pneumonia in Brookline, Massachusetts, on December 12, 1937; fourth of five children born to Edward and Sophia (Mifflin) Gardiner; privately educated; married Glendower Evans, on May 18, 1882 (died 1886); no children.

Served as trustee, Massachusetts State Reform Schools (1886–1914); was a member of the Massachusetts Consumers' League and the Women's Educational and Industrial Union of Boston (1890s); was a member and officer, Boston Women's Trade Union League (1904–12); was a member of the Massachusetts Minimum Wage Commission (1911–12); was active in the campaign for women's suffrage (1912–14); sent as a delegate to the International Congress of Women at the Hague (1915); was a national director, American Civil Liberties Union (1920–37); was on the Sacco-Vanzetti defense committee (1920–27); awarded the first annual Ford Hall Forum medal (1933). Publications: several articles in LaFollette's Weekly, The Progressive, and other periodicals.

Born in New Rochelle, New York in 1856, Elizabeth Glendower Evans was connected by blood and marriage to several prominent Boston families. When her father died in 1859, her mother moved the young family into the Boston home of her father-in-law, William Howard Gardiner. There, Evans grew up, attending the best private schools with her wealthy cousins, yet often feeling like the "poor relation." Despite her inheritance at age 26 of a sizable fortune upon the death of her grandfather, Evans retained a sensitivity to class issues the rest of her life. At 26, she also married Glendower Evans, a young Harvard Law School graduate who had just entered into practice with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. When her husband died suddenly in 1886, the devastated widow took her husband's name as her own. She would be known as Elizabeth Glen-dower Evans and devote her wealth to a variety of social and labor reforms.

As a State Reform school trustee, Evans was a leading spokesperson for the case-work approach and vocational training for juveniles in need. During the 1890s, she became an active member of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union in Boston as well as the Massachusetts Consumers League. In 1904, Evans joined the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), holding office on both the Boston executive board and on the national level. She resigned from the WTUL in 1912 along with her good friend Mary Kenney O'Sullivan , in protest over the WTUL's refusal to support the striking textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, during that year. In addition to serving on committees and constantly donating money to various causes, Evans used her social position to aid in reform. As a member of the Massachusetts Child Labor Committee, she gained entry in 1907 to a number of southern textile mills by displaying a letter on corporate stationary identifying herself as a major stockholder.

Known as "Auntie Bee" to the children of her good friends Florence Kelley (1859–1932), Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, Evans shared with these leading Progressive reformers a concern for human dignity in a more orderly industrial society. At Kelley's urging, Evans led the fight for the establishment of a minimum wage for Massachusetts women industrial workers. When the minimum wage became law in 1912, it was the first in the nation and served as a model for the dozen other states that passed similar laws in the next few years. Evans was also active in the campaign for woman suffrage and, during World War I, was a devoted pacifist. After a trip to England in 1908, she became a Fabian Socialist, interested in reforming society through law. She was a co-founder and 17-year board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. During the 1920s, Evans devoted her time and financial resources to Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists famously accused of robbery and murder. After their execution in 1927, she remained interested in prison reform. During the 1930s, as her health declined and her fortune dwindled, Evans spent her last few years quietly until her death in 1937. Yet, she would be long remembered as an unselfish advocate of human justice. While awaiting appeal of his death sentence, Nicola Sacco wrote Evans: "I will never forget the generous heart that fights without rest for the liberty of humanity oppressed."


Frankfurter, Marion Denman, and Gardner Jackson, eds., The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti. NY: The Viking Press, 1928.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971, pp. 588–589.


Elizabeth Glendower Evans Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.

Kathleen Banks Nutter , Manuscripts Processor at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts

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