When she came to Evanston in 1874 she helped found the Evanston Political Equality League and later served as president of the Illinois Woman’s Suffrage Association. In the national movement, she was a close associate of both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and a firm supporter of their approach which was to emphasize women’s equal rights and status with men.
In 1889, Harbert founded and served as the first president of one of Evanston’s oldest organizations: The Woman’s Club of Evanston. Though the Woman’s Club never explicitly endorsed women’s suffrage, women could discuss various issues and form friendships with other women in the community. The Woman's Club of Evanston exists to this day.
Harbert’s insistence on the relationship between temperance and the vote reformed the way many people viewed the women’s suffrage movement, including Frances Willard. She was a leading architect of the idea that women deserved the right to vote not simply because they were equal citizens but because women would bring their benevolent natures with them to the voting booth and positively influence issues facing their communities and country with their votes. Not everyone agreed with this approach as it emphasized rather than altered women’s traditional role as caregivers – but alongside the argument for women’s equal rights, it became an influential and powerful argument in support of women’s suffrage.
Harbert was a keen thinker and strategist for the suffrage movement.