Anna Howard Shaw Biography

(Leader of the women's suffrage movement in the United States.)

Birthday: February 14, 1847 (Aquarius)

Born In: Newcastle-on-Tyne, England

Anna Howard Shaw was an American physician and a leader of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. A multifaceted personality, she was also one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in her country. An independent minded intelligent woman, she strongly believed in gender equality and championed for the rights of women. Along with Susan B. Anthony, another noted feminist, she was one of the chief leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. An emotionally mature and hardworking person from a young age, Shaw had risen from a difficult childhood to become a well-educated and self-confident woman. She began her career as a school teacher and later realized that her true interest lay in preaching. She followed her heart even though her family frowned upon her decision. Eventually she achieved ordination in the Methodist Protestant Church and became a successful preacher. Following this she pursued her education in medicine and became a physician. By this time she grew interested in the women’s suffrage movement which was gaining prominence in the U.S. and became an outspoken advocate of political rights for women. The cause of women’s suffrage was the one closest to her heart and she dedicated the rest of her life campaigning for this cause.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 72


siblings: Eleanor Shaw, Henry Shaw, James Shaw, John Shaw, Mary Shaw, Thomas Shaw

Physicians Political Activists

Died on: July 2, 1919

place of death: Moylan, Pennsylvania, United States

City: Newcastle Upon Tyne, England

More Facts

education: Boston University, Albion College, Boston University School of Theology, Boston University School of Medicine

Childhood & Early Life
She was born on 14 February 1847 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. When she was four, her family immigrated to the United States and settled in Massachusetts. She had several siblings.
She had a very difficult childhood. Her father was mostly absent and her mother suffered a nervous breakdown, unable to take care of the children all alone. The illness of a brother added to their miseries.
She was a responsible and hard working girl who not only tended to the household chores, but also performed physically laborious works like digging wells and chopping firewood.
During the Civil War her elder brothers enlisted in the army, and it fell upon her to support the family financially. Thus she became a school teacher at the age of 15.
After the Civil War she decided to pursue higher education and moved to Michigan with her married sister. She attended high school and also took up the job of a seamstress.
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During this time she also realized her interest in preaching which was inspired by Reverend Marianna Thompson who supported her pursuit of education. When she was 24, Dr. Peck invited her to give her first sermon which was successful.
However, her passion to preach was met with disapproval from her friends and family. Yet she followed her heart and continued to preach.
Her career as a preacher allowed her to save enough money for furthering her education and she entered Albion College, a Methodist school in Albion, Michigan in 1873 where she studied for two years.
In 1876, she went on to study at Boston University's School of Theology. There she was the only woman in her class and thus often discriminated against. It was a difficult time for her, as she was struggling financially to support herself. Yet she persevered and completed her graduation in 1878.
Upon her graduation she took over a congregation in East Dennis, Massachusetts. Again she faced sexism as the New England Conference and the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church refused to ordain her because she was a woman.
Finally in 1880 she received ordination in the Methodist Protestant Church and became one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States.
Ever the eager learner, she enrolled at the Boston University and received an M.D. in 1886. While studying in the medical school she became actively involved in the women’s rights movement, advocating for political rights for women.
The women’s suffrage movement was gaining momentum during the late 1880s and she decided to give up her pastoral work to get involved with this cause.
She became the lecturer for the Massachusetts Woman's Suffrage Association and served as the national superintendent of franchise of the Women's Christian Temperance Union from 1886 to 1892.

She came into contact with the noted feminist and activist Susan B. Anthony and was greatly influenced by her. Both the women focused on the cause of women’s suffrage and she was made the vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1892 and the president in 1904, serving in this post till 1915.
Under her administration the number of suffrage workers increased from 17,000 to 200,000 and ten campaigns were being held every year. The whole suffrage movement gained strength and attracted the attention of the entire nation.
She headed the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense during World War I and received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1919 for her wartime service—becoming the first woman to win the coveted medal. She continued lecturing for suffrage after the war.
Personal Life & Legacy
She contracted pneumonia while on a speaking tour in 1919. She died of the disease on 2 July, 1919, at the age of 72 in Pennsylvania.
The 19th Amendment which granted women in the US the right to vote was ratified a few months after her death. However, she knew at the time of her death that the goal she was working towards had almost been reached.
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