One of Millikin’s earliest heroes was a 1914 graduate who helped fight for women’s right to vote while still a student.
A four-year high honors student, Fay Lynton Fisher ’14 was active in a variety of campus organizations, serving as a chartering member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority and editor-in-chief of the 1914 Millidek yearbook.
She also frequently contributed editorials to the Decaturian student newspaper, many of them devoted to the common theme of not judging a book by its cover when getting to know someone. In them, she challenged her classmates to get to know each other better, rather than simply making judgments based on looks, social standing and especially gender. However, her most passionate cause was women’s rights, an area where she served as one of MU’s first proponents of social justice and took an active part in the women’s suffrage movement.
In May 1913, during her junior year, Fisher won the first-ever oratory prize sponsored by the Millikin Club for her speech, "The Equality of Difference," which was published in the May 21 Decaturian. She went on to win the statewide oratorical prize from the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association that same month.
In her speech, she argued that women should be granted the right to vote not because they were starting to work in so-called "masculine fields" but because all women should be given equal political rights due to the equal importance of their achievements in the home. She concluded that women should not be denied "the ballot as a weapon for the protection of [their] home," and that they could "contribute something new, unique, and tremendously forceful to the direction of the state because they possess certain mental abilities, points of view, physical and economic relations and, above all, certain wonderfully fine spiritual appreciations, which men [could not] supply."
Only a few weeks after Fisher made her prize-winning speech, the Illinois General Assembly made Illinois the first state east of the Mississippi to grant women the right to vote in federal and some local elections. It wasn’t complete suffrage, but it was a start. When Fisher returned for her senior year in fall 1913, she helped found the Ex Post Facto Club, created to encourage its female members to become informed voters in exercising their new rights. The club existed for many years on campus (club members pictured below; Fisher is front center).
Fisher returned to her alma mater twice in the 1920s to teach English. She also taught for public schools in Decatur and Indiana, at Massachusetts’ Wellesley College and Ohio’s Western Reserve University.
Truly one of the earliest members of Millikin’s very own "justice league," Fisher lived a life that was reflected
in a line ascribed to her portrait in her senior Millidek yearbook: "In Suffragette parades she takes the lead."
by Amanda Pippitt and Todd Rudat, University Archivists