Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth Thacher Kent

Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Elizabeth Thacher Kent, 1868-1952

By Jill Zahniser
Independent Scholar

Conservationist, Suffragist

Link to NWP Database

Elizabeth Thacher was born in 1868 in New Haven, Connecticut to a Yale professor and his second wife, a granddaughter of Roger Sherman. After Thomas Thacher's death in 1886, Thacher's family moved to California. She shared an early and long-lasting friendship with her cousin, Elizabeth Selden White. Both cousins married Yale classmates of Thacher's brother William. Elizabeth married William Kent in 1890; her cousin married Dr. John Rogers. As adults, both women shared an interest in woman suffrage and the efforts of Alice Paul.

William Kent began as a businessman but soon turned to politics. By the time the couple settled in California, both Elizabeth and William had become intrigued by various social reform efforts on municipal and community levels. Elizabeth Kent led the newly-formed Tamalpais Centre Women's Club beginning in 1908 and later led the Marin County Clubwoman's Equal Suffrage League. The Kents donated the land which became the Muir Woods National Monument, also in 1908. Elizabeth participated in the 1911 campaign to win the vote for California's women, an innovative campaign which involved street meetings and automobile tours--vigorous activism quite new to the suffrage movement. California women were victorious that year.

Shortly thereafter, William Kent was elected to Congress and the Kents moved to Washington D.C., where Elizabeth Kent was approached by NAWSA to head its Congressional Committee. Kent felt reluctant--she believed in the state-by-state method of winning suffrage--but finally agreed to arrange the annual Congressional hearing about a federal suffrage amendment. The next year, a newcomer named Alice Paul took over the Congressional Committee and Kent became an enthusiastic supporter, as Paul brought to the federal campaign the same sort of innovations Kent had witnessed in California. Kent was named to the Executive Committee of NAWSA-CC and, despite some doubts, followed Paul after the latter's ouster from NAWSA to the new Congressional Union, later the National Woman's Party.

Kent was a stalwart of Paul's organization, marching in parades, giving money and raising more money, using her social connections to assist the effort, and joining in lobbying or speech-making when required. When the NWP picketed the White House in winter of 1917, Kent regularly drove up with hot beverages for those on the line. She later picketed herself but her husband refused to allow her to be jailed; he paid her fine over her vehement objection.

After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Elizabeth Kent continued to work for the NWP, championing the Equal Rights Amendment after 1923. Her husband died in 1928 and she returned to New Haven in 1936 and continued her efforts for the NWP as well as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). She died in 1952.

William Kent's papers are at Yale University and Elizabeth Kent's papers are included in that archive. Mrs. Kent's obituary appeared in the New York Times on August 16, 1952. A short unpublished biography of Elizabeth Kent by Una Winter is held by the Claremont College Libraries Women's Suffrage Collection.

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