Julia Sampson Hurlbut's Fight for the Vote
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).
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.
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.
Following her arrest, Julia agitated for women’s suffrage around New Jersey before travelling for months across the country. However, as the United States entered World War I, she felt it was her patriotic duty to support the war effort by joining the Red Cross where she learned to sew, knit, and prepare surgical dressings while raising money for Liberty Loans.
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 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.