An early women’s rights activist, Caroline Merrick was the daughter of a Louisiana planter and married a man more than twice her age when she was fifteen. After the Civil War, her family settled in New Orleans, where she became active in women’s clubs and social organizations and served on the board of St. Anna’s Asylum, a home for destitute women and children of all denominations. In 1878 her fervor for women’s rights was sparked when money a St. Anna’s resident had bequeathed to the institution went instead to the state, because the will had not been witnessed by a man.

In 1879 Merrick joined with other women’s rights activists and presented a petition to the Louisiana Constitutional Convention, demanding suffrage for women. Though the petition was unsuccessful, Merrick continued her activism in the woman suffrage movement, founding the Portia Club, the first suffrage organization in Louisiana, in 1892.

Merrick also became involved in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Though she was not a true believer in abstinence from alcohol, Merrick was drawn to the organization by her friendship with and respect for Frances Willard, the group’s leader from 1879 to 1898. Under Willard’s leadership, the WCTU’s national platform was expanded to include suffrage, labor laws, and prison reform, causes Merrick furthered when she served as the first president of both the New Orleans and the Louisiana branches. 

Caroline E. Merrick

between 1864 and 1868; albumen carte-de-visite

by J. A. Sheldon

The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of the children of Eugenie and Joseph Jones: Susan Jones Gundlach, Joseph Merrick Jones Jr., and Eugenie Jones Huger, 2011.0375.2

Letter from Frances Willard to Caroline E. Merrick

December 15, 1885

The Historic New Orleans Collection, 70-69-L.10.3

Letter from Susan B. Anthony to Caroline E. Merrick

September 9, 1885

The Historic New Orleans Collection, 70-69-L.9.2

St. Anna’s Asylum, New Orleans

1873; wood engraving

by James Wells Champney

The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1974.25.3.346