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Indiana Suffrage Leaders

LWV Southwestern Indiana - 1913-1920

Elizabeth “Bessie” (Mrs Fred) Lauenstein (died 3-17-32, age 53)




     One of the most remarkable women in Evansville history, she was a leader in the Evansville Franchise League and then the League of Women Voters for years.  In 1925 she was a director at-large of the National League of Women Voters

    During WWI she was chair of the women’s division of the Liberty Bond sales in Vanderburgh County to help finance the war; her efforts were so successful, she was selected as a keynote speaker at a meeting of the Federal Reserve Bank Liberty Loan Organization in St. Louis. She was also active in local Red Cross efforts during the war.

    She was a founder of the Evansville Association for the Blind and she led efforts to  establish the association’s Lighthouse, which employed blind people to produce brooms (and is still in operation today, 100 years later, providing variety of services.)

    She was a founder and first president of the Southern Indiana Federation of Evangelical and Reformed Women in 1920; the group that established the Evansville Protestant Home for the Aged (it was the first such facility here and is 100 years old this year!) The group’s first project was to establish and equip a children’s ward at Deaconess Hospital.

    An ardent Democrat, she was one of two Indiana women to serve as delegates-at-large to the National Democratic Convention at San Francisco in 1920 and served on the National Democratic Congressional Committee in 1922-23 after women won the vote.

    She also was an active PTA leader, was co-chair of the Vanderburgh County Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1922 and was on the Christian Home committee that established the first daycare center in Evansville in 1918 for children of women who entered the workforce during World War I.

     By sheer chance of the draw, she was one of the first two women ever to serve on a jury in Vanderburgh County; in January 1921.  Women had never been able to serve on juries until they won the vote.

    Her husband was publisher of the Evansville Demokrat, a German-language newspaper of wide circulation in its day; he ceased publication in April 1918 after being advised at a meeting of 200 local business men that “it would not be advisable to continue printing a newspaper in this community in the German language.” He then became an investment banker. He died at age 47after a brief illness. Was a director of two local banks. They belonged to St. John’s EvangelicalChurch. Had one daughter, Margaret.

    Her daughter Magaret married William Frederick Atkinson of Evansville in Jan 1932 in a small ceremony in Bessie’s room at Deaconess Hospital, where she lay terminally ill.  

    Bessie was the grandmother of the late Suzanne Nicholson, who served on Evansville City Council and also was the first woman to be president of the City Works Board. 


Flora Fehn (died 12-30-67)



     She was one of the youngest early members of the local Equal Franchise League, becoming a suffragist while still in college. She then became a leader in the local League of Women Voters, serving as president in 1922, and remained an active member until her death in December 1967.

     After studying at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she was one of the first students to enroll in English literature when Moores Hill College was moved to Evansville in 1919 and opened in temporary facilities downtown as Evansville College. 

     She became a lifelong supporter of Evansville College, now University of Evansville, and became a trustee of UE in 1963. The Fehn Business Chair at UE was established from her estate. She also left funds for a music scholarship, and she gave her home at 726 S. Willow Road to UE, which used it as a guest house until 1974.. 
     
An accomplished pianist, she was a member of the Evansville Musicians Club, also a long-time Red Cross board member and on the board of the Public Health Nursing Association.

     She and her husband Ed Fehn, former president of The Evansville Courier, were instrumental in starting the Canteen at the L&N Railroad Station for soldiers passing through Evansville during World War II, and she served as a day captain in its operation for the 3 ½ years it was open.


Irene Erlbacher (died 8-18-46, age 56)



     A long-time leader in the Vanderburgh County Woman’s Franchise League and its chairman in 1917, when she was also president of the local Federation of Women’s Clubs. 

    She and suffrage leader Bertha Ehrich developed a leadership training program – with classes on how to speak in public, how to write and circulate petitions – teaching Evansville suffragists to go out into surrounding small towns and farm communities to recruit rural women to the suffrage cause. 

     After women gained the vote, she was one of the first two women ever to be appointed to the Evansville School Board and served on the board for six years, 1927 – 1932. She was appointed to the board because of her involvement in the suffrage movement and the League of Women Voters. 

     She was a founder and president of the Family Welfare Association in 1934, was a founder of the first local community theatre group and was on the founding board of the Evansville Musicians Club.  She also wrote poetry. And she was active in the local and state Republican party (the GOP then was the party of Lincoln.)

    Erlbacher’s husband Fred was vice-president of Advance Stove Works. She was the daughter of Jacob and Adeline Tenney Jenner, members of two of Evansville’s early families. She was one of the first women to enroll at Evansville College, and after earning her bachelor’s degree there she earned a master’s degree at Indiana University. She became national president of Delta Gamma Sorority.

    She died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Survived by daughter, Adeline Glasheen, in Norton, Mass.


Lucia Blount



      Lucia was the local instigator of the first Evansville suffrage group in 1886.

      The college-educated daughter of a prominent family in Kalamazoo, Mich., (one her brothers, Fred Eames, invented the air brake used on railroads) she came to this city in 1864 as the bride of wealthy Henry Blount, founder/owner of one of Evansville’s biggest industries,  Blount Plow Works. She was his second wife; the first died two years earlier giving birth to their third child.

      Her home on 7th Street, between Walnut and Cherry, was described as “a roomy and hospitable mansion.” 

      She organized this city’s first book group, the Ladies Literary Club, in 1874. . She invited a Mrs. Stowe of Michigan, “a person well versed in the systems of literary clubs,” to come to Evansville and “under her direction a number of ladies organized themselves into a society for the purpose of literary, scientific and social culture.” It started with 21 members; and over 10 years the number who’d joined from time to time was 82. At one point they did a Shakespeare play for the public.

      Lucia and her husband were members of the committee that planned Evansville’s exhibit at the World’s Fair in  Philadelphia in 1876. 

     She was also a charter member of the national Daughters of the American Revolution, in 1891, and held national offices in it for a number of years. And for four years served on the board of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs.

    In May of 1886, she hosted a parlor meeting in her home for women “known to be interested” to discuss the formation of a local suffrage organization. Her special guest for the meeting was May Wright Sewall, an Indianapolis teacher and social reformer who led the Indiana Woman’s Suffrage Association.  

    The following evening, the women Lucia had called together organized a public meeting that attracted 200 people to hear Sewall and launch the suffrage effort here.

It was Lucia’s last civic involvement in Evansville but she became active at the national level.  Shortly after the suffrage group was formed here, she and her husband took their children to be educated in Europe for two years, then returned to the US and bought one of the showcase mansions in Georgetown, outside Washington, DC., where they spent the rest of their lives.

     In DC, she was involved in the national suffrage movement and was frequently the hostess to Susan B. Anthony when the iconic leader was in town. 

     Lucia also founded and was president  for many years of Pro-Re-Nata, a select group of well-known women in the nation’s capital who met “for free discussion and the study of parliamentary law as bearing upon the rights of women and children and legislation as necessary for the public welfare.”  An article in The Illustrated American on April 13, 1893, said Pro-Re-Nata “aims to train women in extempore debate.  Each member is obliged to speak on her feet on difficult subjects against keen opponents . . . The ladies have spirited arguments and they never get angry. “

    She and her husband traveled extensively around the world,  but came back to Evansville every year on his birthday, May 1, for a big birthday celebration at his company.  The couple had a big impact on this city but have been lost in local history.

 


Bertha (Mrs. William)  Ehrich (died 2-10-60 age 75)



     One of the most prominent Evansville women in her time, she was president of the Franchise League and later the League of Women Voters, for multiple years.

    Believing that women should be trained for civic leadership, she organized a series of classes for local suffragists to study local and state government structure, and the state and federal constitution.  She also organized a leadership program to prepare suffragists for public speaking and circulating petitions.  

     “Be suave, diplomatic and exceedingly tactful,” she told them. “Try to make no enemies.”

      She led the Franchise League’s work to register thousands of Vanderburgh County women to vote in 1920 and conducted classes to teach women how to use the voting machines.

    Her work had lasting effect, when – after winning the vote -  suffragists became some of the first women ever to be appointed to the local school board, library board and other government posts. They had been trained for leadership!

    Bertha Ehrich was one of the first women appointed to the Evansville library board and was chairman of its committee that planned the opening of Central Library in 1932.

    In the early 1920s she headed the League of Women Voters’ state committee on international co-operation to prevent war.

     She was a leader in the Washington Avenue Temple Sisterhood, a long-time PTA leader, and was on the founding board of the Musicians’ Club. 

    Her husband, Dr. William Ehrich, was president of the Vanderburgh County Medical Society when he conducted a study of health problems in Evansville’s tenements and proposed that the city build a series of public bath houses so that the poor could have a way to bathe. The city never did it.  His local medical practice was temporarily halted by World War I when he served as a battlefront physician in France.


Miss Florita Eichel (died May 14, 1983)



     She became a suffragist at age 20, shortly after graduating from The Cincinnati Academy of Arts in 1913, and remained active in suffrage work for years – taking a break in the 1920s hen she went to New York City to study art in Greenwich Village.

    Returning home, she became a well-known area artist and staunch supporter of the arts in Evansville.  She became registrar of the Evansville Museum in 1946 and research curator in 1962, a position she held until 1968. She was responsible for formation of the Evansville Artists Guild, and it was largely through her efforts that the museum’s annual Mid-States Art Exhibition was instituted in 1948. She died in May 1983 at age 90.