Emily P. Collins

Born August 11, 1814
Birthplace South Bristol, NY
Died April 14, 1909
Grave Site Cedar Hill Cemetary, Hartford, CT
Contribution Suffragist, abolitionist and writer
Quotation “…from the earliest dawn of reason I pined for that freedom of thought and action that was then denied to all womankind. I revolted in spirit against the customs of society and the laws of the State that crushed my aspirations and debarred me from the pursuit of almost every object worthy of an intelligent, rational mind. ”

Emily Parmely Collins was born on August 11, 1814, in South Bristol (Ontario County), New York. Her parents, originally from New England, were early settlers in the region.

Collins taught school while still in her teens. She was subsequently married at least twice. Two of her sons, one of whom was a surgeon, participated in the Civil War.

Collins lived in South Bristol for nearly forty years. She moved to Rochester, New York in 1858, and lived there until 1869. While in Rochester, she was a member of the newly-revived Unitarian Church. During the Civil War, she worked as a volunteer nurse in Virginia.

In 1869, Collins and her family moved to Louisiana. There, her second husband died. In the early 1880s, she moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where for many years she wrote for the Hartford Journal under the pen name of “Justitia.” In her columns, she generally supported human rights, especially women’s rights. During her lifetime she also wrote stories for Pacific Rural and other journals.

Collins was an abolitionist and an early supporter of women’s rights. She stated that “from the earliest dawn of reason” she had “pined for that freedom of thought and action that was then denied to all womankind….” Early in 1848, when she heard that Elizabeth Blackwell had become the first woman to be enrolled in a modern medical school, she wrote Blackwell a “letter of approval and encouragement.” However, she did not “take action” on women’s rights, she stated, until “that meeting at Seneca Falls in 1848….gave this feeling of unrest form and voice….”

Shortly after the women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York and the adjourned convention in Rochester, Collins corresponded with Sarah C. Owen, a Rochester activist. One of Collins’ letters, written on October 23, 1848, shows her enthusiasm for women’s suffrage:

A press entirely devoted to our cause seems indispensable….A lecturer in the field would be most desirable….The Elective franchise is now the one object for which we must labor;….Please forward me a copy of the petition for suffrage. We will engage to do all we can, not only in our own town, but in the adjoining ones of Richmond, East Bloomfield, Canandaigua, and Naples…

In the same letter, Collins told Owen that on October 19, 1848, she had “summoned a few women” from her neighborhood and organized an equal suffrage society. Collins was chosen as president of this group, “composed of some fifteen or twenty ladies.” The organization met in alternating women’s homes once every two weeks “for discussion and interchange of ideas.” Soon after the association was organized, its members “drafted a petition to the Legislature” on behalf of women’s suffrage. The petition contained sixty-two names of both men and women, and was sent to their representative in Albany. Collins recorded that unfortunately, the legislature viewed the notion of women’s suffrage “as something absurdly ridiculous,” and tabled any action on the petition.

The South Bristol suffrage group, which Collins alternately called the “Equal Suffrage Society,” the “Woman’s Equal Rights Union,” and/or the “Equal Rights Association,” met for a over a year before the women were forced to disband “on account of bad weather and the difficulty of coming together in the country districts.” The group did, however, continue to petition the legislature.

When Collins lived in Rochester in the late 1850s and 1860s (view 1855 census records), she wrote brief newspaper articles in support of the cause, as well as joining with other pioneer Rochester suffragists in their petitions to the Legislature. The History of Woman Suffrage records that at the New York State Constitutional Convention held in July, 1868, “Mr. Folger presented a petition from Emily P. Collins, of Rochester, and others, asking that women be granted the privilege of voting….”

The same year, Collins attended a meeting of Rochester’s Female Moral Reform Association. This group was part of the nation’s “Magdelen Movement,” a movement that sought, in part, to reclaim and reform women prostitutes. Collins warned the group that their efforts would be “futile,” as long as women “were made a subject class….” She proclaimed that “only by enfranchising women and permitting her a more free and lucrative range of employment” would it be possible to suppress this “social evil.” Later, she reflected that her “remarks produced some agitation in the meeting” as well as “some newspaper criticisms.”

Many of Collins’ views, producing “agitation” in her own day, would be controversial even today. She spoke out against the conservativism of a majority of practitioners of organized religion, stating in 1848 that most churches and clergy “are striving to rivet the chains still closer that bind, not only our own sex, but the oppressed of every class and color.” She believed that all liquor should be exclusively manufactured and sold at cost by the government, and she believed that industrialists should practice cooperation instead of competition.

Collins’ suffrage activities continued after she moved to Louisiana and later, to Connecticut. In 1879, when a Constitutional Convention met to create a new constitution for the State of Louisiana, she took part in the petition movement there for the expansion of women’s rights, including women’s suffrage. Collins also wrote a paper for the occasion, setting forth her ideas on a “just constitution.” Her paper was read to delegates and received praise in the New Orleans press.

In 1885, when Collins was living in Hartford, Connecticut, she and Frances Ellen Burr organized the Hartford Equal Rights Club. Collins was chosen as its president.

In 1907, when Collins was well into her nineties, her efforts to win women the vote were acknowledged by a telegram of appreciation from the Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

Bibliography of Suggested Books & Articles

  • Census. New York State. South Bristol, Ontario County, 1855. Emily P. Collins appears. Family includes Emily P., Emmett P., and Irving.
  • Census. U.S. South Bristol, Ontario County, 1850. Emily Collins appears. Family includes Emily, Ezra, and Simery. From Census Indices found at Ontario County, RAIMS, at http://raims.com/
  • Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, reprint, Source Book Press, 1970, Collins, Emily, “Reminiscences,” in History of Woman Suffrage, v. I, pp. 88-94, v. II, IV, V.
  • DuBois, Ellen Carol, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869, Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1978.
  • Hewitt, Nancy, Woman’s Activism and Social Change, Rochester, New York, 1822-1872, Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984.
  • Matthews, Jean V., Women’s Struggle for Equality: The First Phase, 1828-1876. American Ways Series. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997. (Review of this book appears at http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/reviews. (not review for this biography)
  • Willard, Frances, and Mary A. Livermore, eds., A Woman of the Century, Buffalo, NY: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893, Republished by Gale Research Co., Book Tower, Detroit, 1967. Collins biography and an image of her appear on pp. 193-4.

Bibliography of Suggested Web Sites