Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Edith Houghton Hooker (1879-1948)
MSA SC 3520-13609


As a vocal advocate for female suffrage, Edith Houghton Hooker was one of the most innovative and successful suffrage leaders in the State of Maryland. Realizing that a federal amendment was the only path to secure suffrage for Maryland women, Hooker’s local campaigns helped deconstruct the social barriers and misconceptions that deterred many from favoring female suffrage, and her efforts in Maryland helped women gain the right to vote nationwide.

Edith Houghton was born in Buffalo, New York on December 29, 1879. She attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and continued her education at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School. She was one of the first women that attended the medical school, thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth King Ellicott. During her time at Johns Hopkins, she met her husband, Dr. Donald Hooker, and the two spent a year in Berlin, Germany before returning to Baltimore. Hooker began social work in Baltimore where she bore witness to the unhygienic and restricting conditions faced by mothers and children in the city. This prompted her involvement in the Maryland suffrage movement, and she first joined Elizabeth King Ellicott’s Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore in 1907.1

Soon after rising in the ranks of Ellicott’s league, Hooker resigned and began her own suffrage organization, the Just Government League. This league was directly affiliated with the National American Suffrage Association. Hooker began her Just Government League at a difficult time for suffragists in Maryland since female suffrage bills were recently defeated twice by the state legislature. Realizing that the state legislature would never grant suffrage to Maryland women, Hooker now understood that a federal amendment, rather than state legislation, was the only way to ensure suffrage for Maryland women. She abandoned the policies of other leading Baltimore suffrage leaders and adopted the direct action policy of Alice Paul, a militant suffragist who fought for federal a suffrage amendment.2

Thus began Edith Hooker’s unconventional yet effective method of educating Marylanders about the female suffrage movement and the logic behind giving women voting rights. Automobiles were a novel concept in the early 1910s and women, especially the members of high society, usually did not drive. Hooker defied social norms when she began driving to various locations in Baltimore City in order to conduct “open air suffrage meetings” and answer questions pertaining to the suffrage movement. According to Hooker, women should have the right to vote on domestic grounds since the cleanliness level and purity level in Maryland would increase if women had the ability to vote. In one open air suffrage meeting, she defended her belief that milk would be purer and the City’s water would be cleaner if women could vote “because we are mothers and, therefore, would take more interest in this matter than the men would.”3 In response to a critic who asked what women would do with their babies when they went to vote, Hooker responded that “we have to leave the baby every day while we attend the market…Surely, if we can leave him every day in the year to attend to the buying of home necessities we can leave him one day in the year to vote.”4

Hooker gained followers through her ingenious method of spreading information, and she and other members of the Just Government League continued to stress the necessity of female suffrage through open air meetings. Noting the disgusting and unhygienic nature of the streets, Hooker told the public that “when a woman is trying to look out for her family, she does not like to see dead horses lying in the alley. If you give her the ballot, she will see to it, too, that there will be very little tuberculosis in the schools, less typhoid fever from impure water, and fewer other ills which come from municipal housekeeping.”5

Katherine Houghton Hepburn, the mother of famous actress Katherine Hepburn, often joined her sister Edith in Baltimore to participate in Edith’s meetings. Hepburn was involved in the suffrage movement in Connecticut and was president of the Equal Franchise League chapter in Hartford. Both Hooker and Hepburn argued for female suffrage on behalf of marriage, saying that women would be better companions for men if they could discuss politics. The only way women could become actively involved in politics, and thus become better wives, was if they were granted suffrage.6

During the winter months, Hooker and the Just Government League retreated indoors to parlors to spread their message, and these meetings were attended by both pro- and anti- suffragists. Hooker began her methods of informing the public about suffrage around 1910, and, in 1913, she organized 214 parlor meetings which had a total attendance of 19,410 and eighty-six open air meetings where over 9,500 men and women attended.7 Clearly, residents of Baltimore were interested in learning more about the suffrage movement through Hooker.

In 1915, the Just Government League boasted 17,000 members, making that it the largest suffrage organization in the State of Maryland at that time. Hooker utilized many other mediums to spread her messages about female suffrage, including editing the Maryland Suffrage News. This was a “weekly paper noted for its accurate reporting and intelligent analysis of suffrage news both in Maryland and in neighboring states,” and the paper had readers in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and even California.8 Hooker’s success as an effective organizer and intelligent suffragist attracted much attention, and, in 1917, she was offered the position of editor of The Suffragist, the official paper of the National Woman’s Party.

Although she spent most of her time advocating for suffrage within Maryland, Hooker still participated in national movements and campaigns for female suffrage. The National American Suffrage Association had already voiced their dislike for Woodrow Wilson, using the slogan “He kept women out of suffrage.” Hooker adopted this slogan and led the campaign against Wilson in Maryland. Wilson was re-elected in 1916, prompting the National Woman’s Party to constantly picket in front of the White House. Hooker, along with many of her other suffrage acquaintances, participated in the picket lines. The protests lasted for three months, until the United States announced its involvement in World War I and the government arrested all the picketers.9

As an advocate for federal suffrage, Edith Houghton Hooker saw her dream become a reality when the United States Congress passed the 19th Amendment. She, however, like all other women in the state of Maryland, found themselves in a tumultuous situation after the Maryland legislature refused to ratify the amendment. The amendment eventually received its needed national majority and became law. After many years of rejection, women in Maryland could finally vote, and Hooker’s continuous efforts were not in vain.

Hooker continued her role as president of the Just Government League after federal suffrage was granted to women. She continued to fight for equal rights for women in Maryland, and, in 1922, Hooker and the Just Government League brought a bill before the Maryland legislature that granted women equal political and civil rights with men. The League rejoiced a month later when their Equal Rights Bill was passed by a 75 to 30 vote in the House of Delegates. The bill provided Maryland with a new set of rights, such as “exercise of suffrage, holding public office, choice of residence for voting purposes, care and custody of children, and freedom of contract.”10 This bill, however, was rejected by the Maryland Senate on the grounds that the measure was “still far too extensive in the equality of rights and obligations.”11 The Senate revised the bill and only included the section about women legally holding office and also added another addition to the bill which stated that “words and phrases used in creating public offices and positions shall be constructed to include the feminine gender”.12 The revised bill allowing women to hold office was approved by both the House of Delegates and the Senate on April 13, 1922.13 Maryland women were now allowed to extend their new influence in the government thanks to the work of Hooker.

Edith Houghton Hooker passed away in 1948 after a seven-year struggle with illness.14 She was a unique and independent suffragist, and her novel technique of directly reaching out to voters dispelled myths and informed the ignorant about the advantages of female suffrage. Her efforts to ensure equal rights to women benefited women in Maryland and throughout the entire country. As an unrelenting suffrage pioneer, Edith Houghton Hooker deserves her commemoration in the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

1. Mal Hee Son Wallace, “Edith Houghton Hooker, 1879-1948: Suffragist Leader,” in Notable Maryland Women, ed. Winifred G. Helmes, Ph.D. (Cambridge: Tidewater Publishers, 1977), 183. Return to text

2. Ibid. Return to text

3. “LIVELY FOR SUFFRAGE: Mrs. Hooker Silences Questioner At Light And Baltimore Streets MR. REED LEWIS INTERRUPTED Remarks From The Audience Relate To Husbands And Babies Of Voting Women,” Baltimore Sun, July 19, 1910. Return to text

4. Ibid. Return to text

5. “SUFFRAGE FOR THE WIFE: Mrs. Hooker Shows Influence Of A Woman's Vote On The Home SHE SPEAKS IN EAST BALTIMORE Uses Sidewalk As Her Rostrum--Last Week Of Summer Campaign Begun,” Baltimore Sun, August 9, 1910. Return to text

6. “SISTERS PLEAD FOR VOTE: Mrs. Hepburn and Mrs. Hooker Speak At Same Meeting; Only Men In The Audience,” Baltimore Sun, August 6, 1910. Return to text

7. Wallace 185. Return to text

8. Ibid. Return to text

9. Ibid. Return to text

10. “WOMAN EQUAL RIGHTS IS PASSED BY HOUSE: Party Lines Are Broken When Measure Goes Through, 75 to 30; Modeled on Wisconsin Law,” Baltimore Sun, May 1, 1922. Return to text

11. “Blanket Women’s Rights Bill Is Slaughtered In Senate; Measure Sponsored By Just Government League is Tabled By Vote Of 17 To 9—Administration’s Plan Advanced,” Baltimore Sun, March 23, 1922. Return to text

12. 1922 Laws of Maryland, Chapter 275, pg. 640, Return to text

13. 1922 Laws of Maryland, Chapter 454, pg. 1005, Return to text

14. “MRS. HOOKER, LONG ILL, DIES: Two Sons, Three Daughters Survive Suffrage Pioneer,” Baltimore Sun, October 24, 1948. Return to text

Biography written by 2014 summer intern Sharon Miyagawa.

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