Minnie Reynolds Scalabrino (1865–1936) was a newspaperwoman, candidate for political office, and lifelong suffragette in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. She played an important role in the women’s suffrage movement in Colorado and worked tirelessly in other states to secure the vote for women. In addition to her political activism, Reynolds helped establish the Denver Woman’s Press Club, an organization that continues to support women journalists today. Reynolds’s life is a prominent example of a new kind of politically active woman who emerged during the women’s suffrage, temperance, and equal rights movements of the late nineteenth century.
Born in 1865 to Wait and Sarah Rood Reynolds in Norwood, New York, Minnie was the fourth of six children. Her father, Wait Reynolds, died in 1880 when Minnie was fifteen. Around 1890, when Reynolds was in her mid-twenties, she left Norwood and came to Denver to carve out a career for herself. The editors of the Rocky Mountain News liked her writing and offered her a job as reporter. When Reynolds arrived in Denver, she discovered that they were expecting a man—she signed her articles M. J. Reynolds—and although they were still willing to hire her, they relegated her to the society page. A bit disgruntled, Reynolds accepted the position as society editor, then moved to women’s page editor, and finally became a leading political writer.
Reynolds’s battle for women’s suffrage started in Denver in the early 1890s and lasted thirty years, and her struggle for equal rights for women occupied her for even longer. As the last great push for women’s suffrage in Colorado was getting underway, Reynolds’s sister Helen, thirteen years her senior and a dedicated suffragette, joined her in Denver to help get the vote for women in the state. Helen M. Reynolds quickly became campaign secretary of the Colorado Equal Suffrage Association. The organization named Minnie its press chair.
The energetic and resourceful Minnie Reynolds went after all the state’s newspaper editors to publicize the state’s equal suffrage bill before the legislature considered it for a second time in 1893. She persuaded 75 percent of the newspapers in Colorado to grant space for pro-suffrage arguments in columns and editorials. Minnie and Ellis Meredith, vice president of the Colorado Equal Suffrage Association, wrote columns in the Rocky Mountain News, and Patience Stapleton, a leading writer and newspaperwoman, wrote many pro-suffrage articles for the Denver Republican. In this campaign Reynolds learned many things that she used in later suffrage drives; it was when she first realized that the greatest need was money.
Desperate for funds, her group turned to the National American Woman Suffrage Association for help. Instead of money, the organization sent Carrie Lane Chapman Catt. Guided by Catt’s expertise and inspiration, the women worked at a fever pitch in the last few days of the drive. On the eve of the election, they got a lucky break from a bitter enemy. The Denver Brewers’ Association, sensing possible victory for women and fearing consequences for their industry, printed thousands of antisuffrage fliers, which they delivered door to door. Reynolds and other newspaper writers got hold of the first ones imprinted with the association’s name and exposed them, prompting the association to remove its name from the fliers.
Just as the bill came up in the senate, Reynolds carefully canvassed all of the senators. Her persistent efforts helped to force through a bill that put women’s suffrage on the ballot in the November 1893 election. At the time, such a referendum was looked upon very dubiously as a radical experiment. But Coloradans granted women the vote in that election, making the Centennial State the first in the union to do so (Wyoming enacted women’s suffrage while still a territory). The victory surprised even tireless workers such as Reynolds; some suffragists attributed the victory to splits in the Democratic and Republican parties, which opened the door for the pro-suffrage Populists.
In writing her suffrage campaign stories, Reynolds became very close to influential members of the Populist Party. She liked the party’s platform, which championed the underdog, and became a candidate for the state legislature on the Populist ticket in 1894. In her run for office Reynolds went up against the general attitude of the times, which held that women did not belong in politics. The Rocky Mountain News reported that she was “making an enviable record as a stump speaker and has had large audiences.” Her wit and dedication made her a good speaker. She kept track of all the legislators who had voted against the women’s suffrage bill and spoke out against them in their districts. In spite of her strenuous campaign, Reynolds did not win a place in the legislature. She continued on at the paper as society editor and a political writer, and began the first regular feature on club activities in Denver and the West.
Reynolds worked twelve to fourteen hours a day at the newspaper, motivated by her intense interest in everything going on around her. As editor of club news at the newspaper, she became further involved in women’s activities. Reynolds not only wrote about clubs in the city but also helped organize some of the most prestigious ones, including the Woman’s Club of Denver. She also took the lead in establishing a number of small libraries and a circulating library under the club’s auspices. Later, she started a statewide traveling library for the State Federation of Woman’s Clubs, which brought a national award for Colorado—the only state to win this honor.
Her favorite organization, perhaps because it was made up of women writers, was the Denver Woman’s Press Club. In 1898 the General Federation of Women’s Clubs decided to have its biennial meeting for the first time in Denver and asked Reynolds to be its publicity chair for the event. Queries from eastern women writers poured in, asking if Denver had a club for newspaperwomen. Reynolds had great fun drawing up a constitution and bylaws for the new club, presenting them on March 16, 1898, to a group of eight women writers who found them “so uniquely witty” that they adopted them at once. With tongue-in-cheek, Reynolds had put in many humorous bylaws, such as her “Bars to Membership”:
No woman shall be admitted to the club who is…
- A bore
- Who holds out on news reporters
- Who has not a proper respect for the power of the press
- Who does not read your paper
- Who cannot do something to drive dull care away.
Copy-readers and proof readers are forever barred from membership in this club
Naturally, after doing all of this groundwork, the club elected Reynolds as its first president. She declined the presidency because of her heavy writing schedule and political work. When the group bought a clubhouse of its own at 1325 Logan Street in 1924, Reynolds sent a copy of her largely autobiographical novel, The Crayon Clue, as a gift inscribed “to my daughter, the Denver Woman’s Press Club on the occasion of her moving into a home of her own.”
Even though Reynolds had moved to a new Victorian house at Bayaud and Broadway and enjoyed continued success at the newspaper, in 1897 her status as the only woman featured on the editorial staff of the Rocky Mountain News made her restless. Reynolds had kept a close watch on the progress of the suffrage movements across the country, and rejoiced when Utah and Idaho both adopted full suffrage in 1896. But she could see that much more had to be done, and longed to be in the thick of things.
The eastern writers and newspaperwomen whom she met through the Federation of Women’s Clubs urged her to try her luck in the east. Early in the summer of 1901, Reynolds went east on vacation. She took some articles and stories, and in her typical dauntless style, wasted no time in contacting the tough New York newspaper editors. To her delight, the editors were so impressed with her work that she was hired to write special stories for the Sunday supplements of the New York Times and the New York Post on various topics about Colorado and Colorado women. In less than a month she found herself unusually successful, and the New York Editor and Publisher carried a story about “the new newspaper writer from Denver on the New York scene.”
Reynolds, elated at her success, resigned her position at the Rocky Mountain News and immediately contacted the suffrage headquarters in New York and New Jersey. Hailing from Colorado, she was considered an authority on suffrage campaign techniques and was invited to speak at the National Suffrage Association meeting in Buffalo, New York, in September. New York had been the center for women’s suffrage battles until activity shifted to the west in the late 1880s, but now Reynolds discovered that great disorganization, jealousies, and various factions were holding back the movement. In the meantime, the New York Tribune hired Reynolds as a full-time reporter, but this did not keep her from working for the cause. She organized the Woman’s Political Union in New Jersey, hoping to interest women there in suffrage and serving as secretary for several years.
A chance encounter sidetracked Reynolds’s carefully laid-out suffrage plans in 1904–5. In writing a series of feature articles on Italy, Reynolds met Salvatore Scalabrino, an outstanding young man in the New York Italian colony. Wed in early 1905, the Scalabrinos went to Italy to meet his family, see the country, and tour Europe. They spent a year abroad. Eventually, Reynolds began to miss the busy life she had left in America, and the couple returned to the United States in early 1906.
In 1909 the leaders of the National Suffrage Association asked Reynolds to put together the writers’ section of a petition to Congress asking for an amendment granting women the vote. It took a year for Reynolds to finish the proposed amendment, which she wrote unassisted before obtaining signatures from most of the big names in literature.
Return to Denver
Reynolds made her return to Denver on a snowy November day in 1910, fresh from a stunning victory for women’s suffrage in Washington State. Wherever she was, Reynolds kept up on the progress of the suffrage movement, reading with elation that California had given women the vote in 1911; Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon in 1912; and Montana and Nevada in 1914. As Reynolds had predicted seven years earlier, New York was the first state to break ground in the east, voting for women’s suffrage in 1917. In spite of her efforts in New Jersey, the Garden State did not give women the vote until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.
In June 1918, the Nineteenth Amendment passed both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority. Women’s suffrage was a hot political issue, and politicians could no longer ignore the power of women voters. The bill became law on August 26, 1920, in time for the presidential election in November. Unhappily, Reynolds recalled: “in the last great drive which took the federal amendment through, I was down and out with neuritis,” and she was therefore unable to be in Washington, DC, for the final victory.
Reynolds spent most of her twilight years with Salvatore on their farm in New Jersey, reading and writing. It was then that she completed her best novel, The Terror, published by the Macmillan Company in 1930, a historical novel set during the French Revolution. Reynolds revealed her devotion to her father in the dedication of the book, which read “to my father, Wait Reynolds, the best man I ever knew.” When Reynolds suffered a stroke in May of 1936, she was taken to a hospital in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, twenty miles from the farm. She died there on May 29, 1936, and lies buried in her family plot at Norwood, New York.
Adapted from Dolores Plested, “Minnie Reynolds: A Nineteenth Century Woman of Today,” Colorado Heritage Magazine 4, no. 1 (1984).