Fighting for Equal Rights: Anita Pollitzer

Anita Pollitzer in Woman’s Enterprise (Baton Rouge, LA), March 10, 1922

The youngest of three sisters, Anita Pollitzer was born on October 31, 1894 in Charleston, South Carolina. After graduating from Charleston’s Memminger Normal School in 1913, she attended Columbia University, graduating with her bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1916. (She would also later earn her master’s degree in international relations from Columbia in 1933.) Often noted for her work as a photographer and her close friendship with fellow artist Georgia O’Keeffe (whom she had met during college), it was during her time as an undergraduate student that Pollitzer become involved in the suffrage movement. Pollitzer joined the National Woman’s Party (NWP) after graduating from college and went on to hold several offices within the party throughout her lifetime. She quickly became a strong voice for the movement, lobbying across the nation for suffrage and equal rights for women.

During her college years, Pollitzer worked alongside her two older sisters, Carrie and Mabel, promoting women’s suffrage at the local level. Joining the NWP only fueled Anita’s fire further, providing her with additional support as she traveled throughout her home state. Unlike other women’s rights organizations, the NWP not only encouraged equality for women, but also focused on obtaining the passage of a constitutional amendment that ensured suffrage for women. In her early party membership, Pollitzer worked closely with fellow members of the party’s South Carolina branch to spread their message. While traveling all around the state, their sessions at times drew so many people that the crowds had to be split in two and NWP members would present concurrent speeches to attendees both inside the original meeting space and outside on the street.

Anita’s involvement with the NWP continued to expand over time. She began traveling across the country to speak to fellow party members, participate in protests, and lobby for the ratification of a suffrage amendment. Pollitzer spent time working in Washington, D.C. for the headquarters of the party directly underneath one of its founders, Alice Paul. By 1920, Pollitzer was dedicating much of her time to meeting with representatives in different states, urging them to vote for the ratification of the 19th amendment which would guarantee women the right to vote. In early 1920, the Washington Herald included a small blurb about a meeting with an Oklahoma Senator who promptly wrote a telegram “urging ratification of the suffrage movement” following his time with Pollitzer. One of Anita’s most impressive efforts took place a few months later in Tennessee where, after talking with her, the state’s representatives voted to endorse the amendment, making it the 36th state to do so, which was the final vote needed to add the amendment onto the Constitution. An article in the Washington Herald from August 1920 talks about the efforts of Pollitzer and her fellow activists and the influential role they played in getting the 19th amendment ratified.

Pollitzer’s work in Connecticut is noted in the Edgefield Advertiser (Edgefield, S.C.), October 20, 1920

Even as suffrage was achieved for women in 1920, Pollitzer continued her mission for equal rights for many more years. In 1921, she served in her first official position for the NWP as a member of the Executive Council. The next year, Anita made the headlines of the Laurens Advertiser for her work in Illinois trying to establish a statewide chapter of the NWP. Continuing to work her way up in the party, Pollitzer became the party’s National Chairman in 1945, succeeding only Alice Paul. Pollitzer spent the remainder of her life advocating for women’s issues. She worked with Paul to organize the World Women’s Party, fighting for recognition of women’s equality with the United Nations. Pollitzer also played influential roles in advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment and the National Fair Labor Standards Act.

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