Elisabeth Freeman

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Elisabeth Freeman
Miss E. Freeman.jpg
BornSeptember 12, 1876
DiedFebruary 27, 1942(1942-02-27) (aged 65)
Known forsuffragist

Elisabeth Freeman (September 12, 1876 – February 27, 1942) was an American suffragist and civil rights activist, best known for her investigative report for the NAACP on the May 1916 spectacle lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas, known as the "Waco Horror". In addition, she was active in suffragist conventions and activities, known for her participation in the 1913 Suffrage Hike from New York City to Washington, D.C. Born in England, she had immigrated as a child to the United States with her mother and siblings, and lived in her early years in an orphanage.


Elisabeth Freeman was born in England in 1876 to Mary Hall Freeman, who was estranged from her husband.[1] Elisabeth was the younger sister of Jane Freeman, who became a notable artist.[2] Elisabeth, her mother, and siblings Clara (Jane) and John moved to the United States, where they lived on Long Island, New York. Mary worked for St. Johnland orphanage, where her children lived for a while.[3]

Growing up poor, Elisabeth Freeman gained only a limited education. She was said to have found only her activities for The Salvation Army to be "uplifting".[4] Freeman moved for a time back to London, where she helped a woman who was beaten by a policeman; both women were arrested after the confrontation. This woman brought Freeman into the suffrage movement, within which she learned the arts of campaigning, including public speaking, media work and recruitment.[4] Having developed such skills in London, Freeman used them after returning to the US, where she was employed by the suffrage movement.[4]

Elisabeth Freeman in 1913

A notable example of Freeman's activism occurred in 1913, when she took part in the national Suffrage Hike to the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, D.C.[3] As a publicity stunt for a New York City suffrage march, she wore a gypsy costume and drove a wagon stenciled with 'Votes for Women' slogans and piled with women's suffrage literature.[5]

She attended a statewide suffrage convention in Dallas, Texas in May 1916. A crowd of 10,000 witnessed the brutal lynching of Jesse Washington, a young African-American farmhand convicted of murder in Waco, Texas. The NAACP contacted Freeman, hiring her to investigate and report on the murder and events.[6]

For a week, claiming to be a reporter, she talked to both African Americans and whites in Waco about the events. Her report on the lynching to W. E. B. Du Bois was used by the NAACP to publicize the case and garner national attention over the outrage of lynching American citizens. Their campaign helped establish the organization as a force for civil rights. In this period the NAACP was based in New York City; it hanged banners outside its office publicizing lynchings. Its attorneys became involved in the defense of numerous African Americans in cases across the country.

Elizabeth Freeman speaking at NAACP

In the years between 1917 and 1919, when the United States was involved in the Great War (World War I) in Europe, Freeman was active for the peace movement. She lobbied Congress and also continued her work fighting for the cause of civil rights. Speaking up against US policies concerning the war generated strong reactions in opposition.

Freeman owned an antique store in Provincetown, Massachusetts from 1925 until 1937, when she moved to Pasadena, California for health reasons.[4] She died of pleurisy in February 1942.[3]

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  1. ^ Bernstein, Patricia (2006). The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-58544-544-8.
  2. ^ "Jane Freeman Is Dead at 92; Portraitist Painted Schweitzer". The New York Times. September 23, 1963. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Elisabeth Freeman". Retrieved 2008-12-15. Elisabeth Freeman came to this country as a small child with her brother John and sister (Clara) Jane, and their mother, Mary Hall Freeman, who came estranged from her husband. Mary worked for St. Johnland, an orphanage on Long Island for a time, and the children lived at the orphanage for some time. ...
  4. ^ a b c d "An Interactive Scrapbook of Elisabeth Freeman: Suffragette, Civil Rights Worker, and Militant Pacifist".
  5. ^ "Marching for the Vote". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-12-15. One of the New York group, Elisabeth Freeman, dressed as a gypsy and drove a yellow, horse-drawn wagon decorated with Votes for Women symbols and filled with pro-suffrage literature, a sure way to attract publicity.
  6. ^ Wade Goodwyn (May 13, 2006). "Waco Recalls a 90-Year-Old 'Horror'". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2010-09-08. On May 16, 1916, one day after the lynching of Jesse Washington, Royal Freeman Nash, the white social worker who was then secretary of the NAACP, wired Elisabeth Freeman in Fort Worth, where she remained following the statewide suffrage convention in Dallas.

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