Shaw was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK on 14 February 1847, but, when she was four, her family emigrated to the US. They settled, first, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and then, when she was 12, in the frontier territory of northern Michigan. By the age of 15, she had become a teacher and was helping to support her family - her father and brothers were fighting in the civil war, and one of her sisters had died in childbirth. After the war, she lived with a married sister, studied further, and became active in the Methodist church.
By her mid-20s, Shaw had been licensed as a preacher, and was paying for an education at Albion College by preaching and giving lectures on temperance. From 1876 to 1878, she studied at Boston Theological Seminary, the only woman in her class, and then took charge of a church in East Dennis, Massachusetts. However, she found herself in a dispute with the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church which refused her application for ordination, and even tried to revoke her preaching license. By 1880, though, she had been ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church and was able to maintain her ministry in East Dennis. At the same time she continued studying for a medical degree at Boston University.
By the mid-1880s, Shaw had finished her studies but had also given up on pursuing her ministry or medicine as a career, preferring, at first, to focus on the temperance movement, and then on women’s suffrage, lecturing for the Massachusetts Suffrage Association. Later, she was encouraged by the women’s rights campaigner, Susan B. Anthony, to work for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Around the same time, she became involved with Anthony’s niece, Lucy E. Anthony, who would become her secretary and lifetime companion. In 1904, Shaw became president of NAWSA, remaining so for more than a decade.
Increasingly at odds with a membership that saw militancy - following the UK example - as the way forward, she resigned in 1915. During World War I, she was head of the Women’s Committee of the US Council of National Defense, for which she became the first woman to earn the Distinguished Service Medal. For the rest of her life, though, she continued to lobby for the suffrage cause. She died in 1919. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Biography.com, American National Biography Online, a New York Times obituary, and National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Shaw kept diaries for much of her life, and these are now held at the Harvard University Library part of the Mary Earhart Dillon Collection. They are described in Subseries B as follows: ‘Diaries and appointment books [. . .], contains books of both Shaw and Lucy Elmina Anthony. Most of Shaw’s diary entries (1898-1919) are brief, though some are full pages. Many pages are blank; these have not been [micro]filmed. Diary entries for November 1901 to February 1902 describe Shaw’s travels to various countries in and around the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Jamaica, and Venezuela. A few “diaries” are essentially appointment books, but the processor has not changed Lucy Elmina Anthony’s original designations. While some appointment books (1889-1911) are inscribed “Anna Howard Shaw” and others “Lucy E. Anthony,” Lucy Elmina Anthony’s writing appears in both; the engagements are apparently those of Shaw. The 1900 diary and 1904 appointment book originally received with the collection are currently missing; there were no diaries for 1907 or 1909, and no 1908 appointment book.’
I can find no sign of Shaw’s diaries having been published, but Trisha Franzen quotes from them occasionally in her biography - Anna Howard Shaw: The Work of Woman Suffrage (University of Illinois Press, 2014). According to Franzen: ‘The diaries and appointment books not only trace Shaw’s travels for thirty years, but they also contain records of the lectures she gave, the people she met, and, in some cases, the money she earned.’ Here are several extracts from the diaries embedded in Franzen’s text.
‘From March 8th until Anthony’s death on March 13th, Shaw kept a vigil. She recorded the days in her diary. “Another day full of loving little visits with precious Aunt Susan. Oh, how can we let her go?” Anthony was intermittently conscious, and when she was, Anna sat at her bedside. “This is more than I deserve and the sorrow of it is so hard to bear. It will inspire my life with a longing for the cause I have never known before.” It was during one of these deathbed exchanges that Anthony demanded from Shaw that she stay at the head of the struggle as long as she was physically able. “She asked me if I could promise to never give it up and I gladly made the promise. . . In the night she pressed my hand and laid hers in blessing on my head kissing me three times. It was my work’s benediction and charge.” [9 March 1906] On March 13th, the end came. Shaw wrote, “Early this morning, in the darkness, the spirit of the greatest woman and most noble patriot flickered like a fading light. Slowly her life ebbed away and dark as the night darker still is the night of our sorrow. What shall we do without her?” [Though Anthony died on 13 March, Shaw wrote this entry beginning on the page printed “March 12, 1906”]’
‘Shaw started her campaigning this year in South Dakota. This state was always hard to face after the first horrendous campaign there with Anthony and Catt in 1890. On September 7th, one of her last days in this state, Shaw rode six hours on a freight train to a town only to arrive and find no one to meet her. The next day she finally reached the end of her usually amazing patience with the rigors and problems of such campaigning. In the semi-shorthand she used in her diary, Shaw wrote, “The meeting here was the limit. I do not think So Dak women have improved one inch since 1890. They don’t know how to get up a meeting anymore than their grandmothers did. . . Farewell Redfield forever with joy.”
‘Yet January 1, 1915, brought little relief for Shaw. It was in her words, “a day of joy and grief.” Shaw had received the news that her brother James was ill several days earlier. She had gone to New York in case “he wanted her.” James was the oldest of her remaining siblings, the one who had believed in her when she had first chosen her nontraditional path, but also the brother Shaw recalled as always youthful and full of the enthusiasm of a curious child. On New Year’s Day, Shaw first received word that her brother was holding his own. Then by noon came the call that he had passed peacefully at the age of seventy-six. Shaw boarded the train in New York and journeyed to Boston to attend his funeral. Shaw wrote, “It is the break in our last group, soon we will all be gone. I wonder why we ever came. It has not been easy for any of us. Life is such a mystery and yet across the sea men are slaughtering each other like sheep.” [3 January 1915] Several days later Anna was startled to find out that her brother had left a will in which she was coheir with his second wife.’
‘On January 10, 1918, Shaw, now a Washington political insider, had lunch with Speaker of the House Champ Clark and his wife before proceeding with them to the Capitol. It was from her place in the speaker’s box that she listened to the members of the House of Representatives debate the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. On this day in January, seventy years after the Seneca Falls Convention, the House of Representatives voted 274 to 136 for the Susan B. Anthony Amendment [prohibiting any US citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex]. They just made the two-thirds needed to pass the legislation for which so many women - and men - had fought for so many years. This was the first of the final three steps by which women would achieve equal citizenship. “A great day! How I wish Aunt Susan had been here and yet she must know. Heaven could not be heaven if such a thing could happen and she not know it.”