Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

COLBY, CLARA (1846-1916)

Clara Bewick Colby, Nebraska's most prominent suffragist, was a newspaper editor and lecturer whose personal commitment to equal rights resulted in a national career and an international reputation. Born in England on August 5, 1846, she emigrated to Wisconsin in 1854. She entered the University of Wisconsin in 1865 and studied coursework previously offered only to men. Initially denied the right to graduate, she was subsequently recognized as the 1869 class valedictorian and hired as an instructor by the University of Wisconsin. She later left that position over a dispute concerning gender pay equity. In 1872 she married Leonard Wright Colby and moved to Beatrice, Nebraska. The couple adopted a three-yearold boy, Clarence, from an orphan train in 1885. Leonard later (1891) returned from the Wounded Knee Massacre with a Sioux child named Zintkala Nuni (Lost Bird) and adopted her himself while Clara was away lecturing on suffrage issues. Clara and Leonard Colby were formally divorced in 1906.

Colby strove to bring culture to her Plains hometown by establishing a public library and a community theater. In 1878 she invited suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to lecture in Beatrice. She then began traveling as a national women's suffrage speaker. Colby was one of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "girls" or "lieutenants." In 1881 she was one of the organizers of the Women's State Suffrage Association in Nebraska and served as its president from 1885 to 1898. In 1883 she became the editor and publisher of the Woman's Tribune, a national suffrage newspaper she created to bring events and perspectives to readers in isolated locations. From 1886 to 1889 the Woman's Tribune was the official publication of the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1888 the newspaper was published in a daily edition of 12,500 during the International Council of Women in Washington DC. This was the first time a daily paper for women had been edited and published by a woman. Considered by Susan B. Anthony to be the best writer of the women's movement, Colby was Anthony's first choice as a biographer. In 1889 Colby received the first press correspondent's pass issued to a woman to cover the Spanish- American War. She was one of the members of the Revising Committee of the controversial Woman's Bible, published from 1895 to 1898. In 1904 Colby moved to Oregon to continue suffrage work there. The Woman's Tribune ceased publication in 1909, although Colby optimistically intended to continue when funds became available.

In the last years of her life, Colby lectured in Britain and other European locations and served as a delegate to the International Moral Education Congress (London, 1908); International Women Suffrage Alliance (Amsterdam, 1908); International Races Congress (London, 1911); International Woman Suffrage Convention (Budapest, 1913); and the International Peace Conference (The Hague, 1913). Clara Bewick Colby died September 7, 1916, in Palo Alto, California, four years before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment establishing women's suffrage as law.

Laureen Riedesel Beatrice Public Library

Brown, Olympia, ed. Democratic Ideals: A Memorial Sketch of Clara B. Colby. Washington DC: Federal Suffrage Association, 1917.

Colby, Clara Bewick. Papers. State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison.

Jerry, E. Claire. "Clara Bewick Colby and the Woman's Tribune, 1883- 1909: The Free Lance Editor as Movement Leader." In A Voice of Their Own: The Woman Suffrage Press, 1840-1910, edited by Martha M. Solomon. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991, 110-28.

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