President Benjamin Harrison welcomes Alice Sanger as the first female White House staffer on January 2, 1890.
During an otherwise uneventful presidency remarkable only for allowing Congress a free-for-all in spending public funds, Alice Sanger’s appointment may have been an olive branch to the growing women’s suffrage movement that had gathered momentum during Harrison’s presidency.
In 1890, two of the most influential organizations involved in the women’s suffrage movement, the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association, combined forces and became the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). NAWSA represented a coalition of women’s suffrage activists, social reformers and temperance advocates. Their demands included stronger female property rights, employment and educational opportunities for women, improved divorce and child custody laws and reproductive freedom.
Whether or not Sanger actively supported women’s suffrage has been lost in the historical record, however, Harrison’s appointment of Sanger indicated a cautious step toward strengthening female representation in government.
READ MORE: Early Women’s Rights Activists Wanted Much More than Suffrage