The Just Government League was an organization that supported rights for all women which included the right to vote, to hold public office, equal rights in family law, to enter into legal contracts, to have reproductive rights, to have the right to bodily integrity, to be free of sexual violence, the right of fair wages and equal pay, to own property and to obtain an education and advance in society.

The JGL was a national and international organization and their goals not only included the rights listed above, but some organizations went further to promote anti-lynching laws, the end of child labor, sanitation laws and the legalization of prostitution.

On the local level, Mrs. Bernard J. Byrne, also known as Laura Laurenson Byrne, led the fight for Women’s Suffrage in Howard County along with her daughter Laura Byrne Hickok.  As the President of the Howard County Just Government League, Laura Byrne worked tirelessly to inform and educate all women of Howard County regardless of race, religion, or political persuasion.  Often traveling all over the county, when most of the roads were dirt or gravel, she visited the ladies on the farms who did not get into town frequently or did not have access to newspapers.  In 1911, the Evening Sun in Baltimore reported the Suffrage Movement in Howard County to be flourishing. Most of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Howard County took place between 1910 and 1920.

Laura was born in 1855 into a family of privilege; her maternal grandparents were Charles Carroll IV and Harriet Chew Carroll of Homewood.  Laura did not flaunt her life of privilege but worked diligently for the Just Government League.  She traveled the state giving lectures, organizing committee meetings, providing educational material, and fundraising for the cause.

In 1910, Mrs. Byrne lived on Main Street in Ellicott City with her husband Bernard and daughter Miss Laura Byrne and Bernard’s sister, Eliza.  Her daughter, Miss Laura, was a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a Suffragette.  Mrs. Byrne held many meetings at her house which included speakers like Belva Lockwood, the oldest practicing attorney in the United States.  She would also set up booths on the sidewalk in Ellicott City to hand out buttons, pamphlets, and educational material.

The Ellicott City Times under the direction of editor Colonel W. S. Powell was the first newspaper in Maryland to support women’s suffrage.  The support of Colonel Powell and many other gentlemen in the county helped to promote The Just Government League.

Their unusual tactics for getting the Suffrage movement going did not go without some controversy.  A meeting for Women’s Suffrage held at the Christ Episcopal Church on October 19, 1910, prompted Mr. Edwin Warfield Peters to stand and protest, “…that all women are becoming mannish, and blamed it on the suffragists, adding that in the old days that women who rode horseback used the side-saddle, but now adopted the more masculine style of riding astride.”

A Suffragist lecture held at the Howard House in Ellicott City garnered some notoriety in November 1910.  Colonel W. S. Powell entertained some notable people in Howard County and Baltimore at the lecture including Former Governor Edwin Warfield, and current Governor Austin L. Crothers, along with many prominent citizens. They were served refreshments of apple cider and oysters by Laura Byrne, Mrs. Donald Hooker, President of the Maryland State Just Government League, and Mrs. Howard Schwartz.  The lecture was a great success.

Some of the major anti-Suffragists, specifically Presbyterian Reverend S. M. Engle and Mrs. Robert Garrett seized an opportunity to discredit the meeting and target the leaders by publishing the comment, “Two suffragettes – Mrs. Donald R. Hooker and Mrs. Howard T. Schwartz – served at a table some kind of liquor punch which was so strong that it made more drunken men than the citizens of the community had seen in a long time.”

Colonel Powell explained in an article in his newspaper, “There was light punch served, two of them in fact, but neither was intoxicating.  I emphatically deny that any of my guests were intoxicated at any time during the evening.  It was not until the speaking began that some of the men outside learning that Governor Crothers and Governor Warfield would speak and asked to come in.  Of course, they were admitted.  Among them was one young man, who unfortunately is a habitual drinker. 

Mr. Engle’s statement is a direct perversion of facts.  I think it nothing more than an effort to get notoriety.”     

Mrs. Schwartz was a little more pointed in her retort, “There was only one man drunk there and I was told he was always drunk!”

Mrs. B. J. Byrne had many obstacles to overcome while enlightening the County; however, she was successful and went on to lecture and organize meetings in other counties and throughout the state.