Shaw, Anna Howard

Shaw, Anna Howard,

1847–1919, American woman-suffrage leader, b. England. She emigrated (1851) to the United States in early childhood and grew up on a farm in Michigan. She received a degree in theology (1878) and one in medicine (1885) from Boston Univ. Although the Methodist Episcopal Church refused to allow her to preach, she was ordained (1880) by the Methodist Protestant denomination. She had filled several pastorates in Massachusetts when, in 1888, she met Susan B. Anthony and from then on devoted her life to working for woman suffrage. She was vice president at large (1892–1904) and president (1904–15) of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In Anthony's last years, she was her constant associate. Dr. Shaw campaigned in every state where a suffrage measure was under consideration; she was one of the most effective speakers of the movement.


See her autobiography, The Story of a Pioneer (1915).

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Shaw, Anna Howard

(1847–1919) reformer, minister, physician; born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. She came with her family to the U.S.A. in 1851. Her father, an impractical reformer, built a crude log cabin in the Michigan frontier (near Big Rapids) and put his family there in 1859; young Anna had to learn many traditionally male skills to help the family survive. She got an education in a local high school but early felt a "call" to be a preacher, and with the support of a local Methodist woman she began to preach in 1870. In 1876 she went to Boston University from which—after great economic trials—she took her certificate in 1878. She became a minister in a Methodist church in East Dennis, Mass. (1878–85), and after considerable trouble she was ordained in 1880. Meanwhile, she decided she could do more good for women as a doctor and she went to Boston University's medical school, taking her M.D. in 1886. In 1885 she also became a lecturer and organizer for the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association; she left that post in 1887 to become a free-lance lecturer. From 1888 to 1892 she worked with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Urged by Susan B. Anthony to put her talents as an orator to work for the suffrage movement, in 1891 she became a national lecturer for the newly united National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA); in 1892 she became the NWSA's vice-president and in 1904 she became its president. During her decades with the suffrage movement, she became one of the most prominent and eloquent workers for the cause, but she was not a good administrator and gradually a younger generation of women grew restless at the NWSA's failure to offer a strong strategy and leadership. When she resigned from the presidency of the NWSA in 1915 she was somewhat relegated to the sidelines of the suffrage movement; but she worked hard during World War I to coordinate women's activities in the war effort and she continued to speak out for woman suffrage. She died just as she was about to set out on a speaking tour in support of President Woodrow Wilson's peace treaty at the League of Nations.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.