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Dr. Julia A. Siegfried

A Pioneer in the Cause of Political Rights for Hoosier Women

 
 

The victory of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 Indiana Presidential Primary was an historic achievement as she was the first woman to win that contest.  Few realized, however, that 2008 was the centennial year of another first for women in the Hoosier state, as it was the 100th anniversary of the first Indiana election where a woman was allowed a place on the ballot.

This woman was an Elwood physician, Julia Siegfried, who was nominated by the Socialists of Madison County in 1908 for the office of circuit court judge, twelve(12) years before suffrage was secured by American women.  Although other women had been nominated for office in Indiana prior to 1908, Dr. Siegfried was the first woman to secure a place on the ballot.  Election law precedents had disqualified earlier female candidates becasue they were not legal voters.  Julia Siegfried was certified and appeared on the 1908 ballot when the Madison County Election Commission decided to simply ignore the legal roadblocks.

Dr. Julia A. Siegfried

Dr. Siegfried's pioneering efforts in Hoosier politics were only one phase of a remarkable career that had already accomplished more than most women or men of her time.  Siegfried is listed in R. L. Polk's Medical and Surgical Register of the United States for 1896 as a graduate of the Eclectic College of Physicians and Surgeons in Indianapolis, for 1891.  She completed medical school at the age of 34 and then opened an office at 13 Stewart Place, Indianapolis.  Siegfried later relocated to Elwood, Indiana, where she set up practice at 312 South Anderson Street.

Dr. Siegfried's interest did not rest solely with medicine.  By the early part of the new century, she had become an active member of the Socialist Party.  This political movement was let by Hoosier native, Eugene V. Debs, who went on to be the party's standard bearer for president in five campaigns.  The Socialists advocated public ownership of industry, natural resources, railroads, and utilities.  The party also called for major reforms including suffrage for women, public works to assist the unemployed, and the direct election of U. S. Senators.  A variety of people flocked to the new party including those seeking political reform;  supporters calling for the dismantling of the capitalism, and others seeking the means to politically implement the teachings of Christ.  Many professionals were attracted to this political cause including artists, attorneys, ministers, academics, and physicians like Julia Siegfried.

The Madison County Socialist Party met in convention on September 21, 1908, at Alexandria, Indiana.  The Elwood Daily Record reported the party had widespread support as delegates represented nearly every township in the county.  It was also noted that R. A. Ingram of Alexandria was selected as the convention chairman.  Newspaper accounts also detailed additional public interest in the Socialist Party during the election year of 1908.  Dr. Wallace D. Wattles, Socialist congressional candidate, drew a crowd of nearly 1,500 people in a campaign appearance at Elwood the evening before the convention.  The agenda of the convention included the adoption of the national Socialist Party platform and the nomination of candidates for county office.  The most dramatic action of the meeting was the selection of Dr. Julia A. Siegfried for the office of Madison County circuit court judge.

The Socialist candidates immediately launched their campaign with speeches throughout the county.  Newspaper accounts of Dr. Siegfried's efforts described her as playing a key role in the Socialist's 1908 campaign as she was viewed as a very able speaker.  The excitement of a woman campaigning for office on behalf of the Socialists soon turned to concern as her candidacy was rather quickly challenged by those declaring she was not qualified to seek office.

The headline of the Elwood Daily Record  of October 16, 1908 declared:  "Socialist Woman Candidate Likely Ruled Off Ticket".  The real legal questions were based upon two articles of the Indiana Constitution.  Article Seven, Section Seven stated a circuit court judge shall hold "his" office for a term of six years.  Article Six, Section Four of the state constitution declared that only a qualified elector of a county may seek public office.  Dr. Siegfried was not a legal voter as suffrage was still twelve years away, and the specific term of "his" certainly did not look as if it could be overcome.  Newspaper reports from that date speculated the Julia Siegfried would be dropped from the ballot by action of the Madison County Election Commission.

The Elwood Daily Record opined that removing Dr. Siegfried from the ticket would be a major disappointment to the voters and even the candidates, as Siegfried "put ginger in the campaign".  The Socialist candidate was described by the paper as keeping the other candidates on their guard because of ".....her ever ready repartee".  The Daily Record went on to humorously suggest a finding in favor of candidate Siegfried would be a good thing, as it would be pleasing to know that a woman might have the last word in the campaign.

During an interview with the Elwood Daily Record on the day before the meeting of the county election commission, Julia Siegfried declared she would continue to campaign for her party, even if her name was removed from the ballot.  The Daily Record's article went on to describe Dr. Siegfried as the first woman nominated for office in Madison County, but quipped she would probably be the last until suffrage is granted to Hoosier women.

One of the precedents possibly considered by the election commission, when considering the Siegfried controversy, was the case of Mary Stubbs.  She had served as assistant to her father, Joseph Stubbs, the state statistician.  Stubbs was reelected in November of 1906 but died in December.  Governor J. Frank Hanly then appointed Mary Stubbs to fill the vacancy, which amounted to a full term in office.  The appointment raised legal questions as to whether Hanly had the authority to select a woman for the vacancy.  Indiana Attorney General, Charles W. Miller, reviewed the appointment and then advised Governor Hanly that his action was proper.  In this case Ms. Stubbs had not attempted to run for the office nor seek ballot access;  therefore, the critical points at issue in the Siegfried case were not covered by the Stubbs opinion.

The October 8, 1907, Indianapolis Star reported Mary Stubbs was considering whether to formally become a candidate for the office of state statistician.  Ms. Stubbs was publicly indicating her interest in such a race, and Governor Hanly asked the attorney general for an opinion.  There is no record of an official opinion issued by Attorney General James Bingham that covers the Mary Stubbs candidacy question.  A search of correspondence between Governor Hanly and Attorney General Bingham, in the state archives, also fails to uncover an official or unofficial opinion addressing the Mary Stubbs question.  Whether it was the attorney general informally cautioning the governor on this issue or whether it was the reality of male dominated politics of that time, Stubbs did not seek the Republican nomination in 1908.  According to accounts of the Republican state convention by the Indianapolis Star in April 1908, Ms. Stubbs played no role in the conclave and J. L. Peetz was nominated for the post of state statistician.  Mary Stubbs was the first woman appointed to elective office in Indiana, but failed in her bid to become the first woman to secure a place on an Indiana election ballot.

The Madison County Election Commission met on October 17, 1908, to consider the question of Julia Siegfried's candidacy.  Commission members included County Clerk Arthur E. Harlan, J. A. VanOsdal, and I. E. May.  The commission's deliberation was brief, as the Elwood Daily Record in its October 17, 1908, issue jubilantly reported the commission had found in favor of Dr. Siegfried.  Election officials explained that Julia Siegfried's name had been properly certified to them as one of the nominees of a county political convention and they did not feel as though they had the right to keep her off the ballot.  They further stated it would be the responsibility of the courts to determine further legal questions should Siegfried's candidacy be successful.

The reaction of newspapers in the county was mixed.  The Elwood Daily Record indicated its pleasure at the commissioners' decision, stating the men were "too gallant to give a woman the worst of the deal".  The paper went on to note that two of the officials were also on the ballot and may not have wanted to anger the voters.  The Elwood Call-Leader of October 17, 1908, reacted somewhat differently.  The editorial opinion declared, "Mrs. Siegfried has never studied law, is not a member of the Bar Association of any county, and, though she is a practicing physician and surgeon in Elwood and known as a most excellent woman, she is, however, not fitted by education or otherwise to preside over the second largest court in Indiana".  The Call-Leader went on to state the county would be left in an awkward state of affairs if Siegfried were successful, though they doubted she could actually win the election.

The decision of the Madison County Election Commission to keep Julia Siegfried's name on the November ballot was historic and unprecedented.  Newspaper accounts confirmed Siegfried was the first woman in Madison County history to be nominated for elective office by any political party.  Those papers also confirm Julia Siegfried was the first woman in Indiana to be nominated for circuit court judge.  The Mary Stubbs case and other legal precedents considered by the Madison County officials in deciding the Siegfried controversy indicate that all previous attempts by women to gain a place on an Indiana election ballot had failed.  Thus, Dr. Julia A. Siegfried clearly appears to have been the first woman in Indiana history to secure a place on an election ballot.

Siegfried's victory in gaining ballot access was not matched by a win in the November election.  She received 4.6% of the vote, or 751 votes.  Socialist congressional candidate, Dr. Wallace Wattles was the ticket leader in Madison County with 763 votes or 5% of ballots cast.  The vote totals were not unlike how the Socialists fared in other parts of the state and nation.  Most important, Dr. Julia Siegfried ran as well as her male counterparts on the Madison County Socialist ticket for 1908.

The hoopla of the campaign had ended, and the last ballots having been counted, Dr. Julia Siegfried slipped into the shadows of Indiana political history.  However, Dr. Siegfried had strengthened the position of Hoosier women in their fight for political rights and equality.

By Tim Kelley, Kansas City, MO(formally Madison County)

  The above article was first published in the Indiana History Bulletin in 1981 and revised in 2008 for the centennial of the event.  Tim Kelley has given MCHS the article and permission to put it on our website.  Thank you for sharing your article and your research, Tim.

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