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Four pages of the donated letter from Susan. B. Anthony to Agnes Leach Kirkpatrick.
Susan B. Anthony to Agnes Leach Kirkpatrick, September 30, 1892. Box 7, Susan B. Anthony Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Giving History: Susan B. Anthony Wrote to My Great-Grandmother, Agnes Leach Kirkpatrick

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Giving History is a recurring series in which donors respond to questions about the materials they have given to the Manuscript Division.

This entry was written by Laury Agnes Egan, and the historical note was written by Elizabeth A. Novara, a historian in the Manuscript Division.

What materials did you decide to donate to the Library of Congress Manuscript Division? 

A letter from Susan B. Anthony to my great-grandmother, Agnes Leach Kirkpatrick, with its enclosed envelope, dated September 30, 1892, and an annotated brochure listing the officers and committees of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). It appears that Anthony is writing to my great-grandmother to confirm a previously arranged speaking event in Kansas City, Missouri, in October 1892, which did happen. My great-grandmother added handwritten names and states to the printed brochure.

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Laury Agnes Egan.
Portrait of Laury Agnes Egan. Photo by Vicki DeVico. Used with permission.

Tell us about yourself and your interests.

I was born in Highlands, New Jersey, in 1950, attended Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1972 with a BFA in graphic design/photography. My early career was as a book designer at Princeton University Press, and after establishing a design/photography business, I freelanced with 20 other publishers, designing over 1,000 books and receiving numerous national design awards. I also served as a freelance photographer at the Met Opera, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and all Lincoln Center venues; exhibited fine arts photographs in New Jersey and New York, with work in the permanent collection of the Montclair Art Museum, the Met Opera, and in the archives of numerous opera singers. For almost thirty years, I’ve taught professional fine arts photographers. In 2009, my book of poetry, Snow, Shadows, a Stranger, was published, which was the first of four volumes. In 2012, a collection, Fog and Other Stories, was issued, followed by my first novel, Jenny Kidd. As of the end of 2023, I have published thirteen novels, with over 85 poems and stories appearing in literary journals and anthologies. I returned to live in Highlands in 1995.

Three quarters black and white studio photograph of Agnes Kirkpa
Portrait of Agnes Leach Kirkpatick, Circa 1880s-1890s. Used with permission.

How are the materials that you donated important to your family history? 

The letter from Susan B. Anthony has been passed down to the oldest daughter in each generation in honor of our family’s support of women’s rights (from Agnes Leach Kirkpatrick, to my grandmother, Ethel Kirkpatrick Ricks, to my aunt, Jean Ricks Devlin, to me).

Our family history (especially on the maternal side) is replete with intrepid women. According to my great-grandmother’s records, Lawrence Leach came from England to Salem, Massachusetts, either in 1628 aboard the Abigail, which also carried John Endicott, or the following year, 1629, on the Talbot. Of interest regarding the independence of my maternal ancestors, Lawrence’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Leach, bravely vouchsafed for a woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials and may also have been briefly incarcerated for blaspheming against the church.

My great-grandmother’s sister, Marguerite/Margaret (“Maggie”), was another example of female fearlessness when she decided to follow her husband to Alaska during the Gold Rush as a solo woman. She purchased trousers and clothing befitting the climate and traveling conditions, though this behavior raised social eyebrows. Maggie was shipwrecked in 1906 on the SS Corona, when the ship went aground in Humboldt Bay. She survived and continued on to the Klondike, where she taught children and may have written articles for the New York Times as a stringer, though this may be family lore. I have a pair of her pearl opera glasses from Paris (opera has been a fascination shared by her, my grandmother, my mother, and myself, as have artistic pursuits).

My great-grandmother, Agnes Leach Kirkpatrick (“Nessie”), was a pioneer in the women’s rights movement in Missouri and a recording secretary, which is why she received the letter from Susan B. Anthony regarding Anthony’s intended visit to Kansas City, Missouri. She was born Agnes Lucy Leach, on September 21, 1858, in Iowa Point, Kansas, moved to Independence, Missouri, and then Kansas City, Missouri, and attended college in Fayette, studying art. She met and married Harry Manning Kirkpatrick and lived in Kansas City, Missouri.

One of their two daughters was my grandmother, Ethel Leach Kirkpatrick, born September 18, 1883, who married James Moore Ricks in Independence, Missouri, on September 24, 1909. My grandfather, who spoke seven or more languages, decided to move to Oklahoma in order to buy land for mineral rights, stranding my grandmother and three children when he died suddenly of polio in 1919. My grandmother managed the properties and the oil business by herself, although Oklahoma was a new state and very wild, and she was a cultured, sophisticated, well-traveled woman. When she observed the distress caused by unwanted pregnancies in her female tenant farmers, she began teaching them birth control practices, thus carrying on her mother’s tradition of supporting women.

My mother, Agnes Elizabeth Ricks, was the middle child of three, born January 5, 1914, in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Like her older sister Jean, she attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Later, she studied painting at The Art Students League in New York, and exhibited widely in New York City, Boston, New Jersey, Texas, and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She married three times; the last marriage was to my father, Richard Patrick Egan. I was born June 29, 1950. My mother, who disliked her first name of Agnes, nevertheless wished to keep the family name active and named me Laury Agnes Egan.

The Leach and Kirkpatrick maternal line was composed of strong-minded, well-educated women.

Why did you decide to reach out to the Library to donate materials?

The next oldest daughter in the generation after mine was living in Canada. We had lost touch, and I did not wish for the Anthony letter to be kept outside of America. The Library of Congress seemed like a great place to safely house the letter.

Detail of an Evening Star newspaper article "Noble Women, Who Struggle to Possess the Right of Suffrage, Second Day of the Convention, Many Interesting Reports of Progress in the Work.
Clipping from newspaper article depicting American flag with two stars representing the suffrage states of Wyoming and Colorado, and reporting on the 1894 national suffrage convention in Washington, D.C. Evening Star, February 16, 1894, 8; Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

Historical Note:

This Susan B. Anthony letter is not only attached to a wonderful family history, but also demonstrates the important history of the use of patriotic symbols in the women’s suffrage movement. In the letter, Anthony asked Kirkpatrick to prepare a special American flag for her upcoming speaking engagement. Anthony wrote,

“I wish you had a Wyoming flag that is a regulation flag – with with [sic] its stars & stripes and the field of blue with only one star in it – & around it the name of our glorious free state  – “Wyoming” –  But if you haven’t one – you can hardly get one at this late day – unless you could put a field of plain blue on both sides, over the stars – of an ordinary flag – and sew on it the one star – It is such a good object lesson to all – who see it – & have to enquire what the one star means – But we will make them all see & know that we are soon to have 44 free states in our union –”

Suffragists used the addition of suffrage stars to flags and banners to represent those states that rallied to the suffrage cause throughout the history of the suffrage movement. In 1892, only one state, Wyoming, out of the then 44 total, supported women’s suffrage, but more states would follow. By 1894, at a national suffrage convention in Washington, D.C., Carrie Chapman Catt presented a flag to Anthony on her birthday (February 15), stating,

And now, our beloved leader, the enfranchised women of Wyoming and Colorado, upon this the seventy-fourth anniversary of your life—a life every year of which has been devoted to the advancement of womankind—have sent this emblem and with it the message that they hope you will bear it at the head of our armies until there shall be on this blue field not two stars but forty-four.”

Postcard with pro Women's Suffrage song lyrics based on the "Star Spangled Banner."
Postcard with patriotic language depicting a banner with California as a hoped-for suffrage star published by the Women’s Club of San Francisco, circa 1911. Box 94, NAWSA Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Similar suffrage star symbolism can be found on letterheads, postcards, and publications generated by the suffrage movement. In the twentieth century, suffrage leader Alice Paul famously continued to employ this symbolism by posing as Betsy Ross, the Revolutionary War flag maker, and sewing suffrage stars onto a banner as states ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, which she later dramatically unfurled.

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“And now…” Susan B. Anthony and Ida H. Harper, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 4 (Rochester, New York, 1902), 223.

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