Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Elizabeth Merrill Bass, 1859-1950

By: Madeleine Swanstrom, History major at Tulane University

Elizabeth Merrill Bass was born in 1859 in Buxton, Maine, to Roscoe and Catherine Douglass Merrill. She was raised in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She was married to George Bass, a Republican state senator and judge. They lived in Chicago, Illinois.

As a young woman, Elizabeth Bass was one of the first court reporters in Chicago. At the 1863 Chicago World's Fair, Bass served as secretary to Mrs. Potter Palmer, the "jewel of Chicago society" at the time and chair of the board of women managers.

In the early 1900s, Bass became active in the suffrage movement and in civic affairs in Chicago. She was a leader in the Chicago women's club. In 1904, Susan B. Anthony wrote to Elizabeth Bass, lauding the efforts of the Chicago women's club in organizing a conference to showcase "studies into the various departments of the economic position of woman," and inviting members of the club to serve as delegates at the National Council of Women's National Convention.

Bass was honored at a Portland women's club in 1919. In her speech, she recalled seeing Susan B. Anthony speak in Manitowoc when she was a girl and described her own calling to the suffrage movement: "In Chicago 19 years ago, we began to realize that the city needed us as part of its governing body…[the men] had left the business of government to professional politicians, who had made of it their private spoil." Bass continued, "The women of this country want to do something for their government and not have something done for them. They will hold the ballot as a sacred trust and will bring to their work a spirit of dedication to their task."

In 1913, Illinois granted women the right to vote, and Bass ran as a candidate for county commissioner in 1914. Bass quickly became a prominent figure in the Democratic Party, and in 1916, she became the first woman to be appointed a political manager in a national campaign. She directed women's activities for Woodrow Wilson's presidential campaign in the 12 states in which it was legal for women to vote.

In 1917, she was named chief of the women's bureau of the Democratic National Committee. In this post, Bass was charged with reaching out to women on behalf of the Democratic Party, and she often framed the party's platform platform as women-driven and women-centric. In an interview with the New York respondent to the New Orleans States, Bass stated that, "The program of the Democratic Party embodies the social and political ideals women believe in, because it is a forward-looking platform in 1912 has grown [sic.] into a world-wide vision of practical idealism, crystallized around the League of Nations," she said once in an interview. She decried Republican efforts to claim women's suffrage as exclusively their cause in order to woo women voters.

Journalists described Bass as a passionate progressive who had a sense of humor and strong leadership skills. She was a pacifist and promoted President Wilson's proposal to form a League of Nations during the 1920 presidential campaign. In 1920, during the ratification of the 19th amendment, Bass came to Louisiana, a Democratic stronghold, to urge the state legislature to make Louisiana the 36th (and final) state to ratify the amendment. However, women were not allowed to speak on the floor during the hearing. Louisiana ultimately did not ratify the nineteenth amendment.

She was an early supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 presidential run and served as one of his Midwest campaign advisors. In 1933, Roosevelt gave Bass the position of Supervisor of Narcotics for the ninth federal district with headquarters in Chicago. In her first annual report, Bass' office showed 432 convictions out of 430 arrests.

Bass died on August 26, 1950, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.


Ida Husted Harper E.d., Project Gutenberg's The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI. 2009. Web.

Suffragists Split By Party Politics; Mrs. Bass Attacks Republican Women Who Spread Propaganda at Convention, New York Times (New York, NY) February 13, 1920.

"Mrs. George Bass Outlines Methods of Organization in Session at Finlen—Butte Ladies Responsive to Political Issues," Anaconda Standard (Anaconda MT), July 13, 1919.

Susan B. Anthony, Letter to Mrs. George Bass, Jan 16, 1904.

"Bass Rites to be Held Monday in Manitowoc," Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, IL), Feb 22, 1930. Retrieved from

Kent Salomon, George Bass (1843-1930), Find A Grave Memorial Database. July 24, 2012.

Kent Salomon, Elizabeth Bass (1859-1950), Find A Grave Memorial Database. July 24, 2012.

"Mrs. Bass, 89, Dies; Held Key U.S. Post Here," The Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, IL) Aug. 26, 1950.

The Daily States (New Orleans) and New York special correspondent

"Suffragists Honor Pioneer of Cause; Mrs. George Bass Entertained by Portland Women," The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) July 2, 1919.

"Mrs. George Bass Answers Critics of Administration," The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Aug. 28, 1916.

"No Debate By Women on Suffrage," The New Orleans Item (New Orleans, LA), May 17, 1920.

"Suffragists Split By Party Politics," New York Times (New York, NY), February 13, 1920.

"The Women Vote! ‘League of Nations Will Win the Women,' Says Mrs. George Bass," The Anacoconda Standard (Anaconda, MT) August 10, 1919.

Rowland Thomas, "Women Will Vote With Democratic Party," New Orleans States (New Orleans, LA), October 28, 1920.

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