Jessie Ashley, valiant rebel


Jessie Ashley, valiant rebel


If you were born rich and you know that’s not fair, what can you do?

Jessie Ashley tried to use her advantages to make the world more just. Socialist, suffragist, lawyer, birth control advocate, “a valiant rebel” (Emma Goldman).🧵

Jessie’s father was a railroad baron, her family descended from the Mayflower. She grew up in comfort in NYC and Europe - and she didn’t reject their privilege right away. Something changed in her late 30s, I don’t know what. So at age 39, she started law school.

It was 1900 and NYU had just decided to admit women. Jessie's brother was the dean, so she knew she’d get in - but she probably didn’t know she’d find a cohort of radical feminists there. After graduation Jessie opened a law firm in Greenwich Village w/other @NYULaw women.

She became more radical over the years--we can see her trajectory. She was active in the College Equal Suffrage League, created in 1900 to bring younger upper-class women into the movement. In 1907-08 Jessie worked with Harriot Stanton Blatch to bring more working-class women in.

Blatch names Jessie among a cohort of active young women, inc her own daughter Nora. But Jessie becomes much more deeply involved in labor organizing than most of her peers. She joins the IWW and is a mainstay of support for major strikes in NYC, Lawrence, Mass. & Patterson, NJ.

At the same time, she was also devoted to NAWSA - the uptight, respectable, mainstream suffragists. She was national treasurer from 1910-1912!

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she was the only NAWSA board member funding the Wobblies.

She & NAWSA parted ways, apparently mutually, over her radical politics. She didn’t marry, but was involved w. IWW leader “Big Bill” Haywood. She wanted other women to have the sexual freedom she had, and co-founded the Nat'l Birth Control League with Margaret Sanger & Ida Rauh.

Throughout, she used her legal talent to protect other activists and radicalize the profession. She was active in @nycla and worked as a bar examiner. She ran for a seat on the NY Court of Appeals - she didn’t win but she got 63,000 votes.

She opposed WWI, and supported Emma Goldman’s protest against the draft. She paid $10,000 bond when Goldman was arrested in 1917. Jessie herself was arrested for refusing to stand for the Star-Spangled banner, and for handing out contraceptive literature in Union Square. Jessie Ashley died of pneumonia in January 1919.

#suffrage100 #19thamendment


Daily Suffragist


Original thread


Sept 18, 2020


Jessie Ashley 1900 from LOC square.jpg
Goldman Anarchism.jpg
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Daily Suffragist, “Jessie Ashley, valiant rebel,” Daily Suffragist, accessed September 27, 2022,

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