Anna Howard Shaw was born on February 14, 1847, in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. Her parents, Robert and Nicholas Shaw, were an impoverished middle-class couple of Scottish heritage. Anna was the fifth of their seven children. Anna, her mother and her siblings sailed to the United States to join Mr. Shaw in 1851. They lived in Massachusetts until 1859 when they homesteaded on a 360-acre wilderness farm near Big Rapids. Twice before Anna was twenty she was the primary support of her family. The challenges and triumphs of her early years are captured in her 1915 autobiography, Story of a Pioneer.
Early in her life, Anna felt that she had been called to preach. Local Methodists supported this “girl preacher,” though her own family did not approve. She came to Albion College in 1875 because Albion at that time offered free tuition to licensed preachers.
Anna stayed at Albion for two years until she decided to leave for Boston and its theological seminary. The seminary years were among the hardest of her life. She was the only female in her class. Her finances were always meager. Hunger and cold became too frequent companions. She finally found support from several women and was sustained until she graduated. She was hired as pastor for first one church and then a second in East Dennis, on Cape Cod. She was a very successful minister but the Methodist Episcopal Church refused to ordain her. Finally she gained ordination in the Methodist Protestant Church.
Anna had incredible physical and intellectual energy and stamina. After a number of years, she no longer felt that her parish work was enough of a challenge. She entered Boston University Medical School and completed the requirements for an M.D. while continuing full-time as a pastor to two churches. The time she spent ministering medically to the poor of Boston convinced her that she would be most effective in the rest of her life if she became involved in the political reforms developing in the country.
From 1886 until her death in 1919, Anna Howard Shaw traveled the United States and the world speaking on issues related to women’s status. She was recognized as the greatest orator of the women’s suffrage movement. For twelve years she traveled with Susan B. Anthony, who considered her an adopted niece. She was vice-president to both Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) from 1892 until 1904. From 1904 until 1915, Shaw served as NAWSA president.
Though supposedly retired, when President Wilson called on her during World War I, she agreed to serve as chair of the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. For this work, she received the Distinguished Service Medal, the first living woman so honored. She developed pneumonia while traveling with former President Taft on behalf of the League of Nations in June 1919. On July 2, 1919, she died at her home in Moylan, Pennsylvania.
Anna Howard Shaw was one of the first women inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. A statue of her stands outside the public library in Big Rapids. When Albion College opened a women’s center in 1985, it was named to honor Albion’s most famous alumna, the Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw.
Source: Albion College files; research materials of Dr. Trisha Franzen
From: Albion AAUW. Some Notable Women of the Albion Area. Albion, Michigan: American Association of University Women. 1998.
Anna Howard Shaw was born on February 14, 1847 in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. Soon after her second birthday, her family left for America. They settled first in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where young Anna read and re-read Uncle Toms Cabin and became passionate about issues of slavery.
When the Shaws moved again in 1859, they found themselves in a much different environment: the wild forests of Michigan. Anna and her family lived in a tiny log cabin surrounded by 360 acres of wilderness. Her father and her two oldest brothers returned to Lawrence to work, leaving Anna, four siblings, and her mother to fend for themselves. Finally, at the age of 15, Shaw was able to get work as a schoolteacher, earning two dollars a week. It was at this point that she first dreamed of becoming a minister. When her older sister got married, she invited Shaw to live with her in the town of Big Rapids. Here Anna attended high school and met an influential mentor, Miss Lucy Foote. Through Miss Footes guidance, she was invited to give her first sermon in the village of Ashton.
Shaws family vehemently disapproved of her ambition to become a preacher, and they offered to pay her way through the University of Michigan if she abandoned the idea. She preached on thirty-six more occasions that year, however, and then decided to attend Albion College without any financial assistance. She was nearly broke when she arrived at Albion, and the President, George Jocelyn, was impressed by her and allowed her to live with his family during her first year at school. Shaw gave a series of temperance lectures in an effort to defray the costs of her education, and Miss Foote took up a collection totaling ninety-two dollars from her friends in Big Rapids.
In 1876, Shaw began to study for the ministry at Boston University. She was the only woman in her class, and she still had to get by on limited funds. After her graduation, she was pastor of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in East Dennis, Massachusetts for seven years. In 1882 she decided she wanted to attend medical school as well, and in 1885 she became a physician as well as a minister, preaching at two churches and treating the urban poor three days a week.
Soon, Shaw decided to give up her ministry posts altogether, choosing to travel the country lecturing on temperance, and later traveling with Susan B. Anthony for the cause of womens suffrage. Shaw continued to cross the country and campaign for womens rights for the next eighteen years. She was elected president of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1904. Shaw held this position until 1915, when she looked forward to retirement at her home in Moylan, Pennsylvania.
In 1917, however, war came to the country and the Council of National Defense appointed Dr. Shaw as Chairman of the Womens Committee. Shaw served as Chairman until 1919, when she again expected to retire, but was asked to travel through the country with former President Taft and Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell. Their aim was to generate support for the newly formed League of Nations. This proved to be too much for Shaw, however, and she checked herself into an Illinois hospital. Shaw died at her home in Pennsylvania on July 2, 1919. A year after her death, the government finally accepted her lifes message and ratified the 19th Amendment, giving women the vote.
Source: Albion College Archives, 2003 [Downloaded July 3, 2003]