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Susan Elvina Lowe Wattles

Born: Massachusetts, October 2, 1810. Married: Augustus Wattles, Hamilton County, Ohio, June 24, 1836. Died: Pleasanton, Linn County, Kansas, January 9, 1898

Susan Elvina Lowe was an active advocate for abolition, women’s rights, and temperance. She inspired these beliefs in her community and her children. Born in Massachusetts in 1810, she attended a girls’ manual labor school in New York. Lowe was one of three women to accept a teaching job without pay in Cincinnati in 1835. The schools, which Augustus and John Wattles had established, were for African American children. The teachers boarded with the students’ families as was usual at the time. Lowe was unprepared for the response of the white community, which voiced their disapproval of the situation, and “hissed and cursed, loaded with vulgar and brutal epithets, oaths and threats.” Susan and Augustus soon married. They had four children, Sarah Grimké, Theodore, Emma, and Mary Ann.

There in Cincinnati, Augustus worked as an agent for the American Antislavery Society, which took him on the road to fundraise for the abolitionist cause. Discontented with the community’s Southern-leaning perspectives about integration, they relocated their school to Carthagena, Mercer County, in southwest Ohio. Carthagena’s goal as an idealistic community did not meet the Wattles’ expectations.  

When Kansas Territory opened, the Wattles and their children moved west to support for the free-state cause. They arrived in Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas Territory, in early 1855. They lived on a farm in the south part of the county while Augustus and Susan wrote for the Herald of Freedom, a free-state newspaper in Lawrence. Augustus is elected as a territorial legislator in June 1855. When the legislative session convenes in Pawnee in July, he is refused a seat by the majority proslavery caucus.

The Herald of Freedom’s editor, George Brown, was imprisoned by proslavery law enforcement, leaving Augustus to fill his place as assistant editor. Susan’s articles in the newspaper appealed to women to urge them to settle in the new territory and take advantage of the opportunity for land ownership.

John Wattles, Augustus’ brother, and Esther Whinery Wattles, his wife, also moved to Kansas Territory. The two families settled in Linn County where they could help build free-state support. The Wattles families founded Moneka in February 1857. The community prioritized free-state policy, education, and women’s rights. One year later, Susan and her daughters organized the Moneka Woman’s Rights Association, with Esther as president, Sarah Grimké as secretary, and Susan as corresponding secretary.  The association’s goal was to “secure woman her natural rights and to advance her educational interests.” Susan knew the reputation of Clarina Nichols, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate who was an editor for the free-state newspaper, Quindaro Chindowan. She appealed to Nichols for help to guide the territory’s next constitutional convention. Through petitions, resolutions, and persuasion, the two introduced women’s rights into the state constitution. While full voting rights for women would be achieved incrementally over the years, their efforts gained women a voice in schoolboard elections and some custody rights.

The Wattles family provided shelter for John Brown at different times during his forays into the territory. Brown ushered Black freedom seekers to their house after they escaped slavery in Missouri in 1858.

Susan Grimké Wattles was among six women who carried hatches and axes into a Mound City saloon in 1861. She remained outside near a whiskey drummer’s wagon while her sisters and friends smashed bottles and kegs of alcohol inside. Sarah opened the barrels’ spigots to drain the contents, risking attack from the drummer.

Susan Wattles voted for the first time in 1894. Then, at the age 84, Susan was delighted to write and share the news with her daughter, Mary Ann, “Emma and I have been to the poles and voted under the municipal suffrage law.” Susan died in Pleasanton in 1898. 

Entry: Wattles, Susan Elvina Lowe

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2023

Date Modified: March 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.