Olympia Brown


Olympia Brown


Meet a suffragist who began her career canvassing Kansas in 1867 -- and ended it in 1918 burning Woodrow Wilson’s speeches by the White House. In today’s episode of Suffrage Powerhouses We’ve Hardly Heard Of . . . 

Rev. Olympia Brown worked with Susan B Anthony, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, and almost every white suffrage leader in between. There aren’t many images in the 6-volume History of Woman Suffrage; her portrait is one of them.

She began her suffrage career in the trenches of the doomed Kansas campaign of 1867, giving nearly 300 speeches across the state. “Rev. Olympia Brown arrived in the State in July, where her untiring labors for four months were never equaled by man or woman.” -HWS vol. 2

The movement split a few years later, and Brown continued to work with both the National (Stanton & Anthony) and the American (Lucy Stone). She was more ideologically aligned with the National, though, because of its emphasis on a federal amendment.

Perhaps her early experience in Kansas made her skeptical of state ballot measures. Her later efforts in Wisconsin surely cemented her belief that state-by-state fights weren’t enough: federal action was necessary.

How did she get to be who she was? Olympia was her parents’ eldest, and they believed in her intellect. She spent a year at Mount Holyoke but found it too grimly religious, so she transferred to @AntiochCollege - then and always a more radical place.

She wasn’t averse to religion, though. She brought Rev. Antoinette Brown Blackwell to speak at Antioch. “It was the first time I had heard a woman preach,” Olympia wrote later, “and the sense of the victory lifted me up.” Olympia Brown was ordained herself in 1863 - the first woman approved by her full denomination.

When she married in 1873, she kept her own name.

A few years later, she was called to pastor the Universalist Church in Racine. She moved to Wisconsin with her husband and two children. There she ran the state suffrage association, which in 1886 got Wisconsin to pass a bill. The bill allowed women to vote in “any election pertaining to school matters.” Rev. Brown pointed out that ALL state and local elections involved school matters. She sued, unsuccessfully, for the right to vote.

After her husband died she took over the newspaper he published and ran it for 7 years. During those years her brother, Arthur Brown, became one of Utah’s 1st Senators. Also an Antiochian, he was later killed by a woman w/whom he’d had a tumultuous romantic relationship. #tangent

Rev. Brown was a better orator than organizer, and alienated the younger generation when they sought to join the campaign in Wisconsin. Also, like most white suffragists, she understood herself to be working for white women’s rights. In Kansas in 1867, she argued that “if it were good under certain reasons for the negro to vote, it was ten times better for the same reasons for the women to vote.” Decades later, she was bitter as she watched immigrant men vote when she couldn’t, and said so.

In her 80s she joined the Congressional Union/National Woman’s Party and served on its advisory committee. She was at home there: NWP was committed to a federal amendment, Rev. Brown’s longtime goal. And by nature she was not afraid to shock or offend. 👇center, w/NWP in 1915.

In Dec 1918, Pres. Wilson sailed for France and a peace conference ending the War. Democracy abroad was safe, but democracy at home was still far off. NWP organized a massive demonstration in Lafayette Park. Hundreds of women marched carrying purple, white and gold banners. In “the most dramatic moment in the ceremony...a tiny and aged woman stepped forward” and threw Wilson’s words into a bonfire. “I have fought for liberty for 70 years, and I protest against the President’s leaving our country with this old fight here unwon.”

Rev. Brown lived her final years in Baltimore, where she was active in the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom and the ACLU. She died in 1926, having voted in two presidential elections.

#Suffrage100 #19thAmendment


Daily Suffragist


Oct 4, 2020


Olympia Brown w NWP 1915.jpg
Olympia Brown banner NWP.jpg
Olympia Brown thread.png


Daily Suffragist, “Olympia Brown,” Daily Suffragist, accessed December 8, 2021, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/525.

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