Anna Whitehead Bodeker

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Anna Whitehead Bodeker
Born(1826-07-27)July 27, 1826
DiedOctober 26, 1904(1904-10-26) (aged 78)
OccupationWomen's rights activist, suffragist
Spouse(s)Augustus Bodeker
Children3 (one died in infancy)
Parent(s)Jesse and Sophia Whitehead

Anna Whitehead Bodeker (July 27, 1826 – October 26, 1904)[1][2] was an American suffragist who led the earliest attempt to organize for women's suffrage in the state of Virginia.[3] Bodeker brought national leaders of the women's suffrage movement to Richmond, Virginia to speak; published newspaper articles to draw attention and supporters to the cause; and helped found the Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association in 1870, the first suffrage association in the state.[3][4][5]

Early life, marriage, and family[edit]

Family home, located in Church Hill, Richmond, Virginia, U.S. where Bodeker lived from 1862 until her death in 1904

Bodeker was born Anna Whitehead, July 27, 1826,[1] in Midland Park, Bergen County, New Jersey to English immigrants Jesse and Sophia Whitehead.[6] At age 10, she moved with her family to Richmond, Virginia where her father oversaw the construction of the Manchester Cotton Mill, south of the James River in Manchester. He served as superintendent of the mill for several years, and the family lived in a house nearby.[6]

She married Augustus Bodeker, a German immigrant, on January 15, 1846, at age 18.[5] Her husband worked as a clerk for a local druggist and would go on to open his own pharmaceutical business, A. Bodeker Apothecary, located on Richmond's Main Street, in 1864.[2][7] Bodeker gave birth to three daughters; the first died in infancy. The Bodeker family lived in Richmond's Church Hill neighborhood, purchasing a two two-and-a-half story house there in 1862.[6] The Bodekers stayed in the Richmond area for much of the duration of the Civil War.[2][6] Bodeker's husband served in Virginia's House of Delegates during Reconstruction.[8]

Women's suffrage activism[edit]

Bodeker began to follow the work of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) by the 1860s. On January 26, 1870, Bodeker invited NWSA activist Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis to her home to speak about suffrage in front of an audience of civic leaders, as well as Bodeker's friends and neighbors.[6][8] After the evening's "impassioned discussion," Bodeker was ready to establish a women's suffrage organization in Richmond.[8] In her report on her trip to Richmond in The Revolution, a pro-suffrage weekly newspaper, Davis called Bodeker brilliant[6] and stated that Bodeker "might reach the whole south." Davis believed Bodeker was capable of leading the women's suffrage movement in the southern states of the U.S.[8]

In March 1870, the Richmond Daily Enquirer published a two-part article written by Bodeker and other Richmond women entitled "Defence [sic] of Woman Suffrage." The article argued that giving women the right to vote would improve their economic opportunities and foster their independence.[2][5]

Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association[edit]

At Bodeker's invitation, NWSA organizer Matilda Joslyn Gage addressed a small group of suffrage supporters at a public meeting at Bosher's Hall in Richmond on May 5, 1870.[2][8] The Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association (VSWSA)—the first women's suffrage association in the state of Virginia—was founded the following evening.[5][6] Bodeker was elected president. Other founding officers included:

The Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association soon became officially affiliated with the NWSA and sent Smith as a delegate to represent Virginia at the national convention.[5][8][9]

Work with the NWSA and the election of 1871[edit]

With the help of the NWSA, Bodeker and the VSWSA arranged for nationally known suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, Lillie Devereux Blake, Isabella Beecher Hooker, and Josephine Griffing to come to Richmond and speak about suffrage.[8] However, despite their name-recognition, the speakers failed to attract audiences large enough to create lasting support for the suffrage movement.[6]

In May 1871, Anthony appointed Bodeker to the National Woman Suffrage Educational Committee, a team of 34 women tasked with coordinating the association's future efforts. This committee urge NWSA members to vote in 1871 municipal elections, citing the Fourteenth Amendment and Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Bodeker did so, arriving at the second precinct of Marshall Ward in Richmond ready to cast her vote.[6][9] When election officials refused her ballot, Bodeker requested that the following note be placed in the ballot box:

"By the Constitution of the Untied States, I Mrs. A. Whitehead Bodeker, have a right to give my vote at this election, and in vindication of it drop this note in the ballot-box, November 7th, 1871."[5][9]

Bodeker's attempt to vote was covered in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.[9]

A legislative loss[edit]

In 1872, with the help of delegate George Booker, Bodeker petitioned the General Assembly for legislation giving women the right to vote, again claiming the right of suffrage under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In her petition Bodeker asked legislators "to pass laws as may, in the wisdom of the general assembly, be deemed sufficient and necessary for enforcing the right of suffrage without regard to sex." She also asked to address the assembly, in person or by proxy, on the subject of women's suffrage.[2][6][12]

The petition was sent to the Committee for Courts of Justice, but it was ignored by legislators.[2][6][12]

The struggle to gain momentum and a withdraw from public advocacy[edit]

Despite Bodeker's widely praised organizing skills, the women's suffrage movement failed to gain traction in Virginia immediately after the Civil War.[5] Women faced pressure to adhere to traditional female roles, and the first female suffragists were deemed radicals. Meanwhile, the VSWSA was viewed publicly as being heavily associated with carpetbaggers and black Republicans, making it difficult to convince whites in Richmond to support its cause.[3][8][10]

Bodeker stopped her advocacy for women's suffrage after 1872, and the Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association faded from the suffrage movement soon after.[5][8]

Later years, death and legacy[edit]

The Bodeker family burial plot, located in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, U.S.

Bodeker became involved in spiritualism in late 1871, and by 1872 she believed she was a powerful medium. Disturbed by Bodeker's unorthodox views and increasingly erratic behavior, her family admitted her against her will to the Western Lunatic Asylum (now called Western State Hospital) in Staunton, Virginia on September 19, 1873. She was released on October 20, 1874, and returned to Richmond.[6]

Bodeker's husband died on July 26, 1884. Bodeker lived at the family home, 2801 E. Grace Street, with her two living daughters, Pearl and Ruby, until her death on October 26, 1904. She was buried at Hollywood Cemetery.[1][6]

Bodeker was honored by the Library of Virginia as part of the 2003 class of Virginia Women in History.[13]

Bodeker's name is featured on the Wall of Honor on the Virginia Women's Monument, located in Capitol Square in Richmond.[14][15]


  1. ^ a b c "Mrs. Anna Whitehead Bodeker—Obituary". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 30, 1904. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Anna Whitehead Bodeker". Virginia Changemakers. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c McDaid, Jennifer Davis (October 26, 2018). "Woman Suffrage in Virginia". Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanitie. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  4. ^ Maurer, David A. (February 27, 2016). "Yesteryears: Women and the vote, Part 1: Changing times meant changing minds". The Daily Progress. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Anna Whitehead Bodeker (1826–1904)". Education from LVA. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Treadway, Sandra Gioia. "Anna Whitehead Bodeker (ca. 1826–1904)". Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  7. ^ Mehrländer, Andrea (2011). The Germans of Charleston, Richmond and New Orleans during the Civil War Period, 1850-1870: A Study and Research Compendium. Walter de Gruyter. p. 102. ISBN 3110236885.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Green, Elna C. (2000). Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 153–155. ISBN 978-0807846414.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Anthony, Susan Brownell; Gage, Matilda Joselyn (eds.). History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 3. p. 823.
  10. ^ a b Varon, Elizabeth R. (1998). We Mean to be Counted: White Women & Politics in Antebellum Virginia. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 174–175. ISBN 978-0807846964.
  11. ^ Nuckols, Robert R. (1889). A History of the Government of the City of Richmond, Virginia and a Sketch of Those who Administer Its Affairs. Williams Printing Company. p. 119.
  12. ^ a b "The women's suffrage movement makes slow progress in the south". Evening Star. Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. February 3, 1872. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  13. ^ "Virginia Women in History 2003". Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  14. ^ "Wall of Honor". Virginia Women's Monument Commission. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  15. ^ Carrington, Ronald E. (November 1, 2018). "'Wall of Honor' unveiled on new Virginia Women's Monument". Richmond Free Press. Retrieved August 23, 2019.