Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mrs. Frances Williamson, 1842-1919
By Sarah Kinane, Undergraduate Student
University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California.
President, State Equal Suffrage Association, Reno, Nevada; President, Alameda Branch of the California State Equal Suffrage Association
Born in Canada in 1842, Frances Williamson moved to the United States in 1863 to begin her career as a schoolteacher and administrator. While in Austin, Nevada, Williamson married John Williamson in 1868, who introduced her to community politics. As an educator, Williamson wrote and published several books, which were later displayed at the 1893 World's Fair. She experienced a major shift in her life when her husband and five of her six children died in a span of five years.
The tragedy behind their family's deaths created an impetus for Williamson to become more involved in the women's suffrage movement in Nevada. After connecting with two other women, the trio organized a meeting at the local courthouse to discuss issues surrounding voting equality with other community activists. Williamson was then elected as the secretary of the Lucy Stone Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage League, which came together to form Nevada's first gender-specific suffrage organization and was successful in creating and passing a suffrage resolution in the Nevada State Assembly and Senate in 1895. After the passage of the resolution, the State Equal Suffrage Association was founded in Reno, Nevada, of which Frances Williamson was elected president. In 1897, Williamson and her last surviving daughter, Mary Laura, began writing for the Nevada Citizen, a suffrage newspaper that was circulated throughout the state and provided other activists with a sense of defining pride as suffragettes.
After Williamson's work in Nevada, she and her daughter moved to San Francisco, California in 1899. Mary died shortly after in 1900 from kidney failure and was sent back to Austin, Nevada to rest in peace with the rest of her family. Later that year, Mrs. Williamson continued her work with the suffrage movement with her attendance to the California State Equal Suffrage Association convention in San Francisco and was later elected president of the local branch within the Alameda County Association. Despite enduring incredible loss, her commitment to the cause and constant activism for women's suffrage all over the nation was unprecedented. Frances Williamson sadly died just months before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919 and could not live to see her efforts come to fruition with the women's right to vote. She was later buried with the rest of her family on New Year's Day, 1920 in Austin, Nevada.
Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper. The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4, New York: Arno Press, 1969. [LINK]
Cerveri, Doris. Nevada Historical Miscellany, Sparks, NV: Nevada Press Women. Western Printing and Publishing, 1976.
Earl, Phillip. "The Story of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Northeastern Nevada, 1869-1914," Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 4, 1976.
Mack, S.E. "History of the Suffrage Movement in Nevada, 1900-1920", unpublished manuscript. Reno: University of Nevada, Reno, Special Collections.
Wilkins, Sally. "Frances Slaven Williamson," Nevada Women's History Project. http://www.nevadawomen.org/research-center/biographies-alphabetical/frances-slaven-williamson/
Williamson, Frances. "Mrs. Williamson, Who Proves Why Suffrage Is Right: State Needs the Unused Wealth of Woman's Best Genius," San Francisco Call, 17 September 1911, p. 55.