Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Lily Wilkinson Thompson, 1867–1942
By Heather M. Kuzma, independent histoirian
Woman Suffrage Activist
Lily Gabrielle (Wilkinson) Thompson was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, on March 9, 1867, and died in 1942. She was the daughter of William Clemments and Gabrielle Flowers (Barnes) Wilkinson. Thompson attended Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi, graduating in 1884. On February 18, 1891, she married Charles H. Thompson in Grenada, Mississippi. They resided in Jackson, Mississippi, with their four children: James Wilkinson, Primrose, Cynthia and Sarah Summers.
Thompson was an active member of both the local and statewide suffrage associations. Even prior to the creation of a state suffrage association, Thompson was involved in the suffrage association in her home town of Crystal Springs. At the birth of the statewide organization in 1897, Thompson served as corresponding secretary. Thompson held many leadership roles throughout the duration of the statewide organization, the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). When the association was reorganized in 1906, she became treasurer. Her longest running role was superintendent of the press. She first assumed this role in 1907.
As superintendent of the press, Thompson published many articles in local newspapers. When Thompson was first elected to the role, she wrote to most of the editors in the state. She was successful in convincing twenty-one of those editors to discuss suffrage in their papers. In one of her early articles published in September 1907, she wrote:
"As long as Mississippi women have access to the tax list, and the penitentiary, may they not justly have access to the polls? Would not the ballot in the hands of women afford them the quickest, quietest, most dignified method of effecting legislation, for is not an ounce of voting worth a pound of petitioning?"
Moving up the ranks of the MWSA, Thompson was elected vice president in 1908. Her involvement with the press, however, continued even with her increased leadership role in the suffrage association. By 1909, Thompson was writing a weekly column in the Jackson Daily News. At this time, Thompson became very active in supporting the local suffrage movement in Jackson. She helped establish The Equity League, the local Jackson organization and served as president at its inception in 1911.
In 1912, Thompson was elected president of MWSA, but declined re-election in 1913 citing demands at home. Even so, Thompson continued to be an outspoken leader for the cause including speaking in front of the Mississippi House of Representatives on January 22, 1914. Of the women who spoke that day, Kate Power of the Jackson News wrote: "England may prefer her brand of suffragists, but it is with our own gently-bred ladies in the lead that the South will ere long achieve the ends for which she aims."
In the following years, Thompson focused her efforts on the movement in Jackson serving in various leadership roles in The Equity League and as MWSA District President for Jackson. As the suffrage amendment became a possibility, Thompson worked with the MWSA's Ratification Committee that was created in 1919. She took responsibility for the Jackson press and wrote prolifically in support of ratification until the amendment was successful.
Not only was Thompson involved, but her family also took part in the woman suffrage movement. In November 1907, the Thompsons hosted a five day conference at their home. Mr. Thompson was one of only three men in attendance. Their children also took active roles. One daughter, Sarah Summers, followed in her mother's footsteps by being elected treasurer of the state suffrage association in 1908.
Thompson was dedicated to preserving the history of the movement and greatly contributed to the Mississippi chapter in History of Woman Suffrage Vol. VI (p. 326-341). Thompson passed away in 1942. After her death, her papers and memorabilia were archived at the University of Mississippi with access to many online at http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/suffrage.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Ballots for Both: Thirteenth Annual Convention of Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. Court House, Starkville, April 13-14, 1917. Lily Thompson Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. <http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/121/rec/1>
Equity Minutes 1911-1914. Lily Thompson Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. <http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/243>
Equity Minutes 1915-1916. Lily Thompson Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. <http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/176/rec/7 >
Harper, Ida Husted. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920) New York, N.Y., 1922. pp. 326-41. [LINK.]
Report of the Organization of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. Meridian, Mississippi, May 5, 1897. Lily Thompson Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. <http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/6/rec/19>
"Thompson, Lily Wilkinson." Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915, ed. by John William Leonard. New York, NY: American Commonwealth Company, 1914. p. 813. [LINK]
"Woman's Suffrage and the Solons." The Lexington Advertiser. (Lexington, Miss.), Jan. 23, 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024271/1914-01-23/ed-1/seq-3/>
"Women Are Wanting a Say." Hattiesburg Daily News. (Hattiesburg, Miss.), Sept. 11, 1907. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065163/1907-09-11/ed-1/seq-6/>