Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Edith Williams Jenkins Southward, 1866-1918
By Dana R. Bennett, Ph.D.
President, Battle Mountain Chapter of the Nevada Equal Franchise Society
Edith Williams was born in South Wales on February 4, 1866, to Thomas and Tamar Jones Williams. At the age of 26, she married Gwilym Treharne ("W.T.") Jenkins, a Wales native who had returned to his home country after having been engaged in mining and agriculture in Nevada. As newlyweds, they immigrated from Wales to settle in Battle Mountain, Nevada, where W.T. operated a sheep ranch. They were soon parents to Edith (born 1894), Mary (born 1896), and twins Dorothy and Louise (born 1899). In July 1899, W.T. died suddenly, leaving Edith with four young girls and a fledgling business.
Edith took the helm of W.T. Jenkins Company and grew it into one of the largest agricultural enterprises in Nevada. Within a few years of W.T.'s death, Edith owned and operated eight ranches spread out across five contiguous counties. She maintained the company's headquarters at Battle Mountain and was soon the largest property taxpayer in Lander County. As one of the most prominent business people in the area, Edith Jenkins was the Vice-President of the Battle Mountain Improvement Society and instrumental in the construction of local churches. She provided the bell, in memory of her husband, for the Methodist Church, which was the first church building constructed in town. In 1907, she donated the land and necessary funds to construct an Episcopal Church in Battle Mountain.
There are indications that Edith, "a small attractive woman with brown eyes and black hair" and always fashionably attired, was interested in politics soon after her arrival in Battle Mountain. In 1896, she stood for election to the local school board, but received only one vote. (At the time, the Nevada Constitution allowed women to run for local school offices, but prohibited them from voting.) When the Battle Mountain chapter of the state suffrage organization was organized in August 1912, the election of the respected businesswoman as President signaled the significance of the issue to the all-male electorate. At the November election, Lander County voters chose legislative representatives who had already committed to support the suffrage amendment during the 1913 session.
When the Battle Mountain chapter was reorganized in the summer of 1914 in anticipation of the supporting the upcoming ballot question to ratify the constitutional change necessary to legalize women voting, Edith Jenkins was no longer living in Battle Mountain. In 1913, she had married George Southward and moved 50 miles away to the town of Winnemucca, located in a different county.
In 1918, Edith and her daughter Mary both contracted the flu during the pandemic that was sweeping Nevada and the country. Edith Williams Jenkins Southward died on July 9, 1918, and was buried in the Battle Mountain Cemetery. Mary died four months later and was buried next to her mother.
Dana R. Bennett, All Roads Lead to Battle Mountain: A Small Town in the Heart of Nevada, 1869-1969, 2014
Austin E. Hutcheson, ed, "The Story of the Nevada Equal Suffrage Campaign: Memoirs of Anne Martin," University of Nevada Bulletin, 1948
Theresa Naveran, "Biography of Mrs. Edith Williams Jenkins of Battle Mountain, Nevada." Unpublished manuscript, c. 1951
Nevada Episcopal Church. Papers. Nevada Historical Society, Reno
Thomas Wren, A History of the State of Nevada: Its Resources and People, 1904
Dana R. Bennett, PhD
December 31, 2016