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Caroline Severance

#womenshistoryProfilesMarch 6, 2022

Known as the “Mother of Clubs,” Carolina (Caroline) Seymour Severance was an abolitionist and the most famous suffragette in Los Angeles, who founded numerous organizations in the East Coast and West Coast to advance women’s rights and civic engagement.

Born in 1820 in New York, Severance had a seminary education and taught at a boarding school for girls before marrying abolitionist and banker Theodoric Severance and moving to Cleveland.

The couple made ther home a gathering place for anti-slavery and women’s rights advocates, and soon Severance became an activist herself.  The mother of four wrote, lectured, and organized women’s rights conventions in Ohio; met with suffrage leaders at a Syracuse convention in 1852; and a year later, presided over the first annual meeting of the Ohio Women’s Rights Association.

While she shared many of the goals of the women’s suffrage movement, Severance established her own organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, which differed from Susan B. Anthony’s and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s National Women Suffrage Association in its support for the 15th Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote.

Severance went on to found or co-found women’s clubs in every city where she lived, including Boston’s influential New England Woman’s Club.

In 1875, Severance and her husband followed two of their sons to Los Angeles, a small town of a few thousand residents on its way to becoming a metropolis. Her initial work was advocating for free kindergarten, a training school for kindergarten workers, and the Los Angeles Public Library.

She also helped create the Los Angeles Women’s Club to advocate for the preservation of local historical sites and help for homeless children, leading to the founding of the Orphan’s Home Society five years later. And she continued her fight for suffrage by forming the Los Angeles’ Friday Morning Club, which grew from 80 members to nearly four thousand, and later morphed into the Los Angeles County Woman Suffrage League, which she led as president for several years.  

In 1911 her efforts paid off when California approved women’s suffrage. Severance was among the first women to register and vote for president of the United States in 1912, before her death two years later at age 94.

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