Harriet Wright (Burton) Laidlaw, 1873-1949

Alternative names
Birth 1873
Death 1949

Biographical notes:

Harriet Burton Laidlaw, suffragist, social and civic reformer, and internationalist, was born on December 16, 1873, in Albany, N.Y., the daughter of Alice Davenport (Wright) and George Davidson Burton. HBL attended public school in Albany, and earned both Bachelor (1895) and Master (1896) of Pedagogy degrees from Albany Normal College. After graduation she moved to New York City, taught in the public schools, and in 1902 earned degrees from Barnard College (A.B.) and Illinois Wesleyan University (Ph.B.). During this time she also took summer courses at Harvard (1900), the University of Chicago (1901), and Oxford University (1903). She continued to teach and started graduate school at Columbia University, but stopped both when she married James Lees Laidlaw in 1905. A concern with women's rights now blossomed into a remarkably active involvement in a variety of causes and organizations. This life of public service is reflected in the following chronology.

1893: First suffrage speech, Albany 1906: Daughter, Louise Burton, born 1908 1909: Secretary, College Equal Suffrage League c.1909 1916: Chairman, Borough of Manhattan, Woman Suffrage Party 1911, 1914: Speaks on suffrage in western states 1911 1920: Officer of National American Woman Suffrage Association 1912 1923: Writes articles about white slave trade 1914: Helps establish League for Civil Service c.1915 1918: Officer of New York State Woman Suffrage Association/Party 1918: Chairman, Volunteer College Workers, New York State and City, U.S. Food Administration 1918 1919: Chairman, New York State League of Women Voters 1919 1919 : Member, Women's Non-Partisan Committee for the League of Nations 1919 1920: Lobbies with Republican women in Albany for welfare legislation 1920 1920 : Boards of directors, American Social Hygiene Association, Florence Crittenton League 1921 1922: Officer, Women's Pro-League Council 1923: A founder of League of Nations Non-Partisan Association 1925, 1927: Trips to Europe with JLL and Louise 1929: Louise graduates from Barnard College 1930: Honorary LL.D., Rollins College, Florida 1930s: Supports New Deal, Spanish Loyalists 1932: JLL dies Elected to board of directors, Standard and Poor's Corporation 1933: Louise marries Dana Converse Backus 1934: Joins Carrie Chapman Catt and other women in appeal to allow victims of Nazi persecution into U.S. 1937: Member of executive committee, New York City Fusion Party Attends coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth 1939: Chairman, American Committee, League of Nations Pavilion, New York World's Fair 1946 1949: Board of directors and executive committee, American Association for the United Nations 1949: Dies January 25, New York City

HBL was also active in the English Speaking Union, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, Americans United for World Organization, the Citizens' Union of New York City, the Women's Union League, American Association of University Women, Children's Aid Society, the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the New York Philharmonic Society, and other political and cultural organizations.

More biographical information is available in this collection. Also at the Schlesinger Library are a privately published memorial to James Lees Laidlaw (324.3/L18l), and the papers of Louise Laidlaw Backus (LLB), HBL's daughter. Although all papers pertaining to HBL have been removed from the Backus papers, they document LLB's work for international organizations, an interest evidently passed on by her mother.

LLB gave a collection of scrapbooks, clippings, periodicals and pamphlets relating to her parents' interest in suffrage, white slavery, amateur theater, etc. to the New-York Historical Society. These have been microfilmed by the Society. See also the article in Notable American Women, 1607-1950 (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), which includes a list of additional sources.

From the guide to the Papers, 1851-1958, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

Biographical notes are generated from the bibliographic and archival source records supplied by data contributors.


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  • Amateur theater--New York (N.Y.)


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