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Severance, Caroline M. (1820–1914)

Severance, Caroline M. (1820–1914)

American suffragist, abolitionist, and club founder. Born Caroline Maria Seymour on January 12, 1820, in Canandaigua, New York; died on November 10, 1914, in Los Angeles, California; eldest of five children of Orson Seymour (a banker) and Caroline (Clark) Seymour; attended Upham Female Seminary and Miss Almira Bennett's Boarding School in Owasco Lake, New York; graduated from the female seminary of Mrs. Elizabeth (Stryker) Ricord in Geneva, New York, in 1835; also briefly attended the Auburn Female Seminary; married Theodoric Cordenio Severance (a banker), in 1840; children: Orson Seymour Severance (1841–1841); James Seymour Severance (b. 1842); Julia Long Severance (b. 1844); Mark Sibley Severance (1846); Pierre Clarke Severance (1849).

Founded the American Equal Rights Association with Susan B. Anthony (1866); founded the American Woman Suffrage Association with Lucy Stone and others (1869); established the New England Woman's Club (1868) and the Friday Morning Club in Los Angeles (1891); acknowledged as the first woman to register to vote under California's new woman suffrage law (1911).

Caroline M. Severance was born in 1820 in Canandaigua, New York, and spent her youth in nearby Auburn after her father's death in 1824. There, her guardian and paternal uncle, James S. Seymour, a devout, conservative Presbyterian, held sway. After attending several private girls' schools, she graduated with honors from the Female Seminary of Geneva in 1835. In 1840, she married banker Theodoric C. Severance. The couple moved to Cleveland, where they had five children, the first of whom died in infancy.

Severance and her husband were active in liberal causes and founded the Independent Christian Church, which was against slavery. Her interest in women's suffrage grew as she attended women's rights conventions in Ohio and New York, and in 1853 she presided over the first meeting of the Ohio Women's Right's Association. The following year, Severance presented a memorial to the Ohio legislature asking for property rights for women.

In 1855, the family moved to Boston, where Severance continued her involvement in intellectual, religious, and reformist activities. She presented a paper, "Humanity, a Definition and a Plea," to the Parker Fraternity Lecture Course, becoming the first woman to speak in the course. From 1856 until the Civil War broke out, Severance spoke on abolitionism to audiences in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In 1866, she and Susan B. Anthony founded the American Equal Rights Association, and in 1869, Severance joined Lucy Stone in organizing the American Woman Suffrage Association. She was also a founder of the Moral Education Association of Boston in 1873 and served as its first president.

Following a move to Los Angeles in 1875, she and her husband founded the city's first Unitarian congregation, and she began a women's club in 1885 that later became the Los Angeles Women's Club. During that same year, she organized the Los Angeles Free Kindergarten Association, which advocated making kindergarten part of the Los Angeles school system. In 1891, Severance organized her third women's club, the Friday Morning Club, which, like the others, advocated for civic reform.

Severance remained active after her husband's death in 1892, serving as president of the Los Angeles County Woman Suffrage League from 1900 to 1904. She became the first woman to register to vote under California's new woman suffrage law in 1911, and died three years later, age 94.


Eminent Women of the Age. Hartford, CT: S.M. Betts, 1868.

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

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Deborah Conn , freelance writer, Falls Church, Virginia

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