Biography of Emma Mathilde Weber Cooke, 1885-1953
This biographical sketch first appeared on the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States and appears here by courtesy of the publisher, Alexander Street.
By Anna-Rae Alaton, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park
Peace Activist, Suffragist, Voting Rights Advocate
Emma Mathilde Weber was born in Maryland around 1885. Her father, August Weber, was born in Maryland in 1850 and was a banker who served as president of the German Bank of Baltimore City. Her mother, Emma H. Weber, was born in Maryland in 1852. All four of Emma M. Weber’s grandparents were born in Germany. She was the third of four siblings.
Emma Weber had some higher education and had experience in the paid labor market. She was recorded in the 1919-20 Johns Hopkins University register as having a specialization in American government and was listed under the category, “Attendants on College Courses for Teachers.” The 1920 census indicated that Weber worked as a messenger for USG (presumably the United States Gypsum Corporation, which had facilities in Baltimore).
Emma Weber was engaged in numerous community and political activities in Baltimore throughout her life. She was active in the Arundell Club of Baltimore, a women’s club established in 1894 that held public meetings, study groups, and social entertainments. Weber served as chair of the club’s German section in 1913, a director the following year, recording secretary in 1919, and secretary in 1920. Her involvement in leadership positions in the club proved long-standing, as in 1932, she was re-elected as second vice-president.
During the First World War, Emma Weber actively engaged issues of war and peace. She was appointed chair of the Women’s Liberty Loan Committee. In 1915, she was also elected chair of the membership committee for the National Woman’s Peace Party. Following the war, Weber served as a field director of the War Loan Organization.
Emma Weber was closely identified with the suffrage movement, first in the Equal Suffrage League and then in the Woman Suffrage League of Maryland. In 1910, Weber and her sister, Augusta, were in charge of tables for a suffrage fete, and Emma Weber soon played major roles in the movement. For example, in 1915, she was part of the Maryland contingent of a delegation of American women who met with President Woodrow Wilson. The delegation presented President Wilson with a petition that he support a Federal Constitutional Amendment for woman suffrage—a plea that President Wilson declined, stating suffrage was a state issue. That setback did not stop Weber’s suffrage efforts, however. When an amendment to the Maryland state constitution was introduced in Maryland’s House of Delegates in 1916, Weber served as one of the lobbyists. That same year, at an Equal Suffrage League meeting, she spoke on “The Effect of the National Convention of Suffragists,” in addition to being elected as treasurer at the annual meeting. In 1917, Weber was part of the executive council of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and represented Maryland at NAWSA’s February 1920 convention in Chicago.
In August 1920, the long-awaited moment finally came: the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. Emma Weber, who was chair of the celebration committee of the Woman Suffrage League of Maryland, convinced Mayor William Broening to ring the city hall bell. An article in the Baltimore Sun described the celebration and noted that, “Miss Weber is looking forward to the launching of the Maryland branch of the League of American Women Voters in October for the nonpartisan purpose of leading all women into the political waters.”
Indeed, in October 1920, the Maryland League of Women Voters launched, and Emma Weber assumed important positions within it. In November, Weber was appointed to represent Maryland at a regional meeting of the new League of Women Voters in New York. The following month, Weber—who was congressional chair for the Maryland League—joined forces with other women’s organizations to attend a meeting with Maryland’s congressional delegation to push for passage of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Bill. The bill promised federal funding for maternity and infant health care. Weber sent congressmen letters pushing for the bill and sent follow-up letters to members of the league, requesting that they either visit or write to their congressmen. Weber continued to chair the Congressional Committee of the Maryland League of Women Voters for the next two years.
In January 1921, the Baltimore Sun reported, “Ten of the largest and most influential women’s organizations in Maryland have organized a legislative council to co-ordinate the activities of thousands of women in Maryland in behalf of legislation for the welfare of women and children.” Weber was head of that council, and the first meeting was held in Weber’s Baltimore home; the Sheppard-Towner Act was passed later that year.
In April 1922, Weber headed the transportation department for the Pan American Conference of Women that was held in Baltimore, an event that was reported to have been attended by “Women from every country in North, South and Central America and from every state and territory of the United States.” The next month, she discussed the status of bills endorsed by the league at the second annual convention of the League of Women Voters.
Emma Weber’s strategic thinking as a political leader can be seen in a report that she composed on behalf of the Congressional Committee of the Maryland League of Woman Voters in the early 1920s. She wrote of pursuing the Sheppard-Towner Act: “You see, we had been very active in getting out expressions of these heart felt desires because experience has taught us that legislators do not feel the wishes of their constituency by instinct – therefore our women had been making known their opinions in no uncertain manner, by letters, telegrams, resolutions and by all the other ways and means of communicating opinions.” Indeed, Emma Weber played an instrumental role as a prominent Maryland activist in spearheading such initiatives.
Sometime between 1927 and 1932, Emma Weber married William Clarke Cooke (b. 1880 in Maryland). He was a widower, whose first wife, Grace Hammond Cooke, had died in January 1927. Emma Weber Cooke became the stepmother to William C. Cooke, Jr., (b. 1916) and Margaret H. Cooke (b. 1918), both of whom were born in Maryland.
Emma Mathilde Weber Cooke died in Maryland on November 17, 1953.
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“Arundell Decides to Quit Federation.” Baltimore Sun. March 31, 1932, p.3. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
“Attendants on College Courses for Teachers.” University Registrar 1919-1920. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1919, pp.155, 167, 191. Google Books.
Baltimore City Directory for the Year Commencing April 1st, 1913. Baltimore: R.L. Polk and Co., 1913, p.2790. Google Books.
Benson, Carville D. to Emma M. Weber. December 4, 1920. Series 3, Box 14, Maryland League of Woman Voters: Md. St. Dept. of Labor 1937-Merit System-r & p (file name: Maternity 1920-33), Maryland League of Women Voters Records, Special Collections, Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park.
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“Suffragists to Hold Noisy Jubilee Today.” BaltimoreSun. August 28, 1920, p.4. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
United States Census 1900, 1910, 1920, s.v. “Emma Weber, Baltimore, MD.” Heritage Quest.
United States Census 1940, s.v. “Emma Weber Cooke, Baltimore, MD.” Heritage Quest.
Weaver, Diane E. “Maryland Women and the Transformation of Politics, 1890s-1930.” PhD diss., University of Maryland, 1992.
Weber, Emma, to Mrs. Philip Lee Travers. December 15, 1920. Series 3, Box 14, Maryland League of Woman Voters: Md. St. Dept. of Labor 1937-Merit System-r & p (file name: Maternity 1920-33). Maryland League of Women Voters Records. Special Collections, Hornbake Library. University of Maryland, College Park.
Weber, Emma M. “Report of the Congressional Committee of the Md. League of Woman Voters.” April 28, 1921-May 25, 1922. Series 1, Box 1, League of Woman Voters of Maryland: Budget 1921-Convention 1923 (file name: Convention 1922). League of Women Voters Records. Special Collections, Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park.
“Women Join for Peace.” Baltimore Sun. March 27, 1915, p.5. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.