Clara Colby by John Holliday

We may never know why Clara Bewick was left behind in England when her family departed to start a new life in Wisconsin. The resulting formative years with her insightful grandmother led her to become the valedictorian of the first female class at the University of Wisconsin. After teaching at the university, she married the dashing civil war veteran, Leonard Colby and they moved to Nebraska where he established a law practice. It was here that Clara Bewick Colby first met and befriended Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose influence led to her making a lifelong commitment to the suffrage movement, both in America and internationally.

In 1883, Clara published the first issue of the Woman’s Tribune, a newspaper which was in continuous publication for 26 years, becoming the nation’s leading woman’s suffrage publication. She served as the President of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association, and she was the corresponding secretary of the Federal Suffrage Association, among her many other offices. From 1888, Clara would spend the first half of the year in Washington DC, attending suffrage conferences and lobbying members of Congress. She was a great socializer and had many friends among influential leaders in the nation’s capital, including, for example, Caroline Harrison, the first lady of the day.

By 1890, her husband had become General Leonard Colby of the Nebraska National Guard, when his troops served at the Battle of Wounded Knee. It was here that General Colby adopted the Indian baby girl, Zintka Lanuni, found under the body of her dead mother. Clara had no idea that she had become a mother until she received a telegram from her husband several days later. Attempting to unite her family, Clara lobbied her Washington friends and succeeded in getting her husband appointed as Assistant Attorney-General.

Clara was always on the move across America, supporting state suffrage and lobbying state governments, and Leonard was just as busy in his new role. She tried to maintain a stable marriage, but her husband held a different view, often engaging in clandestine affairs, amid allegations of impropriety in business and public life. Further lobbying by Clara resulted in Leonard being appointed Brigadier-General in the United States Volunteers during the Spanish American war. Also, Clara became the first woman in the United States to receive a war correspondents pass. The book also reveals a secret conspiracy which Leonard became involved in during this conflict.

Eventually, a divorce was unavoidable, and as a result, many leading suffragists shunned Clara from then on, diminishing her legacy as a suffragist. Clara made four trips to Europe, attending the International Congress of Women (Amsterdam 1908, Stockholm 1911 and Budapest 1913] and the Universal Peace Congress in London 1908. She also supported the suffragette cause in England. She continued to lobby Congress right up until 1916 when flu turned to pneumonia, and she passed away in September of that year.

The year 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of American women achieving the vote; after a suffrage campaign which extended over 72 years. It took thousands of women to build the movement which achieved ultimate success, but this is the story of one woman, whose contribution to woman suffrage is irrefutable.


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