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Lilla Day Monroe

Lilla Day Monroe

Women's advocate, journalist. 1858-1929.

Many in the baby boomer generation think of "feminism" and "activism" as recent phenomena. A look at the past can give us a different perspective. One early activist in Topeka participated in the struggle for women's rights and suffrage. While part of a network of women working on issues related to wives and mothers, Lilla Day Monroe was one of the leaders in the suffrage movement in the early 1900s.

Lilla Day Moore was born in Pulaski County, Indiana and came to Kansas in 1884. She settled in Wakeeney, Trego County, Kansas, at the end of the "frontier" era. She married Lee Monroe, an attorney in Wakeeney. In addition to raising four children, she pursued an interest in the law. She worked as a clerk in her husband's law office and studied law at home. She eventually passed the bar examination and was admitted to practice in the District Court on February 7 1894, and to the Kansas Supreme Court on May 7, 1895. Her family claimed she was the first female to have this distinction.

Lilla Day Monroe and her family moved to Topeka in 1902. Once in the state capital, Monroe became active in a number of causes. She was a member of the Kansas State Suffrage Association and served as its president for several years. From approximately 1908 through 1912, when Kansas passed an amendment for full suffrage for women, she was a familiar face to legislators urging them to support suffrage for women. In addition, she gave a number of public lectures on the need for expanded women's rights. She was a member of the Good Government Club of Topeka, an organization that lobbied on issues of interest to its members. Monroe served as the head of its lobbying efforts for 27 years.

Kansas Woman's JournalMonroe also was a journalist. She established and edited The Club Woman and The Kansas Woman's Journal. She was a member of the Woman's Press Association, the State Federation of Clubs, the Business and Professional Women's Club, and the National League of American Pen Women.

While Lilla Day Monroe's suffrage efforts were part of an organized network of women, she alone was responsible for initiating a unique campaign in Kansas that had amazing results. Based on her pioneer experiences in western Kansas in the 1880s and 1890s, Lilla Day Monroe requested some reminiscences of women's experiences during the settlement of Kansas for an article to be published in the Kansas Woman's Journal. Her request in the 1920s struck a chord among Kansas women and she began to receive unsolicited accounts of the adventure and perils of travel to Kansas settlers. Women who were children at the time their parents made the decision to move to Kansas described the settlement experience from a child's point of view.

Kansas Woman's JournalAs this project gained momentum, Lilla Day Monroe decided to make it a statewide campaign. She publicized the effort through her Kansas Woman's Journal and made this project the focus of her term as president of the Woman's Kansas Day Club. Some of the reminiscences were published in that magazine but the response was so overwhelming, that Monroe ultimately decided to devote all of her efforts to editing and publishing a collection of the pioneer sketches. Ultimately over 800 reminiscences were received.

While Monroe died in 1929 before she could complete this project, her daughter Lenore Monroe Stratton continued the project by typing and indexing the reminiscences. Lilla Day Monroe's great granddaughter, Joanna Stratton, finally completed the project with the publication of Pioneer Women in 1981. At that time, the reminiscences were donated to the Kansas Historical Society, where they now are available to researchers. Search the index to the Monroe collection.

What is truly amazing about this project is the fact that this effort preceded the recognition of the need for "women's history" by 50 years. Monroe and the people who contributed their reminiscences recognized that women made significant contributions to the settlement of Kansas and they took a proactive stance in ensuring that their roles were documented. Kansas histories, up until that time, rarely included women except in relation to ongoing suffrage campaigns. They usually focused on the activities of the "great men" of the state. While it took several decades for historians to start including women's activities in main stream histories, Lilla Day Monroe and the women who contributed to her project documented their roles and these are now preserved as the Lilla Day Monroe Collection of Pioneer Women's Stories.

Entry: Monroe, Lilla Day

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: July 2004

Date Modified: June 2011

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