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Lillie Devereux Blake 1835 ~ 1913


Lillie Devereux Blake

Both the parents of Mrs. Lillie Devereux Blake were descended from the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, D.D., so her inclination to reform might have been a matter of direct inheritance. But the vehicle she used for her preaching was much milder than the invectives of her distinguished ancestor. She was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, August 12, 1835, but was brought to New Haven, Connecticut, by her widowed mother that she might have every advantage of education. She took the Yale college course with tutors at home, and continued her studies until after she was married in 1855 to Frank Q. Umsted. When in 1859 he died leaving her a widow with two children she had already begun to write; one of her first stories, "A Lonely House," having appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, A novel, "Southwold" had also achieved its success. The large fortune she had inherited was sadly impaired and it was necessary that the young widow begin to work in earnest, writing stories, sketches and letters for several leading periodicals. In 1862 she published a second novel ''Rockford" and afterwards several romances. It was not until 1869, after her second marriage to Grenfill Blake, a young merchant of New York, that she became actively interested in the women's suffrage movement. In 1872 she published a novel called "Fettered for Life," designed to show the many disadvantages under which women labor. In 1873, she made an application for the opening of Columbia College to young women, and as an argument she presented a class of qualified girl students. The agitation then begun by Mrs. Blake eventually led to the establishment of Barnard College.

In 1879 she was unanimously elected president of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, and she held that office for eleven years. She has also lectured a great deal, but being a woman of strong affection and marked domestic tastes, her speaking out of New York has been done almost wholly in the summer when her family was naturally scattered. Her lectures printed under the title of "Woman's Place To-Day," had a large sale. Among the many reforms in which she has been actively interested has been that of securing matrons to take charge of women detained in police stations. As early as 1871 Mrs. Blake spoke and wrote on this subject but it was not until 1891 that public sentiment was finally aroused to the point of passing a law enforcing this much-needed reform.

The employment of women as census-takers was first urged in 1880 by Mrs. Blake. The bills giving seats to saleswomen, ordering the presence of a woman physician in every insane asylum in which women are detained and many other beneficent measures were presented or aided by her. In 1886 Mrs. Blake was elected president of the New York City Women's Suffrage League and throughout this office she attended conventions and made speeches in most of the states and territories besides addressing committees of both houses of Congress and the New York and Connecticut legislatures.

A graceful and logical writer, witty and eloquent as a speaker, Mrs. Blake has proved herself a charming hostess, her weekly receptions through the season in New York having been for many years among the attractions of literary and reform circles.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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