Clara Bewick Colby

On this date in 1846, Clara Dorothy Bewick (later Colby) was born in Cheltenham, England. She moved with her parents when she was 8 to a farm near Windsor, Wis. As an early reader, she liked to memorize and recite and churned butter by keeping time to fearful hymns threatening “the hells of fire,” she recalled in a lecture. At 19, she moved to Madison and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. Graduating in 1869 as valedictorian, she was instrumental in opening admission of the UW to women.

She taught history and Latin at the UW, then married Leonard Wright Colby in 1871 and moved to Beatrice, Nebraska. She served for 16 years as president of Nebraska’s Woman’s Suffrage Association. She founded The Woman’s Tribune in 1883 and published that organ of the National Woman Suffrage Association for 25 years, including daily editions through the suffrage conventions. As editor she also set type, was compositor and sometimes ran the press.

Legendary for her energy and work ethic, Colby and her husband adopted two children, including a Lakota Sioux infant, “Lost Bird,” found by Leonard in the arms of the girl’s slaughtered mother after Wounded Knee. Her husband later abandoned the family with the child’s nursemaid and they divorced in 1906. Colby raised the child by herself.

Colby was the first woman designated as a war correspondent during the Spanish-American War. She lectured in nearly every state for suffrage, as well as England, Ireland and Scotland. Colby belonged to the Congregational Church but introduced and defended resolutions denouncing patriarchal religious dogma, notably at the 1885 woman suffrage convention. She routinely featured her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘s critiques of religion on the front pages of The Woman’s Tribune.

She died In Palo Alto, Calif., in 1916 and is buried in the Congregationalist cemetery near her childhood home in Windsor, Wis.

Freedom From Religion Foundation