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North Jersey History Center Online Exhibits

Julia Sampson Hurlbut's Fight for the Vote

Julia Hurlbut and Mrs. J.W. Brann in front of the NWP headquarters in New York City, holding banners announcing a mass meeting on January 4, 1918 at Carnegie Hall

Julia Hurlbut and Mrs. J.W. Brann in front of the NWP headquarters in New York City, holding banners announcing a mass meeting on January 4, 1918 at Carnegie Hall.

Library of Congress photograph.

A prominent Morristown suffragist, Julia Sampson Hurlbut was born to Frank Mosely Hurlbut, a banker, and Martha Newton Sampson on August 31, 1882. Julia joined the Suffrage Movement around 1915 and identified with its radical wing, the National Woman’s Party. In 1916 she served as an envoy that encouraged suffrage states to unite and establish the National Woman’s Party (NWP).

The Awakening

Henry Mayer. “The Awakening.” Puck, vol. 77, no. 1981 (February 20, 1915). Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

By 1912 six states had voted to grant women the right to vote, and in advance of New Jersey’s 1915 referendum Julia frequently spoke in favor of the right to vote at public and private venues in her role as Vice President of the Women’s Political Union of New Jersey. In spite of supporters efforts, New Jersey’s referendum was defeated along with those in New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, prompting activists to pivot towards a federal amendment.

Bastille Day. Julia Hurlbut of New Jersey leading. Iris Calderhead of Kansas at right waiting for mobs to attack pickets so she can order out new banners.

Bastille Day march, with Julia Hurlbut in the lead. Iris Calderhead of Kansas at right waiting for mobs to attack pickets so she can order out new banners, July 14, 1917. Library of Congress photograph.

Hurlbut participated in the 1917 Bastille Day picketing of the White House on July 14 with fifteen other activists, including Allison Turnbull of Morristown. Carrying a banner reading, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, Hurlbut led the first of three groups and attracted a large crowd. Their subsequent arrest for unlawful assembly earned them a sixty day sentence at the infamous Occoquan Workhouse for “obstructing traffic”. The workhouse was infamous for its substandard conditions, freezing temperatures, lice and rat infested bedding, poor food, and isolation from family and legal counsel. 

Miss [Lucy] Burns in Occoquan Workhouse, Washington

Lucy Burns in Occoquan Workhouse, November 1917.

Library of Congress photograph.

Mrs. Hurlbut on Suffrage Special

"Ms. Hurlbut on Suffrage Special,"  The Jerseyman, April 7, 1916.

Julia Sampson Hurlbut during WWI YMCA war work

Julia Sampson Hurlbut during World War I YMCA war work, ca.1917. Julia S Hurlbut Bissel Collection, NJHGC Collections. 

Hurlbut’s war service next took her abroad to France, where she worked as head of the YMCA’s Chatillion-sur Seine sub-district headquarters of the American Army School, as well as supervising the Officer’s Club in town, and managing hut canteens in neighboring camps.   

 

It was during her overseas war service that Hurlbut met her future husband, Lieutenant John Ter Bush Bissell, of the 7th Machine Gun Battalion, 2nd Division A.E.F., and a graduate of West Point. Decorated with the Croix de Guerre for his participation in defending the bridge over the Marne during the Battle of Chateau-Thaserry, Bissell was assigned to be a machine gun instructor in Chatillion sur Seine, which is where he met Hurlbut.

Julia Hurlbut to wed in war romance

Julia Hurlbut's and John Bissell's wedding announcement in The Jerseyman, April 1919.

Julia and John married on the front on May 19, 1919 when she was 26 and he was 37 years old. Upon returning stateside, Bissell became a career officer and was stationed in Baltimore, Maryland, Kentucky, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and New York. Julia followed John and settled into the role of an officer’s wife; they later had a daughter Barbara Bissell while stationed at West Point during the 1940s. As the spouse of an active duty officer, Julia was ineligible to vote, and there is no record that she ever exercised the right for which she fought so hard for.