Doris Stevens

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Doris Stevens
Miss Doris Stevens, youngest member 09395v.jpg
Born Dora Caroline Stevens
(1892-10-26)October 26, 1892
Omaha, Nebraska
Died March 22, 1963(1963-03-22) (aged 70)
Education Omaha High School
Alma mater Oberlin College
Occupation activist
Known for suffragette
Spouse(s) Dudley Field Malone (1921-1927)
Jonathan Mitchell (1935-)

Doris Stevens (October 26, 1892  – March 22, 1963) was an American suffragist and author of Jailed for Freedom, and a prominent participant in the Silent Sentinels vigil at Woodrow Wilson's White House to urge the passage of a constitutional amendment for women's voting rights.

Early life[edit]

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Doris Stevens graduated from Oberlin College in 1911. She worked as a teacher and social worker in Ohio and Michigan before she became a regional organizer with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In New York, she was friends with leading members of the Greenwich Village radical scene, including Louise Bryant and John Reed.

Beginning activism[edit]

In 1913, Doris Stevens joined with Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Mabel Vernon, Olympia Brown, Mary Ritter Beard, Belle Case La Follette, Helen Keller, Maria Montessori, Dorothy Day and Crystal Eastman to form the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CUWS). The following year Stevens became a full-time organizer and executive secretary for the CUWS in Washington, D.C. Later that year she moved to Colorado and in 1915 to California to continue her CUWS work.[1]

In 1915, Stevens organized the first convention of women voters at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Later that year, the CUWS became the National Woman's Party (NWP). Stevens went on to organize the NWP election campaign in California in 1916.

Stevens was arrested for picketing at the White House in the summer of 1917 and served three days of her 60-day sentence at Occoquan Workhouse before receiving a pardon from Woodrow Wilson. She was arrested again in the NWP demonstration at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in March 1919. Stevens published the quintessential insider account of the imprisonment of NWP activists, Jailed for Freedom, in 1920.

Later career[edit]

Over the years, Stevens held several important NWP leadership positions, including membership on the executive committee. She served as vice chairman of NWP’s New York branch, spearheaded the NWP Women for Congress campaign in 1924, and worked in states where female candidates were among contenders for office. She also served as Alva Belmont’s personal assistant.

In 1928, Stevens was responsible for the creation of the OAS's Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM). The previous year, she and Alice Paul had undertaken a massive study of how laws effected women's nationality; studying for example, if they lost their nationality by marrying or even became stateless. Stevens met with feminists throughout Europe and held public meetings to gather data. Paul reviewed the laws. Together, they compiled a monumental report, which indexed all laws controlling women's nationality from every country in their native language and then translated each law on an accompanying page. Tables were provided for easy comparison and a synopsis of the laws was given. The report was initially prepared for a meeting that was to take place at the League of Nations in 1930 to discuss codification of international laws. Stevens felt that nationality of women should be included in that discussion and spearheaded the research, attended a preliminary meeting of the League of Nations and obtained their unanimous support of her proposal, and presented the data to the Pan-American Conference. The governing body of the Pan American Union created the Inter-American Commission of Women at their sixth meeting as a direct result and charged the seven women appointed to the commission to research and prepared information for the next Pan-American Conference to review civil and political equality for women.[2] Stevens served as chair of the CIM from its creation in 1928[3] until her ouster in 1938.[4]

Stevens clashed with Paul and led an unsuccessful attempt to challenge the leadership of Paul’s successor, Anita Pollitzer. She was part of an internal dispute over the NWP’s emphasis on the World Woman’s Party and international rights rather than domestic organizing. During these tensions, a dissenting faction of NWP members tried to take over party headquarters and elect their own slate of officers, but Pollitzer’s claim to leadership was supported by a ruling of a federal district judge. Stevens parted ways with the NWP in 1947 and turned instead to activity in the Lucy Stone League, a women’s rights organization based on Lucy Stone's retention of her maiden name after marriage. In her last years, Stevens supported the establishment of feminist studies as a legitimate field of academic inquiry in American universities.


In popular culture[edit]

Doris Stevens was portrayed by Laura Fraser in the 2004 HBO film Iron Jawed Angels.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Lee, Muna (October 1929). "The Inter-American Commission of Women" (PDF). Pan-American Magazine: 1-5. Retrieved 13 July 2015.  contained in Cohen, Jonathan, ed. (2004). A Pan-American Life: Selected Poetry and Prose of Muna Lee. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. 
  3. ^ "Lee (1929)", p 4
  4. ^ Bredbenner, Candice Lewis (1998). A nationality of her own: women, marriage, and the law of citizenship. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 246–247. ISBN 978-0-520-20650-2. Retrieved 13 July 2015. 
  5. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Trigg, Mary K. Feminism as Life's Work: Four Modern American Women through Two World Wars (Rutgers University Press, 2014) xii + 266 pp. online review

External links[edit]