By Jill Zahniser
Suffragist, feminist activist.
Elsie Hill was born in Norwalk, Connecticut to Congressman Ebenezer J. Hill (R-CT, 4th district) and the former Mary Ellen Mosman. Her father's English ancestors had settled the area in the 1600s. Hill studied in Paris before graduating from Vassar College in 1906 and went on to a year of study in Europe. She settled in Washington, D.C., helped organize the Congressional Club and became a high school French teacher in 1911. The local Equal Suffrage League elected her president.
In early December 1912, Hill received a visit from Alice Paul, the new chair of the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) Congressional Committee (CC). She agreed to help Paul find help among local suffragists to organize a grand suffrage procession on the eve of Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. The parade, though accompanied by violence, was a publicity boon for the movement and, along the way, Hill and Paul became fast friends. They lived together in a Washington apartment, along with Lucy Burns, until Paul and Burns moved into rooms in their new headquarters in 1916.
Hill became a trusted confidante and a skillful organizer. In 1916, she resigned from her teaching position to devote herself full-time to suffrage work. Hill's organizing took her to more than forty states; she also assisted the spring 1916 Suffrage Special train tour (advocating for a woman's party) and the fall 1916 election campaign in western states by the new National Woman's Party. Hill was among those who were arrested for suffrage demonstrations at the White House in 1917 and 1918. After the vote was won, Hill became Paul's successor as chair of the National Woman's Party; she held that position for five years.
In 1921, Hill and Paul consulted a well-known local law professor about the proper way to draft an equal rights amendment. Late that same year, Hill and Albert Levitt were married; Hill later bore a daughter, Leslie. Hill kept her maiden name, an unusual practice for the time, and continued to be active in public affairs. She ran for public offices three times in her home state of Connecticut in addition to her advocacy for the Equal Rights Amendment and other women's causes. In the 1950s, Alice Paul moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, not far from Hill's home in South Norwalk, and the two friends maintained close contact until Hill's death in 1970.
Claudia Levy, "Elsie Hill, Pioneer Suffragette, Dies at 86," Washington Post, 8 Aug 1970, B8. Ann V. Masters, "The Hill Sisters: Militant Suffragists," Bridgeport Sunday Post, 25 May 1958; B1, 7. Ann V. Masters, "History Records Suffragists' Campaigns as often Stormy and Bitter, " Bridgeport Sunday Post, 1 June 1958, B3. "Publicity for Elsie Mary Hill," National Woman's Party Papers, Library of Congress, Series 1, Biographies. Hill's papers and her family's papers are held by her alma mater, Vassar College. Additional family papers are held by the Fairfield Museum and History Center, Fairfield, CT.