Biographical Sketch of Ellis Meredith

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ellis Meredith, 1865-1955

By Katherine M. Swafford, who portrays Ellis Meredith in the Legendary Ladies, a historical performance organization (legendaryladies.org)

Ellis Meredith: Journalist, Author, Political Activist, Suffragist

Born in Montana in 1865 to Frederick and Emily R. Sorin Meredith, Ellis attended school in Missouri, then college, and moved to Denver in 1886 when she and her father began work at the Rocky Mountain News. From 1889-1903, she wrote her own daily column, "Woman's World," covering everything from fashion to temperance and woman suffrage. She was the first woman reporter to cover the Colorado statehouse and also reported on the 1892 Democratic Convention from Chicago.

In 1890, Ellis and her mother, Emily, helped revive the Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association, hoping that the times had changed since Colorado voters had soundly defeated woman suffrage in 1877, despite Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone campaigning there. In 1893, the Colorado legislature put woman suffrage on the ballot again. The state was in a severe economic depression and there was no money. Ellis traveled to the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago to ask Susan B. Anthony and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) for help again. NAWSA had no money but sent Carrie Chapman Catt, to Colorado speaking to male voters. Ellis spearheaded the campaign and became the link between NAWSA and Colorado, as documented in letters she saved from Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Lucy Stone, who with her husband, Henry Blackwell, personally donated $300.

With support of three-fourths of Colorado newspapers, the labor unions, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the Populist Party, woman suffrage passed by more than 6,000 votes! Thus Colorado became the first state in which men voted to approve woman suffrage. (Wyoming enacted woman suffrage as a territory in 1869 and suffrage carried over into statehood in 1890). Invited by Susan B. Anthony to the 1894 Suffrage Convention in Washington D.C., Ellis was seated next to her when Colorado was honored as the first state to pass women suffrage by popular vote.

In the early 1900s, J. B. Maling, a disgruntled businessman banished from Colorado, began speaking and getting newspaper publicity in non-suffrage states, blaming women voters in Colorado for everything from financial ruin to bootlegging. Ellis Meredith's articles in the New York Sun and the Atlantic Monthly vigorously defended equal suffrage in Colorado, and listed advances made since then. In 1904, Ellis Meredith and four other Colorado women, led by Mrs. Catt, testified before the U. S. House Judiciary Committee on the positive results of women voting in Colorado and urged passage of the 16th federal suffrage amendment. Ellis listed 16 laws that benefited children passed in Colorado through the efforts of women.

Ellis was elected and served on the Denver City Charter Commission, as vice-chairman of the State Democratic party for 4 years, and as President of the Denver Election Commission from 1911 to 1915. Skilled as both a writer and organizer, one of her opponents stated, "She is a fine woman, of excellent ability, clever, reliable, patriotic and dependable, and knows too damn much about politics". From 1901 to 1914, Ellis wrote five novels described as "appealing to the mind and heart." She was honored and her portrait requested for the of western women writers' gallery at Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

In January, 1917, Ellis took a job as Publicity Director for the National Democratic Women's Bureau in Washington D.C. After voting in Colorado for 24 years, now, like other east coast women, she could not vote at all. As a lifetime member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), now headed by her friend, Carrie Chapman Catt, Ellis agreed with their respectable tactics, bipartisan approach, and winning suffrage state-by-state, aligning them with President Wilson. NAWSA members publicly denounced the militant National Woman's Party (NWP), led by Alice Paul, and the two organizations split. In her Denver Post articles, Ellis expressed disdain about the NWP members picketing the White House and President Wilson. And when the NWP began campaigning against the "party in power," urging Colorado women to vote against all Democratic candidates, Ellis was dismayed because Colorado members of Congress were pro-suffrage. Ellis sent suffrage articles to papers all over the country. Her November, 1917 article, about the New York suffrage victory, said, "Women wanted the vote, worked for it, and carried on a campaign in which ‘sweet reasonableness' and efficiency contrasted with the noisy and ineffective methods of the militants."

During the Great War, Mrs. Catt, although a pacifist, urged NAWSA members to support the war effort in addition to state suffrage work. In July, 1917, Mrs. Ellis Meredith, and Montana congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, the first woman in Congress, helped register 80,000 "housewives" for Herbert Hoover's Army of Food Savers in Washington D.C. President Wilson acknowledged the women's war work and publicly backed a federal amendment in January, 1918. Maude Wood Park listed Ellis Meredith among other NAWSA members, who worked many hours, early and late, with undecided congress members to obtain their vote, yet southern senators, loyal to special interests, defeated it twice before it finally passed in June, 1919.

Marriage to Howard S. Stansbury from 1889 to 1901 ended in divorce. From then on she used her birth name, Ellis Meredith, for her columns, articles, and books. In 1913, she married Rev. Henry H. Clement, a Denver Episcopal minister. Ellis died in Washington, D.C. in November, 1955, at age 90. Her obituary in the Denver Post described her as a "pioneer Colorado newspaper woman." Ellis Meredith was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame in March 2018.

ELLIS MEREDITH

 

Photo Credit: Colorado Historical Society, Denver, Colorado

SOURCES:

Ellis Meredith Papers, Manuscript Collection #427, Colorado Historical Society, Denver, Colorado.

Brown, Joseph G., History of Equal Suffrage in Colorado, 1898. Library of Congress, Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921.

Meredith, Ellis, "Three Distinguished Figures of the Early Rocky Mountain News," Colorado Magazine, vol. xxvii, January 1950, No. 1.

Meredith, Ellis, "Women Citizens of Colorado," The Great Divide, February, 1894, p. 53.

Meredith, Ellis, "What it Means to Be an Enfranchised Woman", Atlantic Monthly, 102, August, 1908, pp. 196-202.

Jensen, Billie Barnes, "Let the Women Vote," Colorado Magazine 41, Winter 1964, #1, pp.13-26.

Abbot, Carl, Leonard, Stephen J., McComb, David. Colorado: A History of the Centennial State., Revised Edition. Boulder, Colorado Associated University Press, 1982, pp. 211-12.

Leonard, Stephen J., "Bristling for Their Rights, Colorado's Women and the Mandate of 1893," Colorado Heritage, Spring 1993, pp. 7-15.

Fetter, Rosemary, "Trail's End – Ellis Meredith got the vote for Colorado women," Colorado Gambler, October, 2012.

"Woman Suffrage," clippings file. Western History Department, Denver Public Library.

Library of Congress, Digitized newspapers 1865-1920, www.chroniclingamerica

Cooney, Jr., Robert P. J., Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement. Santa Cruz, California, American Graphic Press, 2005.

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