Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Elizabeth Sears Gerberding, 1857-1937

By Robin Hurwitz, independent historian

Elizabeth Sears was born 23 September 1857, in North San Juan, a small mining town in California. She moved to San Francisco at age 8, and married Marshall Asher Bates in 1878. Following the dissolution of that marriage, she supported herself and her three children by teaching. Her 1894 marriage to Albert Gerberding raised her into high society, where she dedicated her time to social justice and creative pursuits.

Believing that women must reconstruct American society, Mrs. Gerberding supported a variety of causes. She was the only female board member on the League of Justice, and created a Women's League of Justice which soon boasted more than five hundred members. Women of high social position attended criminal trials, as moral support to those engaged in graft prosecution. Mrs. Gerberding was elected president of the California Women's Heney Club of San Francisco, which later became the Women's Civic Club of San Francisco. Under her guidance, the Century Club of San Francisco encouraged women to fight for clean water from Hetch Hetchy. She was the president of the Woman Suffrage Party, and emphasized the relation of the vote to women's work. She testified to state representatives that women contribute to society in many ways, but lack full citizenship, which limits true contribution. The right to vote was passed in 1911, and Mrs. Gerberding cast her first vote on 28 March 1912. In 1915 she continued to support the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, aiming her efforts at a federal suffrage amendment.

Mrs. Gerberding's creative efforts included published poems and stories, a book The Golden Chimney, a play about Arcadian life of Spanish Californians entitled "La Hidalgo," and a one act suffrage drama, "The Champagne Cork," which was performed many times in London. Suffrage dramas told of strong female characters whose qualities lead to rational, informed votes.

Elizabeth Sears Gerberding died 5 February, 1937, in San Francisco. She was survived by sons Harry S Bates and Albert G Bates, and preceded in death by her daughter, artist Beatrice Gildersleeve. 


Cherny, Robert, Mary Ann Irwin, and Ann Marie Wilson, eds. California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011)

Gullett, Gayle, Becoming Citizens: The Emergence and Development of the California Women's Movement 1880-1911 (Champagne, IL.: The University of Illinois Press, 2011)

Logan, Mrs. John A., The Part Taken by Women in American (Wilmington, Delaware: Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, 1912)

Hampton's Magazine, Vol. 25 (December 1910), 271.

Sunset Magazine, Vol. 11 (1903), 192

"Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage," Marin Journal, 9 September 1915, accessed online at the California Digital Newspaper Collection,

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