Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Jessie Ross Thomson (Thompson), 1848-1932
By Teresa Johnson, undergraduate, University of Maryland, College Park
Jessie Ross was born in July 1848 in Maryland. She had at least two older sisters, Mary O. (Middleton) and Elizabeth Ross. Jessie Ross married William J. Thomson in 1874, and the pair had two sons. The couple separated in 1894, with William Thomson remaining in San Francisco, California, and Jessie Thomson moving back to Maryland, where she received a divorce in 1899.
Jessie Ross Thomson was a participant in woman suffrage activism during the 1910s. She took part in the action by establishing a way to inform people in the Maryland area of the oppression that women face through engagement in duties that individuals would be able to participate in within the community. In 1916, she lobbied with others for the Maryland legislature to pass a full suffrage bill. The next year, she served as co-president of the Women's Suffrage League of Maryland alongside Elisabeth King (Mrs. Charles E.) Ellicott. Thomson represented Garrett Park in local suffrage efforts.
In addition to the Women's Suffrage League of Maryland, Jessie Ross Thomson ran the Civic Study Club of Garrett Park. Mrs. Jason F. Defandorf recounted the club in a published memoir: "a dozen women met" and "every woman was invited to join" but not every woman did because "woman suffrage was regarded with suspicion by many." The group eventually retained the name to be "The Civic Study Club of Garrett Park" because "outside speakers and specialists were called in and [they] studied civics in earnest."
Garrett Park archivist Barbara Shidler reported in the Prince George's and Montgomery County Gazette that "Thompson [sic] envisioned the club, which she ran until 1925, as a way to encourage women to take an active role in civic affairs." In a later embodiment of the organization that Thomson spearheaded, Shidler said that it raised money for construction of the Garrett Park Community Center and the community swimming pool. The club was never a traditional women's club that consisted of tea parties, but instead served as a service organization to benefit the community and to teach members to partake in being active in city and community endeavors.
According to her obituary, Jessie Ross Thomson died on September 19, 1932, while residing with her son, Dr. William R. Thomson outside of Rochester, New York.
Note on her name: several articles and publications misspelled Jessie Ross Thomson's last name as Thompson. After careful consideration, it was determined that Jessie Ross Thomson and Jessie Ross Thompson were the same individual.
Caption: In 1913, Mrs. J. (Jessie) Ross Thompson served as a school trustee in a Garrett Park School alongside several men. Credit: "Maryland Folk Seek New School," The Washington Times, August 10, 1913, p.10, Newspapers.com.
Barringer, P. B., Garnett, J. M., & Page, R. University of Virginia: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics, With Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Founders, Benefactors, Officers and Alumni. New York: Lewis, 1904.
"Civic Study Club." The Washington Post. December 10, 1916, p.14. Newspapers.com.
Defandorf, Mrs. Jason F. "Memories of Garrett Park." The Montgomery County Story, edited by Mrs. Neal Fitzsimons, vol. XVI, no. 3 (August 1973): 1-13. http://montgomeryhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Vol16No3_MCStory.pdf.
"Divorce for Mrs. Thomson." Baltimore Sun, Morning ed. April 20, 1899, p. 7. Newspapers.com.
"Garrett Park Civic Study Club." The Washington Post. August 6, 1916, p.8. Newspapers.com.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "Maryland." Chapter XIX in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
"Maryland Folk Seek New School." The Washington Times. August 10, 1913, p. 10. Newspapers.com.
"Montgomery County Federation." The Washington Post. May 21, 1916, p.6. Newspapers.com.
"Mrs. Jessie R. Thomson," obituary. Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY). September 20, 1932, p. 10. Newspapers.com.
"News of Club World." The Washington Post. May 24, 1914, p. 13. Newspapers.com.
"Rockville." The Washington Herald. November 14, 1915, p.3. http://bit.ly/2nOsHAo.
"Rockville." The Washington Post. May 2, 1915, p. 8. Newspapers.com.
United States Census 1920, s.v. "Jessie R. Thomson." HeritageQuest.
United States Census 1900, s.v. "Jessie R. Thomson." HeritageQuest.
"Voting Schools Plan for Maryland Women." The Washington Times. September 17, 1920, p.15. http://bit.ly/2mCjN7P.
Mrs. J. Ross Thompson or Thomson of Garrett Park?
by Teresa Johnson
To conduct the research on the women's suffragist, Mrs. J. Ross Thompson, I used the University of Maryland's McKeldin library resources to track down news articles that appeared in the past through older publications of The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Washington Herald. I also used the Google search engine to research other articles that contained Mrs. Thompson's name. I was even able to find an archived article from The Gazette that is a Prince George's and Montgomery County run publication that no longer publishes content online, to provide bits of information towards the suffragist I researched.
Through accessing a free trial of The Washington Post articles through Google, I was able to come across several old newspapers that mentioned my assigned suffragist as well. It turned out that the more that I researched, the more that I discovered with her name in general, even though many times the similar statement of her being the president of the women's suffrage leader of Maryland appeared. It was interesting to see that through being memorialized in these papers, being this kind of Maryland leader was one of the most important facts that publishers took note of. I also checked out Ancestry.com in hopes of possibly being able to connect any family members to Mrs. J. Ross Thompson, but I found that it was much harder to find people that she was related to, like her husband, and I found the most personal information through the discovery of her son.
The first exciting discovery I was able to make was the full spelling of Mrs. J. Ross Thompson's full name which was "Jessie." I found out her first name by perusing a few articles and typing in the search box her title as the president of the Women's Suffrage League of Maryland that she was a part of. Eventually multiple articles from older versions of The Washington Post provided the full spelling.
When conducting research on Ancestry.com, I came across William R. Thompson's, Jessie's son, birth and death date. Unfortunately, even though the site didn't list his parents (so I could find something more about Jessie), the research I had conducted and read in University of Virginia: Its History, Influence, Equipment and ..., Volume 2, had clarified that William Judah and Jessie Ross Thomson were his parents and that this was the right William who was a physician and doctor that resided in New York. It's a possibility that Jessie's son, William, was memorialized in this fashion because he was a doctor in a big city and may have had a prominent role that seemed to overlook a woman's role in society in the early 1900s during the time of women's suffrage. I was definitely most excited to find information online about where Jessie Ross Thompson's son died, and to see that his parents weren't recorded, but I knew who they were - it made me feel like my small discovery saved a small part of the family's history.
It's mentioned several times in a misspelled fashion that Jessie's last name should be Thomson or Thompson, and I made sure to look at several articles like what's mentioned in the Montgomery County Story article published in 1973, where her last name is spelled as "Thomson." To go off of the provided spelling, The Washington Herald Sunday from Nov. 15, 1915 under the Rockville section says that Jessie visited her son William R. Thompson in Warsaw, New York. A second article traced from The Washington Post says that "Dr. W. Ross Thomson of Warsaw, N.Y., recently spent a few days at the home of his mother, Mrs. Jessie Ross Thomson, at Garrett Park." This background information provides information that Jessie had a son that lived in New York and that both of these individuals mentioned in separate articles are the same, only cited in the article with a slight spelling difference in Jessie's last name. I thought that a misspelling would have made research less attainable, but it only made me reinforce my research by looking up more of the same comparable content that could be interchanged. I did this to make sure that the same person was being talked about.
I searched for hours and couldn't find where Jessie Ross Thompson died or where she was born, and admittedly it made me frustrated, however, it also brought to surface the truth that men were generally more focused on at this time in history, and it was a possibility that misspellings of names may have occurred because the publishers weren't as interested in factually stating the proper memorialization of women like Jessie Ross Thompson. When Mrs. Thompson was mentioned, it was always under a heading in an article that talked about clubs in the area, or how she would host people at her house. To me, from the information I learned about her as a women's suffragist, she was so much more than a person that hosted a club - she wanted to make a difference with the help of her entire community.