Suffragists Elizabeth Otey and Her Mother, Elizabeth Lewis

Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey (1880–1974)

Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey was an economist, an activist in the Virginia and national suffrage movements, and a political candidate for the Republican and Socialist parties. She earned a doctorate in economics in 1907 and went on to produce studies and reports for the federal government on business and labor. Her active support of woman suffrage began in 1910 as a member of the Lynchburg Equal Suffrage League, which she probably helped found along with her mother, Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis. With less hope for a state suffrage amendment, in 1915, she split from the Equal Suffrage League to become a vice president of the Virginia chapter of the Congressional Union (later the National Woman's Party) supporting a federal suffrage amendment. After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, she ran for several political offices. She lost every election but she was the first woman nominated by a major party for statewide office in Virginia in 1921. After her spate of campaigns she returned to economics, working at the Social Security Administration and the Foreign Economic Administration. She died in 1974. MORE...

 

Early Years and Family

Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis was born on October 4, 1880, in Lynchburg. She was the daughter of John Henry Lewis and Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis. Her mother was a niece of Orra Henderson Moore Gray Langhorne, who supported woman suffrage in the 1890s, and she was a first cousin of Nancy Witcher Langhorne Shaw Astor, viscountess Astor, the first woman to serve in the British House of Commons.

Lewis was educated in the preparatory school at Randolph-Macon Woman's College (later Randolph College) in Lynchburg and at Bryn Mawr College, where she engaged in social work in Philadelphia and was active in the college's musical life. After graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1901 she returned to Randolph-Macon Woman's College for one year, studied at the University of Chicago for the 1903–1904 academic year, and then entered the University of Berlin. She earned a doctorate in economics in 1907 for her dissertation, "Ein Beitrag zur Entwieckelung der Baumwollindustrie in den Nordamericanischen Südstaaten,"published in English the same year as "A Contribution toward the Development of the Cotton Industry in the South of U.S.A."

Suffrage Activity

Returning to the United States and residing in Washington, D.C., Lewis continued her interest in business and labor. She prepared a report, The Beginnings of Child Labor Legislation in Certain States: A Comparative Study (1910), for the Department of Commerce and Labor and in 1913 the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics published her Employers' Welfare Work. In the 1910s she was a member of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections.

On June 4, 1910, Lewis married a Lynchburg businessman, Dexter Otey. They had one daughter, Elizabeth Lewis Otey Watson. Not long after the birth of her daughter in 1911, Otey joined her mother in active support of woman suffrage. She was probably a founding member of the Lynchburg Equal Suffrage League, of which her mother was president for ten years, and was active on behalf of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, of which her mother was vice president from 1911 to 1920. Otey became a board member of the Lynchburg league and its treasurer by 1914.

In the spring of 1912, while working on Employers' Welfare Work and with an infant child to care for, she agreed to speak to the Virginia Federation of Labor in support of woman suffrage, but a sudden illness prevented her from doing so. The following year, however, she and state league president Lila Hardaway Meade Valentine spoke to the convention of the Virginia Federation of Labor in Danville. Also in 1913 Otey joined numerous Virginia suffragists who marched in the national suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., on the eve of President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. The following year Otey proposed to establish a statewide suffrage speakers' bureau. When illness prevented Valentine from attending a national suffrage convention in 1915, she asked Otey, her mother (who was a cousin of Valentine), and one other woman to represent her.

Early in 1915 Otey organized a suffrage education program in Lynchburg. In the spring she planned to accompany her mother on a speaking tour to organize local suffrage leagues, and she later helped reorganize the suffrage league at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. On April 20, 1917, the Lynchburg league published 5,000 copies of The Lynchburg Woman's Suffrage News. Otey was its editor, but unfortunately no known copies survive.

After the General Assembly voted against suffrage amendments in 1912 and 1914, Virginia suffragists were divided about whether advocating an amendment to the U.S. Constitution was a sound idea because some worried that a federal amendment would meet resistance from states' rights politicians. Otey and other Virginia women who saw less reason to hope for a state amendment formed a Virginia chapter of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in the summer of 1915 to support a federal amendment. Otey was one of the vice presidents of the Virginia chapter. During the state convention of the Equal Suffrage League in Norfolk in November 1916, Otey; Sophie Gooding Rose Meredith, president of the Virginia Congressional Union; and Norfolk suffragist Pauline Forstall Colclough Adams ventured to the streets to speak in favor of a federal amendment.

Otey and her mother were among a group that attended the 1916 Republican State Convention, which endorsed woman suffrage at their request. Growing more active, Otey traveled to Washington with her mother in August 1917 for a demonstration in which Otey and others carried banners accusing "Kaiser Wilson" of ignoring democracy for millions of American women. As they prepared to march on the White House, people snatched the banners and broke up the rally. Otey's support of what some suffragists regarded as unladylike militancy seriously worried some leaders of the Equal Suffrage League after Congress submitted the Nineteenth Amendment to the states in 1919. Invited to address the Republican Party State Convention in March 1920, Otey let it be known that she spoke for the National Woman's Party (the renamed Congressional Union) and not on behalf of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. Referring to the Washington demonstrations, the Lynchburg News reported that she told the convention, "We wanted to be disagreeable so that they would take notice."

During World War I (1914–1918) Otey, her mother, and many other suffragists devoted their energy to supporting the war effort. Otey served on the board of the home economics section of the war food administration in Lynchburg and later chaired the committee that compiled and preserved records of the city's war-related work for the Virginia War History Commission. Early in 1920 Otey, then chair of the Sixth Congressional District for the Virginia National Woman's Party, joined other suffragists in Richmond to lobby the assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. They were not successful, but the assembly did pass legislation enabling women to vote that year if enough other states ratified the proposed amendment.

Political Activity

In November 1920, when she voted for the first time, Otey voted for Socialist Eugene V. Debs for president. In 1921, perhaps because of the Virginia Republican Party's endorsement of woman suffrage during the 1910s or reflecting her father's political affiliation rather than her mother's, Otey sought and won the Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction. She was the first woman nominated by a major party for statewide office in Virginia. The Republican convention excluded most of the African Americans who had been elected delegates to it. As a result, the so-called "lily-white" Republican ticket faced opposition from a ticket consisting of all-black Republicans, with Richmond banker and social reformer Maggie Lena Mitchell Walker opposing Otey and Democrat Harris Hart. Otey received more than 59,000 votes out of more than 208,000 cast, less than one-third, which was typical for Republican candidates at that time.

Otey briefly returned to Bryn Mawr in 1923 as a tutor in economics, and she resumed her work on behalf of working people and remained active on issues relating to women. In 1924 the Christian Social Justice Fund published her short study, The Cotton Mill Workers on Jones Falls, Baltimore. Otey traveled to Paris in 1926 with a small delegation from the National Woman's Party but failed to gain formal admittance to the meeting of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (later the International Alliance of Women). The League of Women Voters (of which her mother was then state president) opposed the party's admittance partly because of its insistence on a declaration of full equality for men and women in public and economic life. In 1932 Otey lectured at the Southern Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. She was also president of the Lynchburg chapter of the American Association of University Women from 1927 to 1929 and of the Virginia chapter from 1929 to 1931.

In 1931, when Otey sat on the state Socialist Party's executive committee, she ran for the House of Delegates from Lynchburg as a Socialist but received only 25 of 488 votes cast. She was a candidate for presidential elector on the Socialist Party ticket in 1932. In 1933 Otey was the party's nominee to oppose Democratic Party leader Harry Flood Byrd (1887–1966) and a Republican for the U.S. Senate, but received a mere 1,130 votes out of 167,401 cast.

Later Years

Otey moved back to Washington sometime after her husband died on June 3, 1933, and worked for the Social Security Administration, for which she contributed to a study published in 1940 entitled An Outline of Foreign Social Insurance and Assistance Laws. She later worked for the Foreign Economic Administration until she retired in 1948. After World War II (1939–1945) Otey spent time with her namesake daughter and son-in-law, William Clark Watson, an oil company executive, while they lived in Asia. Otey returned to Lynchburg in old age. She published a small book in 1972 on her parents' genealogies, The Lewis, Harrison, Bezer, Schooolfield Ancestry of John H. Lewis, d. 1907, of Lynchburg, and the Wiatt Ancestry of His Wife, Elizabeth D. Langhorne, d. 1946. In 1973 as one of the few surviving prominent Virginia suffragists Otey gave an oral history interview about her involvement in the woman suffrage movement to a University of Virginia graduate student. Otey died of pneumonia in a Lynchburg hospital on February 28, 1974. Her ashes were buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg. In 1994 the Elizabeth Lewis Otey Professorship in East Asian Studies was established by her daughter's will at Washington and Lee University.

Time Line

  • October 4, 1880 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis is born in Lynchburg to John Henry Lewis and Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis.
  • 1901 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis graduates from Bryn Mawr College.
  • 1903–1904 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis studies at the University of Chicago.
  • 1907 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis earns a doctorate in economics from the University of Berlin for her dissertation, A Contribution toward the Development of the Cotton Industry in the South of U.S.A.
  • 1910s - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey is a member of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections.
  • 1910 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis prepares a report, The Beginnings of Child Labor Legislation in Certain States: A Comparative Study, for the Department of Commerce and Labor.
  • June 4, 1910 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis marries a Lynchburg businessman, Dexter Otey.
  • October 1910 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis founds the Lynchburg Equal Suffrage League, the second local league founded in the state. Lewis's daughter, Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey, is probably a cofounder.
  • June 8, 1911 - Elizabeth Lewis Otey is born to Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey and Dexter Otey.
  • Spring 1912 - A sudden illness prevents Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey from speaking to the Virginia Federation of Labor in support of woman suffrage.
  • 1913 - U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey's Employers' Welfare Work.
  • 1913 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey and Equal Suffrage League of Virginia president Lila Hardaway Meade Valentine spoke to the convention of the Virginia Federation of Labor in Danville.
  • March 3, 1913 - The woman suffrage parade takes place in Washington, D.C., attracting thousands of marchers on the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. The parade includes no southern African American women, a group that was sidelined by white southern suffragists.
  • 1914 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey proposes to establish a statewide suffrage speakers' bureau.
  • 1914 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey becomes a board member of the Lynchburg Equal Suffrage League and its treasurer.
  • March 11, 1914 - A woman suffrage resolution is defeated in the Virginia legislature by a vote of 74 to 13.
  • 1915 - When illness prevents Lila Hardaway Meade Valentine from attending a national suffrage convention, she asks Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey, Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis, and one other woman to represent her.
  • Early 1915 - Elizabeth Langhorne Dabney Lewis Otey organizes a suffrage education program in Lynchburg.
  • Spring 1915 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey plans to accompany her mother, Elizabeth Langhorne Dabney Lewis, on a speaking tour to organize local suffrage leagues, including one at Randolph-Macon Woman's College.
  • June 10, 1915 - The Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage organizes a Virginia chapter at a meeting in Richmond. Sophie Gooding Rose Meredith is elected chair of the Virginia branch. Pauline Adams is elected second vice chairman. Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey is elected second vice chair.
  • February 18, 1916 - A woman suffrage resolution is defeated in the Virginia legislature by a vote of 52 to 40.
  • March 1916 - A group of suffragists attend the Republican State Convention, which endorses woman suffrage at their request.
  • November 1916 - At the state convention of the Equal Suffrage League in Norfolk, Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey; Sophie Gooding Rose Meredith, president of the Virginia Congressional Union; and Norfolk suffragist Pauline Forstall Colclough Adams venture to the streets to speak in favor of a federal amendment.
  • April 20, 1917 - The Lynchburg Equal Suffrage League publishes 5,000 copies of The Lynchburg Woman's Suffrage News, edited by Elizabeth Otey under the presidency of Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis.
  • August 1917–Early 1919 - Virginia women join those suffragists picketing the White House, accusing President Wilson of ignoring democracy for millions of American women.
  • Early 1920 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey, then chair of the Sixth Congressional District for the Virginia National Woman's Party, joins other suffragists in Richmond to lobby the assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.
  • March 1920 - In her address to the Republican Party State Convention, Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey aligns herself with the National Woman's Party (the renamed Congressional Union), not the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia.
  • November 2, 1920 - Suffragist Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey casts her first ballot in a U.S. election, voting for Socialist Eugene V. Debs for president.
  • 1921 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey seeks and wins the Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction. She is the first woman nominated by a major party for statewide office in Virginia.
  • 1923 - Elizabeth Langhorne Dabney Lewis Otey briefly returns to Bryn Mawr as a tutor in economics.
  • 1924 - The Christian Social Justice Fund publishes a short study, The Cotton Mill Workers on Jones Falls, Baltimore, by Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey.
  • 1926 - A small delegation from the National Woman's Party (NWP) travels to Paris and fails to gain formal admittance to the meeting of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. The League of Women Voters opposes the party's admittance in part because NWP insists on a declaration of full equality for men and women in public and economic life.
  • 1927–1929 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey is president of the Lynchburg chapter of the American Association of University Women.
  • 1929–1931 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey is president of the Virginia chapter of the American Association of University Women.
  • 1931 - Sitting on the state Socialist Party's executive committee, Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey runs for the House of Delegates from Lynchburg as a Socialist. She receives only 25 of 488 votes cast.
  • 1932 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey lectures at the Southern Summer School for Women Workers in Industry.
  • 1932 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey is a candidate for presidential elector on the Socialist Party ticket.
  • 1933 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey is the Socialist Party's nominee for the United States Senate, but received a mere 1,130 votes out of 167,401 cast.
  • June 3, 1933 - Dexter Otey, husband of Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey, dies.
  • 1940 - Working for the Social Security Administration, Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey contributes to a study entitled An Outline of Foreign Social Insurance and Assistance Laws.
  • 1948 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey retires from the Foreign Economic Administration.
  • 1972 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey publishes a small book on her parents' genealogies, The Lewis, Harrison, Bezer, Schooolfield Ancestry of John H. Lewis, d. 1907, of Lynchburg, and the Wiatt Ancestry of His Wife, Elizabeth D. Langhorne, d. 1946.
  • 1973 - As one of the few surviving prominent Virginia suffragists Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey gives an oral history interview about her involvement in the woman suffrage movement to a University of Virginia graduate student.
  • February 28, 1974 - Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey dies of pneumonia in a Lynchburg hospital.
  • 1994 - The Elizabeth Lewis Otey Professorship in East Asian Studies at Washington and Lee University is established under the will of Elizabeth Otey Watson. The endowment is named for Watson's mother, a prominent Virginia suffragist.

References

Further Reading
Tarter, Brent, Marianne E. Julienne, and Barbara C. Batson. The Campaign for Woman Suffrage in Virginia. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2020.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey (1880–1974). (2020, May 11). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Otey_Elizabeth_Dabney_Langhorne_Lewis_1880-1974.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Elizabeth Dabney Langhorne Lewis Otey (1880–1974)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 11 May. 2020. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: April 17, 2020 | Last modified: May 11, 2020


Contributed by Brent Tarter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Brent Tarter is founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography