Thursday, October 18, 2018
Portrait of Jane Norman Smith. Jane Norman Smith Papers, Schlesinger LibraryPortrait of Jane Norman Smith. Jane Norman Smith Papers, Schlesinger Library

Jane Norman Smith was, as the finding aid to her collection states, the chairwoman of the National Woman’s Party from 1927 to 1929. By delving a bit deeper into her papers one gets a ring-side seat during American women’s battles for suffrage and the beginning of the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment. In addition, her papers give a flavor of life at this time: the many letters, the travel, and the pressures of a privileged, active woman who made her mark in New York state and national suffrage circles. Some of her collection is now available online in a new database available at Harvard, Gender: Identity and Social Change.

Her collection begins in 1913, the year of the march on Washington for suffrage. It documents the many organizations she worked for and positions she held. Her extensive correspondence flows through the years as she becomes increasingly active. She began small, participating in suffrage reading clubs in New York City, but soon enough, she was writing letters using the letterhead of the National Woman’s Party New York chapter and serving on various committees for the chapter. She lobbied her New York representatives for the Equal Rights Amendment when it was brought to Congress in 1923. She also lobbied a great deal against protective legislation for women workers, believing that shorter working hours for women would eventually lead to their being driven out of the workforce entirely, and wanting women to be able to take jobs other than those they were traditionally limited to. She also supported the National Woman’s Party’s international activities and endorsement of Herbert Hoover for President.

Jane Norman Smith speaking before assembly in Havana, Cuba. Jane Norman Smith Papers, Schlesinger LibraryJane Norman Smith speaking before assembly in Havana, Cuba. Jane Norman Smith Papers, Schlesinger Library

In 1926 Smith was appointed by the governor of New York to represent the state at the Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Paris. She was chairman of the National Woman’s Party from 1927 to 1929. In that capacity, she spoke at the Pan-American Conference in Havana, Cuba in 1928 that established the Inter-American Commission on Women. She later was on the committee that invested the money of the National Woman’s Party. Letters in the collection depict Jane as trustworthy and careful with a variety of funds related to the party.

The collection includes correspondence with many of the other members of the National Woman’s Party and other activists of the time. Most notable is Smith’s correspondence with Alice Paul, which takes up several folders. In one letter, Alice Paul describes how the United Nations meetings at Lake Success included a “status of Women Commission.” Paul notes “And I want to say that I never forget how very much we owe to you for the launching at Havana of our efforts in the international field. Everything that we have done since has stemmed from the Havana Conference. You have my constant gratitude.” From these letters and other materials in the collection one gets a sense of the inner workings of the National Woman’s Party and also of some personality conflicts among the suffragists.

Telegram from Anita Pollitzer to Jane Norman Smith, 1947. Jane Norman Smith Papers, Schlesinger LibraryTelegram from Anita Pollitzer to Jane Norman Smith, 1947. Jane Norman Smith Papers, Schlesinger LibraryHer collection is particularly interesting in tracing the discord in the National Woman’s Party in 1947. There are records of a lawsuit filed that year. From the lawsuit it appears that an insurgent leadership group took over the party by calling for meetings but some famous older members, including Anita Pollitzer, Alice Paul, and Jane Norman Smith, resisted. They had been re-elected by mail in 1945. This dispute over the leadership of the National Woman’s Party led to many divisions in the organization, with some members urging compromise rather than a lawsuit. Doris Stevens supported the insurgents in her attempt to keep power. In the end, Pollitzer and Paul prevailed in court and Stevens resigned from the Party. The collection contains correspondence about the lawsuit between Pollitzer and Smith and copies of letters to other members. In one letter to Pollitzer, Smith reflects that she felt Alice Paul behaved incorrectly in an earlier meeting. “I thought at the time that it was a great mistake for Miss Paul to have made so many motions at the Executive Council meeting-one after the other…the answers were a bit abrupt to go to critical members.” She also states “Please destroy this letter when you have read it. It is for your eyes alone.” The collection also contains a carbon copy of a letter Smith sent to Doris Stevens, asking why she was supporting the rebellious members who tried to take over the Party. The Papers of Doris Stevens, also available at Schlesinger, has a subseries (which has been digitized) about the dispute.

Jane Norman Smith was a prolific writer. She wrote three books about her own ancestors, including Crean Brush, Loyalist and his Descendants.

Smith was married to Clarence Smith. She had two daughters, Helen, who is mentioned in some of the papers and gave the Schlesinger this collection, and Muriel. Smith died on September 2, 1953 in Windsor, Vermont, at the age of 79.


Jennifer Weintraub