Florence Bayard was born into the most prominent family in Delaware politics in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her great great grandfather, Richard Basset, signed the
United States Constitution for Delaware. Her father, Thomas F. Bayard, Sr., served as
secretary of state under President Cleveland and was the first United States
Great Britain. Her brother, Thomas F. Bayard, Jr., was the fifth
generation of the Bayard
family to be elected to the United States Senate.
1916. Copied from original in Sally Grimes Collection, Jewish Historical
Society of Delaware Archives.)
Florence Bayard married William Hilles in 1898. She had grown up believing in public service
and worked as an advocate for many causes throughout her lifetime. Among
them were People's Settlement, S.P.C.A., Children's Bureau, birth
Foreign Policy Association, and the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts. Florence
Bayard Hilles, however, is probably best remembered for her efforts as a suffragist. When
she heard fellow Delawarean Mabel Vernon speak on the topic
of woman suffrage, she thought: "[Vernon] is saying what I believe in and I'm not doing
anything about." Mrs. Hilles soon became deeply committed to the suffrage battle, which pitted her
beliefs against those of women who were as prominent and as politically powerful,
including her own brother's
During World War I, Florence Bayard Hilles, like suffragists from every walk of life around the
country, went to work at a munitions factory both to aid the war effort and to make a point
about the powerful role of women in the nation. She went much further -
lending her name and prestige, her money, and even her car to the cause. Her car,
the "Votes for Women Flyer," toured the state carrying a "Votes for
Women" banner and served as a grandstand for speeches.
Bayard Hilles and Mabel Vernon became great friends as they worked to support women's rights.
Mrs. Hilles planned the first suffrage parade in Wilmington as Ms.
Vernon traveled throughout the country
speaking. Mrs. Hilles went to Washington D.C. to be a "silent sentinel"
picketing the White House and President Wooddrow Wilson's silence on the topic. In
July 1917, Mrs. Hilles was one of the women arrested and jailed for picketing. She was sentenced to six
months in jail. The jailed women became an embarrassment to President
Wilson. He offered them freedom if they would pay a fine, but they refused to pay a fine for
petitioning for their rights. Mrs. Hilles spent three days in jail before all the prisoners
were pardoned. Her words to the United States Senate about the imprisonment were powerful:
My services as an American woman are being conscripted by order of the President of the
United States to help win his world war for democracy... that the right of those who
submit to authority shall have a voice in their own Government. I shall continue to plead
for the political liberty of American women and especially do I plead to the President,
since he is the one person who by a suggestion can end the struggles of American women to
take their proper places in a true democracy.
Mrs. Hilles continued to be outspoken on political topics throughout her
life, openly supporting Governor Alfred E. Smith in the 1928 presidential
campaign because of his stand
against religious bigotry in the country. She became an advocate of the proposed Equal
Rights Amendment, worked for the National Committee for Planned Parenthood, the World
Woman's Party in the 1940 election, and served on the American Council for Equal Legal
Born into prominence,
Florence Bayard illes chose to use her position to champion causes she
believed would make a difference to her gender, her community, nation and the world.
The library at the headquarters of the National Woman's Party in
Washington, D.C. is named for her.