Early in the 1870s a young woman secretly began sending articles under a male pseudonym to the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail. Not until September, 1882, did the name Ida Husted Harper appear with these writings.
Harper’s column, “A Woman’s Opinions,” discussed women’s rights and the proper role of women. Like many women of her time, Harper believed women should be allowed to pursue work outside the home—but only if it was necessary for the family’s survival. Otherwise, she should marry and have a family. Harper’s personal life did not always align with her public views, however. Her marriage to a prominent and successful lawyer ended in divorce just before her thirty-ninth birthday in 1890.
After the divorce, her life changed dramatically. Harper became a leader in the fight for women’s suffrage. Eugene V. Debs, another native of Terre Haute, had introduced her to Susan B. Anthony in 1878, and the two women became close friends. Harper would go on to write a three-volume biography of Anthony. She frequently praised her in her columns, even comparing her to Lincoln:
Miss Anthony’s face has something in it which reminds one of Abraham Lincoln’s, the same strong, rugged features, softened by lines of weariness and care and spiritualized by an expression of infinite sadness.
As their friendship grew, so did Harper’s activism on behalf of the long, constant struggle for women’s suffrage. She traveled extensively and focused her writing on women’s rights. In 1897, she moved into Susan B. Anthony’s home in Rochester, New York, in order to write the biography. Harper frequently accompanied Anthony on her lecture tours and to suffrage conventions in both the United States and Europe, and began both writing and editing women’s columns for major newspapers nationwide.
Harper was one of the lucky few early suffragists to live to see the Nineteenth Amendment pass in 1919; Anthony, on the other hand, had died at the age of eighty-six in 1906. Although her hopes for great moral changes from women’s suffrage were not realized, Harper was a remarkable Hoosier who served on the front lines in one of the nation’s most historic, and important, battles.
A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.
Source Article: Nancy Baker Jones, “A Forgotten Feminist: The Early Writings of Ida Husted Harper, 1878-1894,” Indiana Magazine of History 73, no. 2 (June 1977): 79-101.