Margaret Weissinger Castleman, Louisville Suffragist and Democratic Party Leader

Randolph Hollingsworth (she/her) Discussion

Margaret Weissinger was born in Louisville to Isabelle ("Belle") Muir and Col. Harry Weissinger in 1880. Col. Weissinger rode with General Basil Duke in the Confederate Army and returned to Louisville after being pardoned. His future success in the tobacco industry was ensured with his military background and his political allegiance to the Democratic Party. Margaret was his second eldest daughter: her older sister Isabella married Captain George Stanton Tiffany and her younger sister Lillian married New York hotel magnate Julius Manger. Her brother Philip B. Weissinger managed their father's farm in Shelbyville - Undulata - where Margaret would bring her young family after she was married. She attended the Semple Collegiate School located on Fourth Street between St. Catherine and Oak Streets, and later she studied in "the East" (perhaps Vassar College from which her teachers, the Semple sisters, had graduated). She was a debutante at twenty and her coming out party was held at the Galt House in 1900.

Nearly thirty years old, Margaret married Samuel Torbitt Castleman (1877-1939) on January 21, 1910. Castleman, originally from New Castle, Kentucky, and educated in Louisville public schools, was president of Travelers' Insurance Machine Company. They had four children: Maj. Harry Castleman (1911-2003), Isabelle Muir C. Scales - later Pashley (1913-1994), Joan Pryor C. Harvey - later Dick (1919-2001), and Lt. Samuel Torbitt Jr. (1922-2000). When in town, the family lived at 1162 South Fourth Street, Louisville.

Margaret Weissinger Castleman was a member of Warren Memorial Presbyterian Church and served as a charter member of several local social clubs: the River Valley Club, Arts Club, Kentucky Club and Louisville Country Club. She was an important public speaker in the early twentieth century for Louisville women in the Democratic Party. She was president of the Louisville Suffrage Association and a member of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association. After KERA met in Louisville in 1919, she served as the Second Vice President for that next year - the final year of its existence. Also in 1919, the Kentucky Democratic Party appointed her as campaign chair for Kentucky women. In 1920 she became a member of the Women's National Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee.

In 1921 she was a speaker at a rally for the Democratic candidate for Mayor, W. Overton Harris. An excerpt of her speech appeared in The Lousiville Leader, an African-American newspaper:

"The only way to get things in this country is to get them on the inside of the political party." Now this is eminently important in the case of the Democratic women. It has been shown that at the last election 33 out of every 100 colored women registered, whereas only 60 out of every 100 white women did so. Now, I hold no brief tonight against a colored woman's right to the suffrage which shall not be abridged by color or sex; but I am amazed and indignant that the white women should not show at least as much appreciation of their enfranchisement as the colored women. I like the colored people. We have had colored people closely associated with our family life for years. We had one cook forty-five years. God rest her soul! And I don't believe anybody knows the colored man as does a Southerner, and that usually means a Democrat. I hold that the Democrats are really the best friends of the colored people, and it looks very much as though colored people of the better class of this city are beginning to realize the truth of this.

The editor of The Louisville Leader headlined her speech as an attack on Republicans. He wrote: "Never has so much been said that should make the Negro man and woman reflect and take a second thought for his political and general welfare..."

Mrs. Castleman's patrician language exposes the basic concepts underlying it: that of white supremacy. Her words sprang from a conservative ideology centered around the practice of keeping black Kentuckians in a separate sphere and constrained to a life of servitude, consistant with this era's mainstream images of "happy" times in slavery. In her speech just a year after the 19th Amendment was ratified, she raised the spectre of a Republican takeover of Kentucky due to the higher turnout by black voters. She implied in her speech that Louisville's black population are being duped, and that they had just begun "to realize the truth of this." She drew the line of respectability and social order around political affiliation with the Democratic Party.

Castleman died of a heart attack on April 26, 1945, in her home in the Weissinger-Gaulbert Apartments. According to her obituary, she was a "former member of the Woman's Club," so she was likely no longer active in politics or her social clubs in the latter part of her life. She was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.

**** Resources ****

"Castleman, Samuel Torbitt." Who's Who In Louisville. Edited by Alwin Seekamp and Roger Burlingame. Louisville: Louisville Press Club, 1912.

"Harry Weissinger," pp. 1007-1010 in E. Polk Johnson, History of Kentucky & Kentuckians: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities, Vol 2. Chicago: The Lewis Pub. Co., 1912.

Thirtieth Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Woman's Democratic Club papers, 1910-1945, University of Kentucky Special Collections. Lexington, Ky.

Obituary. Courier-Journal (April 27, 1945): 12.

"W. Overton Harris and Mrs. Castleman Speak Before Thousands on Race Issue," The Louisville Leader. Vol. 4. No. 44 (September 24, 1921).

NOTE: This biographical sketch is to support the development of the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project. A reply to this entry and additional contributions from H-Kentucky subscribers are heartily encouraged.

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Having extensively studied the Harry Weissinger family, I would agree with some of the profile as currently posted. However, there are a number of factual corrections that should be made.

First, Margaret attended college at Thompson and Peebles School in New York City (source: September 25, 1898 Courier-Journal, pg. 22). Her younger sister, Lilian, also went to college there and according to family accounts attended exercise classes at Madison Square Garden.

Second, Harry Weissinger's business success was most assuredly was due to his financial acumen and hard work, rather than his service in the CSA or his ties to the Democratic Party in Kentucky.

Harry was only a private during the war. His brother, George Washington Weissinger, III (the inspiration for the Old Colonel in Annie Fellows Johnston's "Little Colonel" series) was an actual colonel when he fought under Confederate General Sterling Price. Harry enlisted in the CSA under John Hunt Morgan – he roomed with Morgan’s brother Tom at Kenyon College before the war -- and spent quite a bit of the war as a POW in Chicago. He was on the first leg of Morgan’s famous Ohio Raid (1863) when he was captured in Liberty, Ky., shortly after the Battle of Lebanon, where Tom Morgan was killed.

Harry rode under Basil Duke AFTER he was paroled from Camp Douglas, shortly before Appomattox. He was part of Jefferson Davis’s escort on the former Confederate president’s flight South with the Confederate treasury. Harry’s immediate superior prior to his capture was John Breckinridge Castleman, husband of another suffragist Alice Ormond Barbee Castleman, and a relation to Margaret’s husband, Samuel Torbitt Castleman. Harry is mentioned by name in J.B. Castleman's autobiography, "Active Service."

His title of "Colonel" derived from his membership in the United Confederate Veterans/Sons of Confederate Veterans rather than his actual CSA service during the war.

In terms of his business skills, Harry worked his way up in the tobacco industry and tobacco wasn't his first business venture. After the war, he opened a store in Columbia, Alabama, where two of his paternal uncles lived; however, it was destroyed in a fire. Afterward he returned to his hometown of Louisville and took a job as a traveling salesman for tobacco manufacturers A.L. & L.G. Robinson. It was not until 1867 that he went to work for himself as a tobacco broker. And it wasn't until 1869 that he and two partners opened a plug tobacco factory known as Globe Tobacco Works. Harry's partners eventually sold out and the name of the company was changed to the Harry Weissinger Tobacco Company. It stayed in business until 1902 when he sold the company to Continental Tobacco, which became part of the American Tobacco Company, for over $1 million.

Harry's successful business ventures also included railroads, insurance, real estate, banking and the Louisville Board of Trade. The businesses Harry founded (with the exception of his real estate venture) were all sold and remain in business today in some form. He also left behind four National Register properties: the Weissinger-Gaulbert apartments, the old Stewart’s building downtown, Undulata Stock Farm in Shelbyville, KY and the Weissinger Mule Barn, also in Shelbyville and now the site of the Weissinger Hills Golf Club.

Contrast Harry's achievements to the achievements of his older brother George. George may have been made famous by Annie Fellows Johnston, but the "Old Colonel" was an abject failure as a lawyer. He died penniless and intestate and lived with his daughter in Pewee Valley the last 10 years of his life.

Third, Harry and Belle Weissinger actually had six children. Their oldest child Blanche (1868-1881), named for Harry’s sister, Blanche Weissinger Smith, was accidentally shot and killed on December 29, 1881 by an aunt while visiting Oaklea, the Pewee Valley home of her maternal grandfather, Judge Muir. She was only 14 at the time of her death. (source: Courier-Journal, Dec 30, 1881).

Fourth, Margaret and Samuel Torbitt Castleman owned Undulata Stock Farm at one time. Margaret used money she inherited from her parents to buy it. Sam operated a dairy on the farm for awhile. I have in my possession a milk bottle from the Undulata Dairy. They lost Undulata during the Great Depression -- the bank foreclosed -- and moved back to Louisville.

Fifth, this profile of Margaret gives her very little credit for her suffrage work and instead, concentrates on her work with the Kentucky Democratic Party after suffrage had passed. Margaret's interest in suffrage may have started with her familial relationship with Alice Osmond Barbee Castleman and her husband Gen. Castleman. Alice was very active in the school suffrage movement in Kentucky. In addition, Margaret was kin to the Semple family through the marriage of her aunt Lilian Muir to Alexander Semple. The Semple women were noted for their support of higher education for women and other causes to advance equality.

The earliest newspaper clipping I have been able to find regarding Margaret's suffrage work was from the Courier-Journal, Feb. 16, 1909 pg. 4, when Margaret gave a speech on the progress of the suffrage movement in large U.S. cities and in Europe at a memorial service event honoring Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.

Margaret held key leadership positions in the suffrage movement and at one point, literally wore her support for the cause on her sleeve. At the 1917 Ad Ball, an annual benefit event for the Louisville Business Women's Club, she represented the woman's suffrage cause and came dressed in "...a yellow domino and around the hem of her skirt were the twelve names of the Western States which have suffrage, and across the back was written, 'Votes for Women'..." (Courier-Journal, January 13, 1917, pgs 1-2)

She spoke at more than a few suffrage-related events and was known as an excellent speaker. Her involvement with amateur theater and dramatic reading programs gave her great presence at the podium.

After suffrage passed and she became involved with the leadership of the League of Women Voter's, the April 30, 1921 carried a story about her with a silhouette on page 14. It noted: "... Mrs. Castleman is now mainly interested in educating the women in the use of the ballot and enforcement of laws relating to the welfare of women and children..."

Sixth, as part of the Democratic Party leadership in Kentucky after suffrage passed, Margaret would have been expected to support the party’s position on blacks. The Democratic Party leadership in Kentucky consisted for many years of ex-Confederates, who had no love for the black man (or woman). And there was also support for Jim Crow laws and segregation at the national level during Democrat Woodrow Wilson's presidency (1913-1921). Margaret's views on African-Americans have nothing to do with her support of women's suffrage. This article is judging her by 21st century values, rather than the values of the time in which she lived.

Seventh, the quote from the Harris rally is incorrect. It should read, "It has been shown that at the last election 83 out of every 100 colored women registered to vote, whereas only 60 out of 100 white women did so...."

Eighth, Mrs. Castleman's ideology was certainly not conservative -- at least as the term is used in this day and age. If I were to look at this speech through the lens of the National Democratic Party's platform today, I would compare this to the Democrat's use of identity politics to form voting blocs: women, LGBT, people of color. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Finally, if you examine Kentucky's suffrage movement leadership, you will most assuredly not find many factory workers, subsistence farm wives or domestics. These women simply didn't have the time or financial wherewithal to drive the movement. They were too busy scrabbling to make a living. I am sure you could characterize the speech of most of the women involved with the suffrage movement as "patrician," because they were highly educated. Wealthy women, relieved of the duties of housekeeping and constant demands of mothering, were expected to be involved in social causes during this era. For some in Louisville it was suffrage. For others it was the Children's Free Hospital or preventing the spread of consumption through milk. Many wealthy women, including Margaret, were involved with Liberty Bond sales and other programs in support of WWI.