Thursday, August 11, 2022
Social Justice, Women, World War I

Maude Morris Hincks – Bridgeport’s Woman of Substance – the Fight for the Right to Vote

By Carolyn Ivanoff

Mrs. W. T. Hincks, Woman’s Chairman of the Liberty Committee, delivering a large subscription to someone up on a reviewing stand

 

Maude Morris Hincks, 1873-1956, was a Bridgeport suffragist and activist.  She was reputedly the first woman in Connecticut to receive a drivers license.  A talented public speaker and organizer she devoted herself to the fight for women’s suffrage and led the Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Association as its president.  After 1920 she was heavily involved in the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan public education organization devoted to educating new women voters and the public on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.  Throughout her long life she worked for many civic causes, the YWCA, Pure Milk for Babies, Bridgeport Hospital, Visiting Nurses Association, the Central Committee on War Work, Bridgeport’s Liberty Committee helping to raise money for Liberty Bonds and the Bridgeport Minute Women raising funds for the relief of war torn Europe after the First World War. She participated and led Red Cross Relief efforts and was on the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce.   In 1936 she worked on Bridgeport’s Centennial Committee to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city.

Maude Morris was born on January 27, 1873, in Bridgeport to Marshall and Margaret Morris.  She completed four years of high school and went on to graduate from Vassar in 1893.  On June 15, 1897, she married William Thurston Hincks in the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport in one of the largest weddings held in the city up to that time.  Hincks was the eldest son of Major William B. Hincks, who was awarded the Medal of Honor at Gettysburg.  The groom was a Yale graduate of the class of 1891 and a lawyer in the firm of Banks & Hincks.  Will would go on to be a successful banker and wealthy stockbroker.  The couple would have two children, John and Mary.   Mrs. William T. Hincks could have rested on her husband’s laurels and lived the life of a society wife.  She did not.  The marriage was a successful partnership and Hincks supported his wife’s activism and her involvement in causes, especially in the suffrage movement.  He himself was involved in many civic affairs and organizations.  The newspapers report them both serving as committee members in various organizations.  When Bridgeport formed the Liberty Committee to support Liberty Loan drives during the First World War, Maude was appointed the Woman’s Chairman of the Liberty Committee, indeed, she was the only woman at the time.  Maude was an excellent public speaker and organizer.  She handled the press skillfully and was able to promote her causes and gain support, especially for women’s suffrage.

In 1911 Maude Hincks would be elected to lead the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association as President.  The Bridgeport Farmer reported on the convention and her election on October 28, 1911 stating “Owing to domestic ties, President Mrs. Thomas N. Hepburn of Hartford was not a candidate for reelection.”  The Farmer went on to describe the new president as a “graduate of Vassar.  She was married in 1897 to William T. Hincks, a stockbroker.  They have two children a boy of 13 years and a girl of 12.  Mrs. Hincks is strongly supported in her work for women suffrage by her husband.”  The outgoing president was Katherine Houghton Hepburn the wife of Dr. Thomas Hepburn.  They were the parents six children including actress Katherine Hepburn. The line in the Farmer article about Mrs. Hepburn not being a candidate for reelection owing to domestic ties can be translated as Dr. Hepburn being a bit impatient with his wife and wanting her at home more.  Mrs. Hepburn would again be elected president of the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association after Maude Hincks’ term was completed in 1913.

Maude Hincks’ tenure as president of CWSA was highly successful.  Under her leadership membership surged.  CWSA pushed hard for the rights of women citizens, especially in the presidential election. The 1912 national election was a crucial one with four candidates: Republican William Howard Taft, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Socialist Eugene V. Debs and former President Theodore Roosevelt, who bolted the Republican party, to run a progressive campaign as a Bull Moose.  Suffragists pushed candidates and the parties hard for a plank supporting women’s suffrage.  Debs, the Socialist, and TR, the Bull Moose, candidates did pledge support for the women’s vote.  The two major candidates, Wilson and Taft refused.  Applauded in the Bridgeport press for a rousing campaign speech during the election, Maude Hincks, pressed the two major party candidates for their negligence in not supporting the women’s vote.  Maude Hincks prodded the Republican Taft with the taunt that it seems the “Elephant fears the Moose.”  Indeed, Taft leading a splintered Republican party would not be elected.  Democrat Woodrow Wilson became president.

In 1913 a new radical suffrage tactic was launched. Marching for the vote.  On March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated, the Great Women’s Suffrage Parade was launched in Washington, D.C.  This became the first Civil Rights parade in American History.  Thousands of women gathered and prepared to march in a massive, elaborately orchestrated, and provocative spectacle. In 1913 this was a drastic attention seeking method.  Enormous numbers of women took part in the Washington parade.  It was designed to be a visually striking, live performance.   The intent was sensational publicity and newspaper photographs to showcase the demand for a Constitutional amendment.  In 1913 it was considered shocking for women to gather and march in public display.  Such parades were condemned by many women and even by many suffragists.  Nevertheless, other suffrage parades quickly followed although it took courage to participate.  The Bridgeport Farmer reported on May 5, 1913, “Mrs. Maude M. Hincks president of the state association was the only Bridgeport suffragist to march in the big parade in New York Saturday.  A number of Bridgeporters were present but did not take part in the parade.”

When the United States entered World War I in 1917 many radical suffragists were infuriated that President Wilson continued to oppose the vote for women.  During the Civil War many suffragists put aside their cause to support the Union, only to feel betrayed when the 15th Amendment excluded patriotic women and gave the right to vote only to black men.  In 1917 radical elements of the women’s movement vowed to continue the fight despite the nation being at war.  Women protesters were arrested and sent to jail for protesting and picketing the White House.  Maude Hincks’ fellow Vassar alumni, Elsie Hill from Norwalk was one.  Elsie was one of the three suffragist Hill sisters.  During 1918-19, Elsie Hill was arrested at least twice for her protest efforts.  In Boston for picketing President Wilson on his return from Europe and again in Washington, D.C. for climbing on a public monument in front of the White House. In total, she spent 23 days in jail.  Maude Hincks chose a different route.  As the son and daughter-in-law of a Medal of Honor recipient, Maude and her husband William both prominently served on the Liberty Committee and worked hard for the war effort.  Maude raised funds and took part in war relief efforts.

In 1920, the same year the 19th Amendment passed, Maude Hincks and other statewide activists hosted a meeting of Democratic women to discuss voting rights.  1920 was a presidential election year and the Democratic candidate for president was Governor James M. Cox of Ohio.  The vice presidential candidate was Franklin D. Roosevelt.   On September 18, 1920, the front page of the Bridgeport Times reported that Roosevelt would speak at a mass meeting at Seaside Park.  Maude Hincks and her husband William were both appointed to the committee that would meet the candidate upon his arrival in Bridgeport.  Other headlines on the front page described women were storming the registrars’ offices in Stratford and Fairfield in a rush to be made voters for the coming election.  Reading newspapers from 100 years ago remind us today that violence and terrorism are not contained to our own American era.  Printed above the article about Roosevelt’s arrival in Bridgeport was a picture titled “Clothing torn off by explosion” The photograph showed a police officer standing among items of clothing that were blown off victims when a timebomb exploded on Wall Street in front of the J.P. Morgan offices.  The caption noted gruesomely, “Some shoes found here were discovered to contain feet.”

Maud Hincks’ activism did not end with the passage of the 19th Amendment.  As an extremely effective suffragist and political activist it was natural that she would turn her energies to the League of Women Voters.  The League was founded in 1920 by Carrie Chapman Catt, six months before the 19th Amendment was ratified.  The League of Women Voters grew out of the women’s suffrage movement to help newly enfranchised women exercise their new responsibilities as voters. Today the purpose of the League continues to encourage voting by registering voters, providing voter information, and advocating for voting rights. The League also supports a variety of progressive public policy positions.

Maude Morris Hincks and other suffragists are little remembered today.  So many of us take the hard won rights we possess for granted.  The fight for women’s suffrage was a 72 year American struggle.  A righteous cause that many of us have forgotten.  In 1934 Connecticut Governor Wilbur L. Cross was the guest of honor when Isabella Beecher Hooker’s nine-year old great-grand daughter unveiled a brass plaque at the State Convention of the League of Women Voters.  The plaque held the names of 31 Connecticut women who fought and achieved the right of women to vote.  The plaque is mounted in the Connecticut State Capitol honoring those women.  Maud Morris Hincks’ name is there with the rest of those Connecticut patriots. Great Americans all.  Remember them.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Barone, Em, Biography of Maude Morris Hincks, 1873-1956, Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920, https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/d/1009656357

Bridgeport History Center World War I Collection and Finding Aid: Women’s Suffrage Research at the Bridgeport History Center

Chronicling America, the Library of Congress National Digital Newspaper Program

Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, The Hill Sisters: Clara Hill, Elsie Hill & Helena Hill, https://www.cwhf.org/inductees/the-hill-sisters

League of Women Voters of the US (LWVUS), Notable Connecticut Women of 100 Years Ago, Maude Morris Hincks

Newspapers.com

Witkowski, Mary, K., Resident Pushed for Women’s Right to Vote, The Bridgeport News, Thursday, January 18, 1996

Carolyn Ivanoff
Carolyn Ivanoff is a Connecticut educator, author, and independent historian who writes and speaks frequently on American history at local, state, and national venues. She is currently researching and writing a book on the 17th Connecticut Regiment’s experiences at the Battle of Gettysburg incorporating the William Warren Collection at Bridgeport History Center. CONTACT INFORMATION: https://sites.google.com/site/carolynivanoff/