Susan as Orator?

June 6, 2016 § 2 Comments

Dr. John Arthos, Associate Professor of English at Indiana University posed an interesting question to me. He noted that Susan was an articulate letter writer, hosted notable speakers, and supported oratorical education through the Rheuna D. Lawrence Memorial Prize awarded to the winner of a high school oratorical contest annually. However, Dr. Arthos wondered if I had found any evidence that Susan had presented any formal public speeches.

The only speeches by Susan that I could recall were the presentations she gave to the Springfield Woman’s Club members (see Chapter 3 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House). I revisited some of my resources to see if I could find other occasions when she spoke publicly. When I re-read the exchange of letters between Susan and the officials of the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in Washington D.C. during the Illinois equal rights legislative campaign, I found some answers to the question of Dr. Arthos and some insight into Susan’s skills as a political strategist.

As detailed in Chapter 14 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, Anita Pollitzer, National Secretary of the NWP, spoke to a non-partisan group of Springfield women at Susan’s home on February 15, 1923. The speech was a call to arms for women to “unite to secure the same rights possessed by men under the law and remove the discriminations against women which still stand on the statute books of Illinois.” On February 18 the local newspapers announced that Susan had been appointed legislative chairman of the Illinois branch of the NWP and will spearhead the equal rights campaign. Susan enthusiastically assumed her responsibilities immediately. Below is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to Anita Pollitzer on February 17 (punctuation by Susan):

Anita, Dear Child

…The Federation of Woman’s Clubs of this district met here today with their state officers present.      I phoned our club President asking for a few minutes in the program, and asked her if she was willing I should have a resolution presented endorsing our law sponsored by Senator Dailey.  She said certainly–When I went down, I nosed about a bit–over heard that the State President of Federation said the clubs of Chicago refused to endorse any of this program.  I never let on, was invited to sit on the stage–when two speakers had finished and just before adjourning for luncheon, the chairman said Mrs. Gehrmann had something to say for the National Woman’s Party about some proposed legislation.  I had the resolution in my hand when I went in the platform and held on to it.

I stated the aims of the reorganized Party, work already done, that proposed in future.  Emphasized we had no labor program.  Stated our position on eight-hour laws involving sex-discrimination–inequality of laws as they now stand–giving many instances, asked for their support and help in bringing about the passage of the introduced Equal Rights bill now before the Senate.  (Some women there always had and still believed the National Woman’s Party was for a 3rd party of women only)  I soon disabused their minds of that–when I had finished I thanked the President and retired from the platform–still with my little resolutions in my hand.  I took the breath out of all of them–I never mentioned resolutions again.  I sensed we would be in for a bitter fight…When I got in my seat I nearly laughed aloud–saying to myself that “Sin!” I sure saved our cause that time…

She signed the letter Susan Lawrence-Gehrmann, “Cousin Susie.”

So I could report to Dr. Arthos that at least one time Susan made a public speech, and she was obviously quite pleased with herself. Things changed quite dramatically in less than a month when Susan grasped the complexity of the challenge she had accepted. To be continued…

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