logo of university of south carolina

Anita Pollitzer Papers

"In reply to your letter I am writing to say that Miss Pollitzer was an organizer for the Woman's Party for a number of years and was one of the most successful organizers that we ever had. She has a great deal of initiative, enthusiasm, and personal charm. She was particularly good in press work, interviewing, money raising and speaking. She has a sunny disposition and is easy to work with. She makes friends easily and does not antagonize. She is never-tiring in her work, full of energy, and very painstaking. She has unusual courage, independence of thought, and intelligence. She is very loyal to those she works for and with. She has a high sense of honor."

Thus did veteran suffragist and National Woman's Party (NWP) founder Alice Paul characterize Charleston native Anita Pollitzer (1894-1975) in a letter of reference to Miss Jean Earle Mochle on 22 August 1929 regarding Pollitzer's qualifications as a contact liaison for a student traveling company called "The Open Road." Paul's assertions buttressed those of South Carolina governor Thomas G. McLeod three years earlier. In a letter of introduction to the International Women's Suffrage Alliance dated 16 April 1926, he expressed his confidence in Pollitzer's role as a U.S. delegate—"I am very much pleased, indeed, that our State is honored by Miss Pollitzer's being chosen as this delegate. It gives me pleasure to state that Miss Pollitzer is an unusually intelligent and interesting young woman, prominently connected in her native city and State. She has been active in educational and cultural work, and her labors are very much appreciated by our people here in South Carolina."

This collection of three and three-quarters linear feet of papers documents the life and work of Anita Pollitzer, who became involved in the Suffrage movement and the National Woman's Party during her college years at Columbia University (1913-1916) and who continued her efforts on behalf of equal rights for women with the NWP in Washington, D.C., and nationwide in the decades that followed. The central component of the collection, in fact, consists of correspondence, writings, documents, and photographs dating from 1916 to 1975 representing Pollitzer's involvement in this movement and especially with the NWP, which she served as national secretary (1921-1926), vice chairman (1927-1938), chairman (1945-1949), and honorary chairman (1949-1975).

The bulk of the material consists of Pollitzer's own letters and notes, as well as the correspondence of other party members. Her "never-tiring" efforts to encourage passage of the Equal Rights Amendment put her in touch with senators, congressmen, priests, rabbis, and celebrities over the years, including those who supported the amendment, both openly as well as clandestinely, and some who strongly opposed it. Pollitzer also corresponded with women around the country—from housewives to the President's wife—soliciting support for the Party and ERA. In a letter to her of 17 September 1934 Amelia Earhart makes this offer—"If there is any way I can make a small noise for the cause, of course, I shall be glad to do so." Eleanor Roosevelt agreed in a 20 January 1944 letter to meet with Pollitzer and a group of pro-ERA women industrial workers, but asked to "have present some of the industrial workers who [were] opposed" to the amendment. The very stationery upon which much of the Party correspondence was written includes the names of such notable women as screen stars Mary Pickford and Katherine Hepburn, as well as that of renowned artist and Pollitzer's personal friend Georgia O'Keeffe, all of whom are listed as NWP National Advisory Board members in the 1940s.

Particularly interesting is a letter of 27 November 1916 from photographer Alfred Stieglitz, hand copied by Pollitzer's sister Mabel. Anita Pollitzer had frequented the studio gallery of Stieglitz, known as "291" while a student at Columbia University, where she met and befriended Georgia O'Keeffe. In the years that followed, O'Keeffe and Pollitzer often exchanged watercolors and charcoal sketches with their letters, which have been compiled and edited by Clive Giboire in Lovingly, Georgia: The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O'Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer (Simon & Schuster, 1990). On a rainy New Year's Day in 1916, Pollitzer brought several of O'Keeffe's charcoal drawings to Stieglitz's office, without O'Keeffe's permission, but confessing in a letter to her later that day—"I had to do, I'm glad I did it, it was the only thing to do—"(p.115). Thus while Stieglitz may be credited with bringing O'Keeffe's art to the public, it is Pollitzer who must be credited for bringing O'Keeffe to Stieglitz (she later became his wife). Although O'Keeffe became one of the premier artists of her day and Anita found her niche in the National Woman's Party, the letter from Stieglitz which Mabel Pollitzer copied highlights Anita's talents as well. He wrote—"To Anita Pollitzer—There are not many real two-ninety ones—at least not many that I am conscious of, and what I'm not conscious of means little to me—To one of the few real two-ninety ones—a creative force in `291.'"

Pollitzer also kept copies of official Party records of senators' and congressmen's statements and votes, as well as extensive notes of her own, to which she often referred in her correspondence and statements. On several occasions over the years, Pollitzer and Senator Strom Thurmond exchanged letters. In reply to Pollitzer's letter of 6 February 1948 asking for his position regarding ERA, then Governor Thurmond promptly answered on 11 February—"It is indeed anachronistic that women do not enjoy the same legal rights as men. It is high time that the situation be rectified. Women, who have served side by side with men in peace and war, should not be penalized because of their sex. I heartily endorse the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Other Party correspondence retained by Pollitzer includes letters and statements from senators who later became U.S. Presidents. In a copy of a letter to NWP National Vice Chairman Emma Guffey Miller on 7 October 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy declared his position regarding ERA—"The platform has my full support....You have my assurances that I will interpret the Democratic platform, as I know it is intended, to bring about, through concrete actions including the adoption of the Equal Rights for Women Amendment, the full equality for women which advocates of the equal rights amendment have always sought." Twelve days later, on 19 October 1960, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson wrote to Ms. Miller—"Many thanks for your letter regarding S.J. Res. 69, Equal Rights for Men and Women Amendment. As I am sure you know, I have consistently supported this resolution, and I intend to continue with this support."

The intra-party dynamics revealed in the correspondence also prove particularly interesting. In 1946, a rift in the National Woman's Party led to a schism which resulted in a lawsuit against Pollitzer and several founding members of the Party. Pollitzer's correspondence documents the ugliness of the situation that the press clippings appeared to gloss over. An insurgent group of women, reportedly led by longtime NWP National Treasurer Laura Berrien and National Council member and New York Branch Vice Chairman Doris Stevens, with Party member Sara Whitehurst as the titular "chairman," attempted to take over the Party, insisting that Pollitzer's group spent too much time on international rights for women, to the detriment of the fight in the United States. Indeed, Pollitzer had actively participated in the World Woman's Party and the International Council of Women, both of which required her attendance at international conferences for the passage of the Equal Nationality Treaty in 1926 and the inclusion of women's rights in the United Nations charter in 1945. Thus, the insurgents believed they had a legitimate grievance.

The "insurgents," a group of about sixty women located primarily in the East, held their own Party elections and attempted to take over the headquarters in Washington, D.C., in January 1947. The Washington, D.C., Times reported—"Some say a woman who boasted she was 70 and announced she is a Maine State Senator whacked the detective with her cane, while her companions pushed their way into the mansion and announced they were taking it over." Although the press may have found the situation humorous, some of Pollitzer's officeholders felt that, to eliminate further controversy, they should step down. Other Party members were shocked, and threatened to leave the Party altogether if the insurgents were allowed to take control. Western Regional Chairman Mary Sinclair Crawford wrote to Pollitzer on 27 January 1947—"Because you are our legally elected president, and have given such splendid leadership to the cause of equal rights—the cause for which you were elected, I shall stand with you in whatever decision you decide to make. The opposition group is entirely wrong, and may I again insist, they have never given us distant members any reason for their actions....If you decide to allow them to direct the work for the amendment, will you please present my resignation? I could not possibly allow my name to be associated with women of such unscrupulous action."

Pollitzer's group allowed the lawsuit to continue and successfully survived the crisis. But as late as 1949, negative letters continued to surface about Pollitzer. Party member Olive Beale wrote to National Executive Council member and past Vice Chairman Jane Norman Smith in January 1949 that Pollitzer's "cold, hard, purposeful manner in rebuffing Miss Paul, in brushing and forcing her aside in order to make herself supreme, is even more appalling to me than Griswold's (Pollitzer's secretary) violence. Together they make a satanic team." In another letter to then-current Executive Council Vice Chairman Clara Snell Wolfe, written perhaps that same day, Beale wrote—"There is no need to acknowledge this letter—but do please destroy it, or better yet, return it to me. There must be no copies about. I trust you all."

In a letter from her future husband dated 9 August 1925, Elie C. Edson predicted—"It will be interesting to see—if we live—what will have happened to both yourself and myself, and our development in that time. Together, we ought to make an interesting life of it." Pollitzer did, in fact, "make an interesting life of it." An obituary from the New York Times dated 5 July 1975 credited Pollitzer as "a pioneer fighter for equal rights for women," stating—"Over the years she had spoken in nearly every state and in Britain to plead for equal treatment for women." The Charleston Evening Post of 7 July 1975 lauded Pollitzer's role in the Suffrage movement—"In the drive for ratification, she worked in at least two thirds of the states, and secured the last-needed vote in the 36th state, Tennessee." Two days later, on 9 July 1975, the Evening Post went on to describe Pollitzer as a "woman of intellectual power and boundless energy," one who had "acquired a national reputation in the women's movement to which she dedicated her life. Her death at age 80 in New York City, where she had resided for many years, has closed a noteworthy career."

A final segment of material in the collection consists of two folders of research and writings compiled by historian Constance Ashton Myers between 1975 and 1990. Myers had met and interviewed Pollitzer's sister Mabel in the 1970s, shortly after Anita Pollitzer's death. Ms. Pollitzer allowed Myers access to this particular cache of material and suggested in a letter dated 24 July 1975—"We must, I feel, be generous in our giving to So[uth] Car[oliniana] Library." Myers' material provides significant historical insights into the National Woman's Party and its attempts to secure passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

| 1995 Manuscripts Collections | 1995 USCS Program Menu | South Caroliniana Library |

This page copyright © 1995-97, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/1995/poltzr95.html