Women We Celebrate
Abby Scott Baker
Abby Scott Baker of Washington, D.C. was a lobbyist, press officer, and leader of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, and its successor, the National Woman’s Party as well as the organization’s key diplomat and public relations expert. Born in 1871, Baker was descended from military officers and well connected in military circles and other areas of public life. She was married to physician, Dr. Robert Baker, and the mother of three sons each of whom continued the family tradition of military service.
Baker was an early leader and organizer of the Congressional Union, beginning her association as early as 1913 when the group first began to organize. Her diplomatic and networking skills were well-suited to the role of Political Chairman, which she held throughout the suffrage campaign as she mobilized tirelessly to demand action from influential people. When the Congressional Union (CU) and National Woman’s Party (NWP) merged in March 1917, Baker joined the organization’s first executive board.
Baker was a leader and envoy of the April 1916 Suffrage Special journey during which members of the Congressional Union appealed to the enfranchised women of the west to work towards the formation of a Woman’s Party and the passage of a federal suffrage amendment. Baker’s official role was press chairman, or as The Suffragist (April 8, 1916) put it, the organization’s “war correspondent,” managing the press throughout the five week trip. After the organization of the National Woman’s Party, Baker journeyed to Illinois with fellow suffragist Jessie H. MacKaye to lobby for the amendment and against the Democratic Party (the official election strategy of the NWP and CU).
On September 4, 1916, Baker and twelve others picketed during the “Draft Day Parade” protest bearing the banner: “MR. PRESIDENT, HOW LONG MUST WOMEN BE DENIED A VOICE IN THE GOVERNMENT THAT IS CONSCRIPTING THEIR SONS?” The group was arrested and sentenced to sixty days at Occoquan Workhouse. Later, Baker toured the country, attempting to win others to the NWP’s cause and to gain support for the suffrage amendment.
In February 1919, Baker and other suffragists who had been incarcerated embarked on the NWP’s Prison Special, a tour designed to bring attention to the imprisonment of the suffragists and the government’s ongoing failure to pass the suffrage amendment. Again, Baker headed the press work for the trip. Commenting on the trip’s purpose, Baker said: “We intend to make it clear to the people of the country that the Administration is responsible for the fact that American women are forced to endure imprisonment in their effort to secure the passage of the amendment” (The Suffragist, February 15, 1919).
After the passage of the amendment through Congress, Baker worked for its ratification, particularly in the final ratifying state, Tennessee. Notably, during the Democratic Convention in San Francisco in June, 1920, Baker secured from the Democratic Party a plank supporting the immediate ratification of the suffrage amendment.
After the suffrage amendment was won, Baker worked for equal rights for women, particularly with respect to the National Woman’s Party’s international efforts; this included spending time abroad studying the feminist movement. She served as a member of the NWP’s Committee on International Relations and as a member of the Women’s Consultative Committee founded by the Council of the League of Nations. She also represented the NWP before the 1935 League of Nations Assembly in Geneva on the question of Equal Rights.
Baker’s lobbying and journalistic skills, coupled with her later dedication to international women’s rights made her an enormous asset to the National Woman’s Party and a strong force for change for women’s political rights throughout her lifetime. Baker passed away in 1944.