Upton, Harriet Taylor (1853–1945)

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Upton, Harriet Taylor (1853–1945)

American suffragist, political leader, and author. Name variations: Mrs. George Upton. Born on December 17, 1853, in Ravenna, Ohio; died of hypertensive heart disease on November 2, 1945, in Pasadena, California; daughter of Ezra Booth Taylor (a judge and legislator) and Harriet M. (Frazer) Taylor; married George Whitman Upton (a lawyer), on July 9, 1884 (died 1923).

Harriet Taylor Upton was born in 1853 in Ravenna, Ohio, and grew up in a political family. Her father Ezra Booth Taylor was a circuit court judge who later became a U.S. congressional representative and served as chair of the Judiciary Committee. The oldest child and only daughter, Upton was intrigued by politics and often accompanied her father on his speaking tours. She attended a two-room schoolhouse, and later went to Warren High School, where she was especially interested in science. Her father's opposition prevented her from attending college; instead, she received a political education by traveling with him on his northern Ohio circuit and by serving as secretary of the Women's Christian Temperance Union of Trumbull County.

When Upton was in her late 20s, her mother Harriet Frazer Taylor died, and Upton accompanied her father to Washington, D.C., becoming his official hostess. As such, she met many national Republican leaders and became deeply familiar with American politics. In 1884, she married George Washington Upton, who became her father's law partner, and the newly married couple divided their time between Warren and Washington.

While still in her mid-20s, Upton had become aware of the issue of women's suffrage when Susan B. Anthony spoke in Warren, Ohio. At that time, Upton did not support the suffrage movement because she disagreed with what she thought was its underlying implication that men were unjust to women. In 1888, Upton again met Anthony in Washington and also met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone , and other women leaders. Although she liked Anthony, she was still opposed to suffrage, despite her father's support of it. In the process of researching an anti-suffrage article, however, she changed her mind and became an active supporter of the cause.

In 1890, she joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and began working for the movement. In 1893, she served on a committee that lobbied members of Congress for their opinions on suffrage. The following year, she began a 16-year term as treasurer of NAWSA, and from 1903 to 1909 she ran the association almost single-handedly from its headquarters in Warren. A skilled fund raiser and press agent and a tireless worker, Upton also edited reports of the national conventions, testified before Congressional hearings, oversaw the circulation of suffrage literature (including the group's monthly paper, Progress, which she edited from 1902 to 1910), and traveled to speak about the cause.

As well, she presided over the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association from 1899 to 1908 and from 1911 to 1920, organizing conventions and directing state referendum campaigns that ultimately resulted in securing municipal suffrage in the state. She also managed the campaign that led to the Ohio legislature's ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.

Upton wrote numerous political articles for newspapers and magazines, including Woman's Home Companion, Harper's Bazaar, and Outlook. Many of her children's stories were published in such popular magazines as St. Nicholas and Wide Awake. She also wrote a history book, Our Early Presidents: Their Wives and Children, from Washington to Jackson (1892), as well as the local histories A Twentieth Century History of Trumbull County, Ohio (1909) and the three-volume History of the Western Reserve (1910). All her writing emphasized the role of women in history, something she thought had been minimized by historians.

After women gained the vote, Upton was appointed vice-chair of the Republican National Executive Committee when Warren G. Harding, who was also from Ohio, was running for president. She was one of the first women to hold such a high party post, and kept the position for four years. Upton used her influence to gain government appointments for women. A year after her husband died in 1923, 70-year-old Upton became an unsuccessful candidate for her father's old seat in Congress, losing in the primaries. In 1928, after serving as assistant state campaign manager for the Republican Party, she became liaison between Governor Myers Y. Cooper and the Ohio Department of Public Welfare. As liaison, she implemented reforms at the Madison Ohio Home for Soldiers' and Sailors' Widows and at the Girls' Industrial School at Delaware, Ohio. Upton retired to Pasadena, California, in 1931, and died there of heart disease in 1945.


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

Kelly Winters , freelance writer