Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ella S. Stewart, 1871-1945
By Mary Osborne, museum specialist, The Stewart House, Monmouth, Illinois
Lecturer, Chicago, National Woman's Christian Temperance Union; President, Illinois Equal Suffrage Association; Recording Secretary, National American Women Suffrage Association
Elvira "Ella" Seass Stewart was born on February 22, 1871, in Arthur, Illinois, to F. Levi and Elizabeth Powell Seass. She attended Eureka College and received her A.B. in 1890 and her A.M. in 1893. As a student, she secretly became engaged to her classmate and future Illinois state senator Oliver Wayne Stewart. He introduced her to public speaking and to speaking on the topic of woman suffrage. She made the women's movement the subject of her senior address at Eureka. Oliver and Ella married on August 20, 1890. Oliver Stewart died on February 15, 1937, in Normal, Illinois. The 1940 census lists Ella Stewart as widowed and residing as a boarder in Chicago. She died in 1945.
After her marriage, Ella Stewart earned an A.B. in 1892 from the University of Michigan, where she heard her first speech on woman suffrage. She accompanied her husband on his own lecture tour and spoke at these meetings on the women's movement. When the Stewarts arrived in Chicago, Ella found the movement in disarray and worked to rebuild the organization at the state level. She organized twelve of the twenty-one suffrage clubs in Chicago. She additionally lectured for the franchise department of the National Woman's Temperance Union in Chicago from 1898-1908. In 1905, Stewart was elected president of the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association after serving as vice president from 1902-1905. During her presidency, she also acted as the recording secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
In 1910, she ran for the position of trustee for the University of Illinois on the Prohibition Party ticket. She was defeated but publicized her belief that alcohol was "inherently threatening" to women in an article titled "Woman Suffrage and the Liquor Traffic," which was published in 1914. She delivered the keynote address at the Twenty-third Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Convention in Oct. 1912. The convention report described her speech "The Modern Basis of the Demand for Equal Suffrage" as "a brilliant discourse."
As a result of Stewart and her colleagues' efforts, Illinois obtained partial woman suffrage by 1913, and in October, Stewart embarked upon a two-week speaking tour of southern Illinois towns to continue organizing suffragists. She also addressed the Senate that year in which she likened the ballot to a tool of society. Stewart declared that it possessed a utilitarian purpose "to record the consensus of public opinion" and argued that women were capable of handling the ballot. She reminded the senators that women held opinions on governmental affairs which they indirectly expressed in their clubs. In addition to her suffrage work, Stewart herself was a member of the Chicago Woman's Club, the Woman's City Club, and the American Association of University Women among others.
"Ella S. Stewart, Pioneer Worker for Suffrage; Her Six Years' Labor in Cause and Unique Place in the Ranks," Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1911; "Suffrage Gospel in Southern Illinois," Chicago Tribune, October 18, 1913.
Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Report of the Twenty-Third Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Lexington, Kentucky in the Arts Club Building October 24th and 25th, 1912.
"Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NQMZ-2BC : 27 December 2014), Ella S. Stewart in entry for Oliver W. Stewart, 15 Feb 1937; Public Board of Health, Archives, Springfield; FHL microfilm 1,786,727.
"United States Border Crossings from Canada to United States, 1895-1956," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X2RM-N25 : 27 November 2014), Ella S Stewart, 20 Jun 1923; from "Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1954," database and images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : 2010); citing Ship Empress Of France, arrival port Quebec,, line 29, NARA microfilm publication M1464, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 468.
"United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MKCW-M8D : accessed 24 October 2017), Ella S Stewart in household of Evrett Gates, Chicago Ward 7, Cook, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 390, sheet 7A, family 150, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 247; FHL microfilm 1,374,260.
United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G96W-LQS6?cc=2185145&wc=3XC1-HZS%3A1056306501%2C1056473001 : 22 December 2014), (M1490) Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925 > Roll 2130, 1922 Nov, certificate no 230100-230475 > image 574 of 692; citing NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)
"This Week in Eureka College History, August 27," accessible at https://www.eureka.edu/160/blog/articles/august-27/
"Ella Seass Stewart," Her Hat Was in the Ring! US Women Who Ran for Political Office Before 1920, accessible at http://www.herhatwasinthering.org/biography.php?id=5029