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Apr 29

[ARCHIVED] Part 2-Annie Diggs: Reformer and Advocate, 1879-1900

The original item was published from April 29, 2020 11:10 AM to December 28, 2021 10:57 AM

 Part 2-Annie Diggs: Reformer and Advocate, 1879-1900                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            By Donna Casement                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              April 30, 2020

“What Mrs. Diggs has shattered, are all the preconceived notions about the kind of women who are influential in politics. She has outlasted all the others. Her hold on the “brethren” is stronger and she is more dearly beloved and more implicitly obeyed by more voters who do things in more legislative and congressional districts than any woman who has ever claimed to be a factor in America politics.” (Kansas City Star, Sunday, August 5, 1900)

Diggs was 52 years old and into her second year as the fifth State Librarian of Kansas, when the Kansas City Star reporter wrote a nearly four-column article. Within the article, Diggs talked about her first public speech that took place in Downs, Kansas at their yearly founding celebration that took place July 25-26, 1890.

“I was going to tell them how flattered I was to have received an invitation to speak and say any number of complimentary things. But when they wheeled a wagon right into the center of the crowd, and I saw more people all around me than my voice could possibly reach, I forgot everything I had in my mind to say. I jumped right into the things I had been writing about and forgot everything else.” Mrs. Diggs made another speech that night. “It was easy for me to talk,” she said, “and from that time on, I had no trouble.” (Kansas City Star, Sunday, August 5, 1900)

Diggs’ public speaking was shaped by her earlier involvement in a series of local organizations, including lectures at the Lawrence Unitarian Church. One of her Unitarian lectures was described as “an able review of the laws which govern mental and moral progress, and an eloquent plea for such united action and high purpose among those of liberal religious views, as will unite the religious fervor of past ages to the moral and mental enlightenment of the present one, and help to make the next generation wiser and better than any which has preceded it.” (The Kansas Daily Tribune, Lawrence, February 10, 1880)

Diggs was also active in the Lawrence Ladies’ Liberal Club. At the Friday, March 10, 1881 meeting, Diggs gave a program on the “Consideration of Others’ Feelings”. (Western Home Journal, Lawrence, November 28, 1880)

The liberal platform encompassed many of the issues Diggs would embrace for the next 30 years of her public life. “That freedom, fellowship, toleration, and character shall be our watchwords. That we recognize woman an equal with man in the world of mind, with equal rights on the rostrum, in the pulpit, at the polls, and in all our educational departments and professions, as well as avenues of business and labor, and that she is entitled with him to equal pay for equal service. That intemperance is an evil of gigantic magnitude, and that every true reformer, of whatever shade of opinion, is earnestly desirous that its sway shall speedily cease.” (Lawrence Daily Journal, September 10, 1879)

During the winter of 1881, Diggs went to Boston, “hoping to market news articles on politics, economics, and religion.” (The Platform and the Pen: The Reform Activities of Annie L. Diggs by Connie Andes Weddle, submitted to the Department of History, Wichita State University, April 1979, pg. 11.) It was while she was in Boston that she delivered a speech at the Free Religious Association of Boston concerning the question as to whether free religion should organize. (The Boston Post, May 28, 1881) The evening before Diggs' speech, several national women’s rights leaders, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lillie Devereux Blake, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, spoke at the annual convention of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, located within one mile of the Free Religious Association venue. (The Lawrence Daily Journal, June 23, 1881) It's very possible Diggs attended this event as an active contemporary of these powerful female leaders of her time.

Diggs spent most of the 1880s and 1890s immersed in public speaking and writing. “One might ask what made Annie Diggs unusual in a time when the United States was replete with reforms and reformers of both sexes. Annie’s talents for writing and public speaking assured that knowledge of her efforts would survive, either because she recorded them herself as a journalist, or stirred enough interest that someone else chronicled her activities in newspapers.” (The Platform and the Pen: The Reform Activities of Annie L. Diggs by Connie Andes Weddle, submitted to the Department of History, Wichita State University, April 1979, pg. 3)

In the fall of 1890, a group of 11 Kansas newspaper women met in Topeka, including Mrs. Anna L. Diggs, with The Alliance Associate. Diggs was chosen secretary of this organization during the meeting. “There are a large number of bright women connected with the press of this state and there is ample material at hand for the formation of a strong association.” (The Waverly Gazette, September 26, 1890)

Diggs championed women’s rights throughout her public career. “Mrs. Annie L. Diggs, the alliance woman, has prepared a bill which Representative McKinnie will introduce the first of the week, providing for the appointment of women on educational and charitable boards. The bill makes it the duty of the governor to appoint two women on all such boards of five or more members.” (The Topeka Daily Capital, February 1, 1891)

Politics during the 1894 election highlighted the charisma and oratory skills of Diggs. Diggs was at the forefront, urging the adoption of the suffrage plank within the Kansas Republican and Populist party. During the spring of 1894, a reporter asked Diggs what the result would be if the Republicans refused to endorse suffrage. “It will be the sorriest day of their lives, for we are just going to trounce the lives out of them.” (The Topeka Daily Journal, May 11, 1894)

The third Annie Diggs installment will highlight the suffrage movement and her role in rise of the Populist party in Kansas, which paved her way to becoming Kansas' woman, State Librarian in 1898.

View this collection at the State Library of Kansas' KGI Online Library:

You can view Part 1 in this series on Annie Diggs at:


Best Loves Home and Flowers, Kansas City Star, Sunday, August 5, 1900

At the Unitarian Church, Kansas Daily Tribune, Lawrence, February 10, 1880

Ladies Liberal Club, Western Home Journal, Lawrence, November 28, 1880

Lawrence Daily Journal, September 10, 1879

Free Religious Association, The Boston Post, May 28, 1881

Letter from New England, Lawrence Daily Journal, June 23, 1881

Organization of Newspaper Women, The Waverly Gazette, September 26, 1890

A Chance for the Women, The Topeka Daily Capital, February 1, 1891

Annie Diggs Confident, The Topeka Daily Journal, May 11, 1894

------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The Platform and the Pen: The Reform Activities of Annie L. Diggs by Connie Andes Weddle, submitted to the Department of History, Wichita State University, April 1979