Elizabeth Boynton Harbert

April 15, 1843 – January 19, 1925

Elizabeth Boynton Harbert began her suffrage activity in Indiana, serving as vice-president of the Woman Suffrage Association of Indiana and delivering her first speech on this cause at a women suffrage convention in Crawfordsville in 1869. She participated in the founding convention for the Illinois Women Suffrage Association (IWSA) also in 1869. The next year she moved to Iowa where she served as vice president of the Iowa Women Suffrage Association.

In 1874 she moved to Evanston, Illinois where she and her husband lived for almost 40 years, raising their three children. Harbert was elected president of the IWSA in 1876 and continued to preside over it until 1884 and again from 1889-1890 and from 1900 to 1901, serving 12 years as president. IWSA sought to organize statewide by establishing local suffrage organizations in every county and Congressional district in the state. These efforts met with mixed success.

Starting in January 1877 she wrote a column titled, “Women’s Kingdom” for the Chicago daily paper, Inter Ocean. She resigned from Inter Ocean in 1884 in a dispute over editorial policy, namely, the paper’s unfavorable stance on labor, women’s suffrage and temperance. In January 1885 Harbert published the first issue of a newspaper called, “The New Era”. It publicized the leading ideas of the suffrage movement during its two years of existence. She also attempted to link the struggle of workers with the cause of women’s suffrage. In her view, enfranchising women was the best way to redress the grievances of labor because women would support legislative changes in labor’s interests.

In 1877 she was involved with founding the Illinois Social Science Association and served for two years as its president. In 1889 Harbert was one of the founders of the Evanston Woman’s Club and served as president for 8 years. She was an active participant in the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. In 1896 Harbert, in a speech entitled, “The Philosophy of Suffrage,” emphasized how women’s votes were necessary for the passage of a reform agenda and the establishment of a politics based on morality rather than greed and personal power. She and her family moved to California in 1910.

By Elizabeth Kinney, League of Women Voters of Evanston, originally published in Celebrating 100 Years of Illinois Women Voting: 2013 anniversary booklet.