The Woman’s Suffrage Movement of the 19th century had a profound impact on not only the United States as a country, but the individual states themselves. It was a grassroots movement that would kindle changes to the political and domestic landscape by requiring the acknowledgement of a woman’s right to vote. When reviewing the history of woman’s suffrage in the United States, it would be neglectful of the researcher to exclude one of Colorado’s most sovereign and powerful female voices found in author and newspaper proprietor and editor, Caroline Nichols Churchill.
Before jumping into Churchill’s story, it is important to understand the context of the history in which her actions earned her a place in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. The woman’s suffrage movement was beating the dust off of the status quo of the western worlds during the Victorian era. The mid-late 1800s was a time of female revolution where the temperance, populist, and suffrage movements combined into a hurricane of change throughout the United Kingdom and United States. Enfranchisement was a flame burning in the chests of women across the world with sparks of the appeal recorded in literature such as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre published in 1847 and as early as the budding days of America’s Declaration of Independence when Abigail Adams charged her husband, John, with the duty of remembering women when creating one of the country’s most important documents in 1776. The Suffrage Movement landed in Colorado first during the development of its State Constitution in 1877, but failed to be voted into law until 16 years later.
Churchill was born in Pickering, Ontario to American parents. Her father was a soldier in the War of 1812 and her mother the daughter of a wealthy farming family in Pennsylvania. Her early childhood consisted of domestic responsibilities including tending the garden and sewing leaving little time or access to formal education. After a brief visit to her maternal grandmothers and an even briefer spell in public education amounting to a few months, Churchill was engaged in her early teens to teach at a private school back home in Ontario. Much of her education was self-taught and provided through the family reading periodicals such as the New York Ledger, the Herald, and Tribune. A budding feminist even in her early days, Churchill explains that she “was considered eccentric, as people usually are who have studious habits and some idea of the value of time, caring more for books than for dress or spending time on dress parade.” When she came of age, her marriage was arranged and she lived as a wife and mother for just over a decade before her husband died. She continued to teach while raising her daughter before eventually giving her daughter to the care of her newly married sister so that she could travel to California and perform outdoor activities to aid her ailing health.Churchill describes herself as “not mathematical nor mechanical, but an abstract reasoner. Order of brain, statesmanship, philosophical and poetical. Not really great in anything but perseverance, firmness and self-respect. Longs for a more ideal civilization. Is so much in earnest upon this point as to give the best years of her life towards this attainment.”
During her travels to and around California Churchill published numerous books including Little Sheeves Gathered While Gleaning After Reapers in 1874, Over the Purple Hills in 1883, and Sketches from Travel in California in 1883 as well. These works earned her the title of a travel writer and were the precursor to her eventual proprietorship of a newspaper in Colorado. The books also touched on her observations of the lives of the women she met along the way as well as the state of equality amongst the sexes. Her tenure in California helped develop her feminist leanings taking her opinions from personal to political. While there in 1872 she took action on a legislative level to help overturn and replace a bill that punished prostitutes for their crime, but left their clients unscathed. It would seem, however, that California would not be able to keep Churchill forever. It was upon a return trip from Chicago after working to publish one of her books that she stopped to rest in Denver, Colorado and decided to stay as the climate and altitude agreed with her.
The proceeds of her writings allowed her to buy land in Denver in 1879 and setup shop for her own periodical named TheColorado Antelope.Her first and second edition of the newspaper was met with such success that she was able to fund the next year’s worth of publication. Churchill used the newspaper as a platform to spread her beliefs about women, their current occupations, and their squandered untapped potential, however, this was not her only focus.She also wrote about humanity as a whole, labor unions, and the Populist Party. In 1882, Churchill changed the name of the newspaper to The Queen Bee.Churchill’s ideologies were featured throughout the newspaper’s articles and bolstered support for the growing Suffrage Movement in the American West. She often used the platform to combat other, male, journalists and touch on the importance of equality among the genders stating in her “Woman’s Suffrage” article:
“If the women of this nation can arrest the development of rascality sufficient to prevent history from repeating itself, it is all the world will ask of them. The brotherhood of the race can be established.If women cannot accomplish this, then there is no hope for popular institutions. By the people for the people is once more a demonstrated failure, and the priest once more stands hand in hand with the moneyed powers of the earth to smother and destroy the aspirations of the masses, that a few may live in luxury with women, song and wine, while the masses, are enslaved.”
Churchill continues to state that “the emancipation of the women of the country simply means the dawn of a golden era. Better conditions for every man, woman, and child.”
Although a staunch supporter and defender of minorities such as Chinese laborers and African-Americans, Churchill is not without her own racial hypocrisy. Through her periodical, Churchill did not shy away from warning readers about the “great Catholic threat” when referencing the Mexican influence and populations in Colorado. She made it a point to condemn the actions of men who oppressed people of color to such a degree that it was viewed as detrimental to the cause of suffrage and resulted in the distancing of other larger women’s organizations such as the Colorado Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Churchill’s outspoken nature was viewed by others as a wedge driven between male allies and the suffragettes. As one reader of The Queen Bee petitioned for the cancellation of her subscription she wrote, “It is very annoying to me to read such a tirade of abuse against the Catholics. I don’t believe in abusing any religion as they are all serving the same God… It don’t bother me to hear the men abused, but I don’t like to hear religion slurred.”However, in her mission to maintain her journalistic integrity, or perhaps simply her own belief system’s, she strongly bucked against the need to appease the masses and instead continued to speak her mind unapologetically as can be seen in her rebuttal to the patron’s letter: “Instead of elevating the race it had been necessary to drag them to a low superstitious level to get them to tolerate the doctrines of the physical portion of the race. Mormonism and Romanism form excellent examples of this fact.” It was Churchill’s interpretation that male dominated churches such as the Catholic or Mormon religions were one of the main threats to the suffrage movement and so anyone affiliated with these religions were also a threat to woman’s enfranchisement. As a result, Churchill pegged the Mexican population of Colorado as an enemy to the cause. Her thoughts on the subject were not empty, rather they were a sophisticated, albeit biased, theory as she states:
“He thinks as a slave class always do that they must imitate their religion and political bosses by having something to look down upon the same as their religious and political bosses look down on them, hence these poor adult children oppose woman’s emancipation from political subjection.’ The Mexican were by nature, however, ‘as good as any race who are low enough in the scale of civilization to accept Romanism for their ideals of Gods. Man is only the result of his environments at best and under any circumstances.’”
Churchill’s scathing opinion did not stop at Mexicans, however, as she also lumped into this lower class of civilization “saloon keepers, druggists, and women who have never had an idea beyond the kitchen stove…” It is important to point out that Churchill was not the only supporter of woman’s suffrage to cast blame for its lack of success in the early days of the movement onto the Mexican population. When woman’s enfranchisement was on the docket a second time in Colorado, Susan B. Anthony blatantly asked, “Have you converted all those Mexicans?”
Churchill lived her remaining days in Colorado, ending her publication of The Queen Bee due to the decline of subscriptions in 1895 after the state of Colorado successfully voted in woman’s enfranchisement in 1893. She died at the age of 93, six years after the 19th Amendment passed into Federal Law. There is no doubt that Churchill was a driving force not only in the Colorado suffrage movement, but the greater United States’ as well. Though far from infallible, Churchill was a woman of independence, fortitude, and beliefs groomed over a lifetime of exploration and education. Hers is a voice that has reverberated throughout generations benefiting women on a global scale more than a century after her last publication.
1. Abbott, Carl, Stephen J. Leonard, and Thomas J. Noel. Colorado: A History of the Centennial State. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2013.
2. “Caroline M. Churchill.” Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/caroline-m-churchill/.
3. “Chronicling America « Library of Congress.” News about Chronicling America RSS. Accessed November 02, 2018. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.
4. “Churchill, “Woman’s Suffrage,” Apr 1893.” Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000. Accessed November 02, 2018. http://womhist.alexanderstreet.com/colosuff/doc14.htm.
5. Grimshaw, Patricia, and Katherine Ellinghaus. “A Higher Step for the Race’: Caroline Nichols Churchill, The “Queen Bee” and Woman’s Suffrage in Colorado, 1879-1893.” Australasian Journal of American Studies 20, no. 2 (2001): 29-46. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41053866.
6. Nichols Churchill, Caroline. Active Footsteps. Colorado Springs, CO: Mrs. C.N. Churchill, 1909. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.rsm7yg.
7. Nichols Churchill, Caroline. “Woman’s Suffrage.” The Queen Bee (Denver), April 26, 1893, 14th ed.
8. Thompson, Jennifer A. “From Travel Writer to Newspaper Editor: Caroline Churchill and the Development of Her Political Ideology within the Public Sphere.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 20, no. 3 (1999): 42-63. doi:10.2307/3347220.
9. “Woman’s Suffrage History Timeline.” National Parks Service. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/womens-suffrage-history-timeline.htm.
1. “Caroline M. Churchill.” Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/caroline-m-churchill/.
“Woman’s Suffrage History Timeline,” National Parks Service, , accessed November 01, 2018, https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/womens-suffrage-history-timeline.htm.
Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and Thomas J. Noel, Colorado: A History of the Centennial State (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2013), 185.
Caroline Nichols Churchill, Active Footsteps (Colorado Springs, CO: Mrs. C.N. Churchill, 1909), 13.
Jennifer A. Thompson. “From Travel Writer to Newspaper Editor: Caroline Churchill and the Development of Her Political Ideology within the Public Sphere.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 20, no. 3 (1999): 42-63. doi:10.2307/3347220. 50.
“Churchill, “Woman’s Suffrage,” Apr 1893.” Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000. Accessed November 02, 2018. http://womhist.alexanderstreet.com/colosuff/doc14.htm.
Caroline Nichols Churchill. “Woman’s Suffrage.” The Queen Bee (Denver), April 26, 1893, 14th ed.
Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and Thomas J. Noel, Colorado: A History of the Centennial State (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2013), 184.