Emily Parmely Collins (1814 – 1909)
Emily Parmely Collins was born in South Bristol, New York in 1814. In 1848, she attended a Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, which has been credited with igniting the women’s movement. As a result of this convention, Collins became an avid supporter of the cause, and she gathered some women from her community and created the South Bristol Equal Suffrage Society. The group of women exchanged and discussed ideas as well as petitioned the legislature on important matters. The group disbanded after only a year due to difficulties associated with convening, however, they did continue to petition the legislature on matters of importance to them.
Emily once stated:
“…from the earliest dawn of reason I pined for that freedom of thought and action that was then denied to all womankind. I revolted in spirit against the customs of society and the laws of the state that crushed my aspirations and debarred me from the pursuit of almost every object worthy of an intelligent, rational mind.”
In 1858, she moved to Rochester, New York where she continued to be active in the women’s suffrage movement. It was here that she began writing newspaper articles in support of the cause and petitioned the legislature to grant women the “privilege of voting.”
When the Civil War broke out, Emily served as a volunteer nurse in Virginia. Her two sons, one of which was a surgeon, also served in the civil war. For many women’s right activists, the Civil War was seen as a turning point. Husbands and sons were going to war leaving women to run the family farms, oversee family businesses, and participate in the traditional male roles in order to sustain their communities.
As an avid abolitionist, Emily wrote:
“All through the Anti-slavery struggle, every word of denunciation of the wrongs of the southern slave, was, I felt, equally applicable to the wrongs of my own sex. Every argument for the emancipation of the colored man, was equally one for that of woman; and I was surprised that all Abolitionists did not see the similarity in the condition of the two classes.”
In 1869, Emily moved with her husband and family to Louisiana where her second husband died. She continued to advocate for women’s right to vote.
In the early 1880s, Emily moved to Hartford, Connecticut where she began writing for the Hartford Journal under the pen name “Justitia.” Her columns became known for supporting human rights, specifically women’s rights. She also collaborated with Frances Ellen Burr to organize the Hartford Equal Rights Club of which she was elected president.
From 1848 until her death in 1909, Emily worked tirelessly for women’s rights and for women’s right to vote. Although she did not live to see the fruits of her labor as the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote was not adopted until 1920, Collins was recognized for her advocacy efforts in 1907 by a telegram of appreciation from the Convention of National American Women Suffrage Association.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Anthony, Susan B., and Gage, Matilda Joslyn, eds. History of Woman Suffrage, Volume I, 1848 – 1861. Accessed at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/28020/28020-h/28020-h.htm on August 20, 2010.
Western New York Suffragists. Emily Parmely Collins. Accessed at http://www.winningthevote.org/F-EPCollins.html on August 20, 2010.
Photo Credit: Emily Parmely Collins, Public Domain.