When the 19th Amendment finally passed the Senate, Marie Stuart Edwards, Peru, IN said: "... we rejoice that this has come just now to the women of America at the dawn of this wonderful reconstruction period. Women are to “sit in” at the remaking of the world. I believe women will bring to our body politic an independence of action, a clarity of thought, unhampered by precedents, and an inspired desire to vote for the best interests of human society. We are calling on all women of the state to study, to carry through their plans for educational work along civic and citizenship lines. We are urging them to put loyalty to humanity, loyalty to country and to state above all ideas of party loyalty, since these new voters have yet to participate in party councils.
“I am glad to see this amendment pass. I am anxious to see it ratified. Most of all, am I anxious to see this great new force in action.
Marie Stuart Edwards, 4 Jun 1919

Monday, September 14, 2020

Ellen Cole Fetter, 1st President of the Peru Franchise League - 1914-1915

"The bond has been strong as it has ever been sacred, for I lost her when I was seventeen years old.  Even at that age I was a child.  I had just returned from boarding school as carefree as a bird, and as happy, when this sorrow befell me.  My pillow was wet with tears night after night.  Like a bolt from a clear summer day the shock came, which I often said and thought I could not have borne had I been less a child.  My friends were kind and I was easily turned to the pleasures of youth, but I can never refrain from tears when my thoughts are of my mother.  She has been a guardian angel all of my life.  If I have missed actual intentional wrongdoing, it has been because of my blessed mother." 

Ellen Cole Fetter, "My Autobiography"


It is an article in the Indianapolis News that introduced me to Ellen Cole Fetter.[1]

Further research pulled up the Richmond Item’s article: “The name of Mrs. Ellen Fetter, Peru, was recommended by the Peru League, for the state roll of honor.  Mrs. Fetter is 93 years old, a member of the league and was the first president of the old Peru suffrage organization.”[2]

The article continued to explain that:”Mrs. L L Kolb[3], Peru, presented the memorial plan that included the compiling of state and national rolls of honor in observation of the 10th anniversary celebration of the league.

This was better explained two months later, in The Peru Republican:

The women of Peru are to be congratulated upon the splendid way in which they grasped the opportunity to honor these two women who have contributed so much to the advancement of women.  The Indiana League of Women Voters is proud to have the names of Mrs. Fetter and Mrs. Bearss[4] with those of other pioneers from all parts of the United States on this permanent memorial to womanhood…  The memorial will not be completed until December 31[5]

I have no idea if the bronze plaque ever became a reality and we can find out later what happened.

For now, let’s return to Ellen Fetter. 

So, she was the first president of the Peru Franchise League. 

The big question was WHEN was that?

A trip to the Miami County Museum turned up some interesting facts about Ellen Fetter. 

Fondly nicknamed "Aunt Ellen", she was “the first native born Hoosier of her immediate family”, born in Peru, IN on April 15, 1837, “in a log cabin located on the lot at the southwest corner of Broadway and Third Street”.  She was the youngest child of Albert Cole and his wife, Mary Galpin.[6]

This map hangs on the 2nd floor of the Miami County Museum, Peru, IN

She fancied writing[7] and began an autobiography I could not wait to transcribe so as to better absorb her story.  How ever fascinating her story was there was no mention of ever getting involved with the Woman’s Suffrage movement, let alone specify anything about the Peru Franchise League.

Her obituary[8] confirmed she had indeed been connected and there was my clue: 1915.

Obituaries are not always accurate however and so it was no surprise that after 2 hours of flipping the pages of the Peru Republican, the most likely newspaper to include anything about the Woman’s movement in those days, I decided to make my way into 1914.

This is how I discovered that on October 8, 1914, Dr. Amelia Keller, president of the Woman’s Suffrage League of Indiana came to Peru and formed the Peru Franchise League in the Assembly Room of the Peru Public Library.  I have mentioned in another article that there were sixteen women present that day and that Ellen Cole Fetter was indeed voted the first president of the league, with Mrs. R E Edwards (aka Marie Stuart Edwards) as her First Vice President.

Only a few articles and blurbs give some detail about their suffrage activities.  They continued to meet at the library every two weeks.  In 1915, Marie Edwards succeeded Ellen.

Ellen was known as a “Club Woman” and indeed, her obituary says “she was a charter member of the oldest surviving literary societies: The Drama League and The Art Clubs of Peru.”

She too enjoyed performing in the theater and especially impressed audiences with her interpretation of the “School Marm’, in the Methodist Church benefit production of “Deestrict Skule” at the Peru Opera House on December 19 and 20. 1889.

She was a member of the Episcopal Church like her mother and notes in her biography the love her father had from singing in the Episcopal Church.  It is possible he invested funds in building the first Episcopal church.

In her biography she describes the happy days of her youth.  She was the baby of the family with a nice gap between her and her older siblings.

She recounts growing up in Peru and seeing Miami Indians in their regalia mingling with the rest of the population.  The squaws were neat in appearance, wearing ruffled cape to their skirts and loads and loads of beads about their necks, silver ornament in their ears and their noses.  A broadcloth length, exquisitely ornamented with a mosaic of diamond-shaped ribbons, was worn close about the hips and below the knees, and legging to match with outside edges similarly worked, and moccasins of deer skin completed a costume[9], which was not inartistic, except it necessitated a sort of pigeon-toed gait, not worse however than the late fashions of tight skirts and high-heeled shoes.”[10]

She also recalls being particularly struck by “a pretty young squaw” who “persistently held her hand in front of her face, and moved it at such an angle that” she “never succeeded in getting a full view.  She had had her nose bitten off in a fight, it was said, and her pride was on guard that the deformity should not be seen.”[11]

She mentions boarding a flat boat when she was 15 (1850), on the Erie Canal on her way to school in Ohio: “We embarked aboard what to our eyes was a floating palace, … At the locks – when we bumped down, and then up – or sitting on deck, there was the green country, with natives trudging or riding on the other side.  Then the bridges and the shouts of ‘Bridge!’, when we ducked as we went under.”[12]

Twenty-three pages is all there is to the biography which seems to fizzle after her mother’s death and marriage to Harry Fetter, but these pages are full of amazing details of life in Peru and Miami County in those early days.  How many first hand accounts do we have about the Miamis’ removal in 1845?

Her mother meant the world to her and she was devastated when her widowed father remarried, even before Ellen married.

She broached the Civil War.  Her husband, Harry Fetter was postmaster then.  He too was an interesting person: photographer, bookshop keeper.

Her obituary states that during the Civil War “she was active in the work of the Christian Sanitary Commission[13] in Miami County.

This Commission filled the same basic needs the YMCA would during WWI.  Its purpose was to “care for, console and comfort the gallant men who have gone away from the peace and plenty of their homes to endure the hardships of the march, the strife of the battle and the tedium of the hospital[14]


Ellen Fetter’s legacy continues today in the form of “The Ellen Cole Fetter Book Fund”, created in 1927 by her family.  It is currently managed by the Community Foundation.  Its purpose is to fund books for the Peru Public Library patrons.  Her obituary states that she took great pride in the inscription “A Daughter of Indiana” on the book plate used in the book placed in this collection.”

In 1989, an article was published in the Kokomo Tribune explaining that interest from the fund had “added substantially to the Indiana history and genealogy collection”[15]. 

Ellen C Fetter passed away on January 11, 1934 in Coshocton, Ohio, at the residence of one of her 2 daughters. Her body was returned to Peru for burial[16] in the Mount Hope cemetery.


[1] The Indianapolis News 26 Mar 1931, Indianapolis, IN

[2] The Richmond Item, 21 March 1930, Richmond, IN

[3] Margaret Gallahan, aka Mrs. L L Kolb

[4] Mrs. Frank Bearss

[5] The Peru Republican 23 May 1930, Peru, IN; The Richmond Item, 2 May 1930, Richmond, IN; https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p267401coll32/id/27775/ - https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p267401coll32/id/27774

[6] This makes Ellen, Cole Porter’s great-aunt.

[7] She also wrote “A Hoosier Heroine” about a childhood friend who became Sister Ambrose, at the Sisters’ school of St. Mary of the Woods at Terre Haute, IN

[8] The Princeton Herald, 2 Feb 1934, Princeton

[9] Quoting text.  FYI, the word “costume” has derogatory connotations in this context.  The word “regalia” is the proper word to use to describe the Native American clothing

[10] Ellen Cole Fetter’s Memoirs (1837-1934)

[11] Ellen Cole Fetter’s Memoirs (1837-1934)

[12] Ellen Cole Fetter’s Memoirs (1837-1934)

[15] The Kokomo Tribune, 11 Jun 1989, Kokomo, IN – “More funds needed for library renovation”, p15

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Preserving Women's Legacy Grants