SEVERANCE, CAROLINE M. (12 Jan. 1820-10 Nov. 1914), early feminist activist in Cleveland and known as America's first clubwoman, was born Caroline M. Seymour in Canandaigua, N.Y. Daughter of Orson and Caroline M. (Clarke) Seymour, she came to Cleveland with her family and at 20 married Theodoric C. Severance, a banker. While raising 5 children, Orson, James, Julia, Mark, and Pierre, she pondered the inferior legal status of women and became the first woman to lecture in Cleveland on women's suffrage.
In 1851 she heard Sojourner Truth at a women's-rights convention in Akron and helped found the Ohio Women's Suffrage Assoc. When Antoinette Brown from Oberlin, later the first ordained female minister, was refused entrance to a New York City temperance convention where she was a delegate, Severance retorted with "Humanity," a speech voicing the sentiments of the infant women's movement that was repeated at other gatherings. In 1854, Severance addressed the Ohio legislature on women's rights to hold inherited property and their own earnings.
When her husband's career led him to Boston in the mid-1850s, Severance directed her growing awareness of women's rights toward club work. With Julia Ward Howe, she organized the New England's Women's Club, whose interests ranged from infant mortality to the admission of women to higher education. Severance resided in Boston until 1875, then moved to Los Angeles, Calif., where she formed the first kindergarten and continued her suffrage work. She lectured on suffrage, abolition, peace, birth control, and morality, and in 1869 was a signer of the first national suffrage convention in Cleveland. Severance died in Los Angeles and was buried there.
Finding Aid for the Severance Family Papers, WRHS.