Pollitzer, Anita (1894–1975)

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Pollitzer, Anita (1894–1975)

American feminist and suffragist. Born Anita Lily Pollitzer on October 31, 1894, in Charleston, South Carolina; died in Queens, New York, on July 3, 1975; daughter of Clara Pollitzer (a German teacher) and Gusta Morris Pollitzer (a cotton exporter and civic activist); sister of Mabel and Carrie Pollitzer; studied at Winthrop College, Rock Hill, South Carolina, and Art Students League, New York, 1914; Teachers College, Columbia University, B.S. degree in art and education, 1916; Columbia University, A.M. degree in international law, 1933; married Elie Charlier Edson (a freelance press agent), in 1928.

Equal-rights advocate Anita Pollitzer was born in 1894 in Charleston, South Carolina. By the time she started school, she could already read, write, and play piano. In 1913, she graduated from Memminger High and Normal School and then went on for a summer of study at South Carolina's Winthrop College. Deciding to pursue a degree in art, she entered Columbia University's Teachers College from which she was to receive a B.S. in art and education (1916). One of her classmates there was Georgia O'Keeffe . Their correspondence, begun in 1915, lasted until 1965, the longest association O'Keeffe was ever to maintain, and it was Pollitzer who first presented the artist's work to Alfred Stieglitz, initiating the creative partnership between the two.

Not long after Pollitzer's graduation, the woman suffrage movement caught her attention. She met Alice Paul , with whom she was to be closely associated for decades, and became a member of the organization around which her life was to center, the National Woman's Party (NWP). Paul quickly realized that Pollitzer, with her attractive looks and Southern charm, could be a great asset to the NWP. Thus Pollitzer began traveling to a number of states in the years just prior to ratification of the 19th Amendment, working in various capacities on behalf of women's suffrage, including lobbying, organizing, and speaking. In 1917, she was arrested and detained while picketing in Washington as a Silent Sentinel. It was Pollitzer who had dinner with Tennessee state legislator Henry T. Burn in August 1920 and convinced him to cast the deciding vote the following day as his state became the 36th and last to ratify the amendment.

During the following four decades, Pollitzer fought for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), writing letters, speaking, contributing to NWP's Equal Rights publication, and appearing before the Senate and House committees. She put her labors into the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and served as vice-chair of Paul's World Woman's Party. Paul relinquished her position as chair of the NWP, choosing Pollitzer as her successor, but Pollitzer was challenged by Paul's rival Doris Stevens (1892–1963); it took a lawsuit to prove that Pollitzer was now the legal head of the organization. She was generally acknowledged as rendering what Constance Ashton Myers in Notable American Women has termed "able, even brilliant, leadership, although some members deplored her subjection 'to Miss Paul's views … passions and moods,' and others believed Paul deliberately held Pollitzer back, preventing her from becoming the national leader of women she might have been."

Pollitzer was also an art and English teacher and did volunteer work for an antivivisection society. Following her retirement in the 1950s, she was given a letter of agreement by Georgia O'Keeffe to write an informal biography of the artist. But in 1968, with the publication date nearing, O'Keeffe abruptly pulled her consent. Pollitzer's book on O'Keeffe, A Woman on Paper, would not be published until 1988.

During the 1960s, Pollitzer visited sisters Mabel and Carrie Pollitzer , who had been active in the suffrage campaign on a local level, and continued her involvement with the NWP through correspondence and by phone. After a stroke in 1971, she never fully recovered and was cared for during the following four years in her apartment by nurses. She died in 1975.


Castro, Jan Garden. The Art & Life of Georgia O'Keeffe. NY: Crown, 1985.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

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Pollitzer, Anita (1894–1975)

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