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May Wright Sewall

“Universal suffrage is the only guarantee against despotism,” May Wright Sewall pronounced before the eighteenth annual convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1886. Born in Wisconsin in 1844, Mary Eliza Wright–who later changed her name to May–put herself through Northwestern Female College. She started teaching in Indianapolis in 1872, and went on to found, with her second husband, the Girls’ Classical School. Art was a passion for Sewall. She was a charter member of the Art Association of Indianapolis, the Contemporary Club, and the Herron Art Institute.

It is for her efforts on behalf of women and peace that Sewall is best remembered. She led a narrowly defeated campaign for female suffrage in Indiana in the 1880s and went on to champion that cause as president of the National Council of Women in 1891 and of the International Council of Women in 1899. In 1915, she accepted Henry Ford’s invitation to travel to Europe as part of his Peace Expedition to halt the First World War. Sewall devoted herself in later years to the research of spiritualism. Her book Neither Dead Nor Sleeping, which recounts her experiences, was published a few months before her death in 1920. The Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the vote, was ratified a month later.

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