Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ellen Wright Garrison, 1840-1931

By Lilian Benet, Undergraduate Student

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Keywords: National Loyal League; National-American Convention 1898; Secretary National Woman's Rights Convention, 186; Eagleswood

Ellen Wright Garrison was born on August 19, 1840 in Auburn, New York to Quaker abolitionists David and Martha Coffin Wright. She was one of seven children. In 1848, when Ellen was only eight years old, she witnessed her mother organize the Seneca Falls Convention alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In addition to her mother and other feminist activists present throughout her life, Theodor Weld heavily influenced Wright's education. She was first homeschooled by him and his wife, Angelina Grimke, and then insisted her family pay for her to enroll in Eagleswood (Raritan Bay Union, NJ), where the couple had relocated. The school was an "experimental institution"--one of the first offer a racially integrated education. After her first year, Ellen took some time off, during which she attended a convention in Saratoga and became greatly interested in the women's movement, but still decided she wanted to study music. This strained her relationship with her mother, who insisted her daughter study to become independent.

Upon returning to Eagleswood in 1859-60, Ellen experienced intense emotional instability. She developed low self-esteem and had doubts about following her mother's steps. Still, she used her mother's network for emotional support and became more involved with activists during 1860. That same year she was a secretary in the Tenth National Woman's Rights Convention. She grew especially close to Susan B. Anthony, who would become a mentor to her.

Amidst these personal struggles, Ellen became more involved and energized once the Civil War began in 1861. She rejected the 19th-century idea that women's work should be moral and religious. "Is it not stifling, irksome work, to remain quietly at home," she complained to her friend, Lucy McKim, and even suggested they dress up as men to join a regiment or enlist as nurses. In 1863, she joined the Woman's National Loyal League, after Susan B. Anthony (one of the founders, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton) recruited her and her mother to collect signatures for an abolitionist petition that would prove to Congress the states wanted to end slavery. The League's explicit goal was to push for abolition, but it also encouraged women to become more involved in the traditionally male-dominated political arena and facilitated conversations about postwar opportunities and gender equality. That same year, Ellen met William Lloyd Garrison, Jr. (1838-1909) while visiting family in Boston. The two fell in love instantly and married on September 14, 1864. They later had five children

After the Civil War ended, Ellen remained involved in various women's conventions. Her name is listed in the Proceedings of both the Twenty-Fifth (1893) and Thirty-Third (1901) Annual Convention Proceedings of NAWSA as one of the life members; she remained a NAWSA member for life despite her husband's resignation in 1903. In 1898, she called for the National-American Convention alongside her sister Eliza Wright Osborne. The convention took place in Washington, D.C., with more than 150 in attendance, and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Woman's Rights Convention. Her diary entries and letters to her husband indicate that Ellen dedicated herself to her home and family post-1900. She knew she didn't want to be the face of the women's movement like her mother had been, and she was reluctant to "loan out" her last name (Garrison). Still, this didn't stop her daughter, Eleanor, from pursuing an active role in women's rights.


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