History Nebraska Blog

Harriet S. Brooks, Woman Suffragist

Harriet S. Brooks (1828-1888) was the most senior of Nebraska's woman's rights activists in the years leading up to 1882. She promoted suffrage in the pages of the Omaha Republican and in 1880 was one of the founding members of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association. College-educated and raised in Michigan, she was active in suffrage activities there and in Illinois before moving to Nebraska.

Harriet met her husband, Datus Brooks, in Albion, Michigan, where both attended college. After two years, Datus enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After graduation in 1856, he was hired as an assistant professor of rhetoric and English literature and later was appointed to be the librarian. Datus and Harriet were married on September 7, 1858. During their time in Ann Arbor, Harriet became active in the suffrage movement in Michigan. She contributed articles to various newspapers and worked to get women admitted to the state university at Ann Arbor.

In 1864 Datus Brooks resigned his position and took a job as a literary and music critic for the Times in Chicago. Once settled in Chicago, Harriet continued her activities in the suffrage movement, serving as secretary for both the Cook County Woman's Franchise Association and the Illinois Woman's Suffrage Association. She also served as a delegate to the third annual National Woman Suffrage Association convention in 1870. Harriet continued to promote women's right to vote in Illinois until 1876 when Datus became editor of the Omaha Republican and the couple moved to Omaha.

Harriet continued her suffrage activities in Nebraska, contributing numerous articles to the Republican. She was one of the founding members of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association, established on May 30, 1880. On February 17, 1882, she made an address before the Nebraska Legislature entitled, "What Impartial Suffrage Means." Brooks was also an active member of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, serving as chairman of the Department of Botany and Vegetable Physiology.

As a result of Nebraska's failure to pass a constitutional amendment establishing woman suffrage in 1882, Brooks, perhaps out of frustration, retired from suffrage work and turned to "the congenial study of sociology." She died after a prolonged battle with cancer on June 22, 1888.

For more information on Brooks and other Nebraska suffragists, see Kristin Mapel Bloomberg's "Striving for Equal Rights for All': Woman Suffrage in Nebraska 1855-1882," in the Summer 2009 issue of Nebraska History.

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