A few weeks ago I wrote how stunned I was to stumble across a notice that famous women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony had delivered a lecture in Noblesville in 1879.

I’d barely gotten over that surprise when I discovered Anthony wasn’t the only prominent member of the women’s suffrage movement to appear here. Belva Lockwood spoke in Noblesville on January 2, 1886. 

If you’re scratching your head and muttering “Belva who?,” don’t feel too bad. I took an informal poll and none of the people I asked knew who she was, either. That’s a shame because she’s an important figure in United States history.

Belva Lockwood was the first female candidate for President of the United States.

(Some claim Victoria Woodhull, who ran in 1872, was the first, but Woodhull’s campaign is disputed because she didn’t turn 35 — the legally mandated age to hold the office —until months after the inauguration.)

Although widowed and left a single mother early in her life, Belva Lockwood managed to become one of the first female lawyers in this country and was the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. She represented the National Equal Rights Party in the race for President of the United States in 1884 and 1888, and was an advocate for both the temperance and world peace movements.

Her appearance here was much better publicized than Anthony’s. In the weeks prior to delivering her speech at Noblesville’s Opera House, the Republican Ledgers were peppered with small ads that described her in glowing terms and reminded readers that tickets for her lecture were available for 25 cents at Truitt’s store.

(I should note that the Opera House in this case was the one that opened in 1884 on North Ninth Street — then known as Catherine Street — between Clinton and Wayne, not the one with which most people are familiar, the Wild Opera House. This first Opera House burned down in 1891. The Wild was built on South Ninth Street four years after that.)

The Ledger’s review of Lockwood’s address, “Social and Political Life in Washington,” was as positive as the ads had been.

Lockwood herself was described as “a woman of strong intellectuality, a great observer, and a pleasing speaker,” who expressed her political opinions in “the choicest language.”

The Washington, D. C. resident opened her presentation with a picturesque description of that city. She then moved into a detailed account of the rivalries and maneuvering for social position by Washington’s most prominent women.

First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes was singled out for her devotion to temperance principles and President Grover Cleveland was praised for having shown “remarkably good sense” in attending a church pastored by “an intense Republican” who was also an abolitionist.

The most interesting, and radical, talking point in the lecture was Lockwood’s view on the presidential succession. She believed U. S. Presidents should be required to be married men and in the event of their deaths, their wives should succeed them in office.

She expressed the opinion that Eliza Hendricks, wife of the recently deceased vice president of the United States, Thomas A. Hendricks, would have made as good a President as her husband.

(Hendricks, who served under Grover Cleveland, had previously represented Indiana in both houses of Congress and was Indiana’s 16th governor.)
But, that wasn’t Lockwood’s only Noblesville speech. The following night, she gave a lecture on temperance “to an immense house” at the Methodist Episcopal church.

Lockwood’s visit here undoubtedly boosted the local women’s rights and temperance movements, but Noblesville High School may have gotten the most out of it. The profits from the Opera House lecture (over $11 after expenses were paid) went to the school’s library.

- Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com