Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Anna Whitehead Bodeker

ANNA WHITEHEAD BODEKER (1826–1904)

"The Age of Iron: Man as He Expects to Be." lithograph. [New York]: Currier & Ives, 1869. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49805

Born Anna Whitehead in New Jersey on about July 26, 1826, she was married at age eighteen to Augustus Bodeker, a German immigrant who worked as a clerk and druggist in Richmond. They had three children and remained in Richmond during the Civil War. Inspired by her reading of newspapers and other accounts of the activities of the National Woman Suffrage Association, she arranged for suffrage advocate Pauline Wright Davis to speak in Richmond early in 1870. The event and Bodeker's sponsorship of it attracted the attention of national newspapers, and in March of that year she published a two-part article entitled “Defence of Woman Suffrage” in one of the city's most influential newspapers.

Bodeker corresponded with other national advocates of woman suffrage and persuaded a federal judge to allow his courtroom to be used for another public address in favor of woman suffrage. The judge and his wife also attended the meeting at which Bodeker and other supporters of the cause founded the Virginia Woman Suffrage Association in May 1870 and elected delegates to a convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association. As president of the Virginia association, the first of its kind in the state, Bodeker arranged for Susan B. Anthony to speak in the federal courthouse in Richmond in December 1870. By then a well-known advocate of woman suffrage, Bodeker persuaded a member of the House of Delegates to introduce a resolution to grant the vote to women—the legislators never voted on it—and in 1871 attempted to vote in the general election in Richmond but was not permitted to do so. Instead of placing a ballot in the box, she placed in it a slip of paper on which she had written, “By the Constitution of the Untied States, I Mrs. A. Whitehead Bodeker, have a right to give my vote at this election, and in vindication of it drop this note in the ballot-box, November 7th, 1871.”

In spite of Bodeker's work and of being acknowledged as a brilliant and effective organizer, the cause of woman suffrage failed to attract widespread support during the years immediately after the Civil War, and the Virginia Woman Suffrage Association faded into obscurity after less than a decade. Bodeker, too, disappeared from public view and died in October 1904.

Suggested Reading:

Treadway, Sandra Gioia. “A Most Brilliant Woman: Anna Whitehead Bodeker and the First Woman Suffrage Association in Virginia.” Virginia Cavalcade 43 (1994): 166–177.

———. "Bodeker, Anna Whitehead." In Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Edited by Sara B. Bearss et al., 2:46–48. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.