Harriet Wright (Burton) Laidlaw, 1873-1949

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)


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Ark ID:


  • Amateur theater--New York (N.Y.)


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