Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Eleanor McCormack, 1867-1931
By Jacalyn Kalin, teacher (retired): Montgomery College, Maryland
Activist in the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association and Women's Clubs: the Nineteenth Century Club of Memphis and the Tennessee Federation of Women's Clubs
Eleanor O'Donnell was born in 1867 to Daniel and Mary (nee Reed) O'Donnell in Ohio. She married James McCormack, a widower with a daughter, on July 1, 1900. They made their home in Memphis, Tennessee where James was a cotton merchant. Eleanor died on February 28, 1931 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.
In Memphis, McCormack became involved in club work at the local and state levels. She focused on The Nineteenth Century Club, founded in Memphis in 1890 by eighty women who "were ready to seize the initiative to pursue projects and perform duties that required activism in the public sphere." The club adopted the motto "Influence is Responsibility." The Tennessee Federation of Women's Clubs formed in 1896 to coordinate the local clubs in the state.
Known for her organizational skills, McCormack headed the state federation in 1908; later on, in 1913, she became president of the Nineteenth Century Club, the most influential club in Memphis. The activist organization pursued projects in civic affairs, including health and sanitation, and better working conditions, especially for female laborers. The Education Department of the club pushed successfully for the establishment of the West Tennessee State Normal School, a teacher training institute, in Memphis. McCormack, the club president, gave the school's first commencement address in 1913.
The public involvement of women led to an increase in awareness and active support for woman suffrage. Both the Nineteenth Century Club and the Tennessee Federation of Women's Clubs endorsed woman suffrage in 1916.
Besides her club activities, McCormack worked actively on behalf of woman suffrage. In 1906, the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association (TESA) organized in the state. Memphis formed a local league with McCormack serving as president from 1906-1912. She became first vice president of TESA, the state organization, in 1912 and a year later, she was chosen vice-president-at-large at the TESA convention in Nashville. At the convention in 1914, a split occurred in the association after a heated dispute over the location of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in Tennessee later that year. A breakaway group formed TESA, Incorporated under the direction of Mrs. L. Crozier French of Knoxville. McCormack became president of TESA and served in that role until stepping down in 1917.
As an officer of TESA, McCormack actively participated in the annual conventions of NAWSA. At the convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1912, she described the work in Tennessee for a state constitutional convention. She attended the 1914 convention in Nashville and was elected auditor at the convention in 1915.
In March 1916, Carrie Chapman Catt, president of NAWSA, arrived in Memphis to outline plans for the suffrage campaign in Tennessee. "SUFFRAGISTS GIVE A MONSTER PARADE," read the headline in The Commercial Appeal on March 30. The newspaper reported a thousand women participated in the event. A trumpeter and a platoon of mounted police led the parade followed by suffragists in motor cars, on white horses and on foot, brass bands, floats, and glee clubs.
At the conference, Catt met with McCormack in hopes of uniting TESA and TESA, Incorporated, the two main suffrage organizations in Tennessee. Catt stated the split "wasn't about tactics or ideology or anything significant, it was a catfight, plain and simple." However, the conference failed to achieve harmony in the ranks and it took two more years to unite the groups. On March 24, 1918, "SUFFRAGE LEAGUES AMALGAMATE" headlined an article in The Commercial Appeal. TESA and TESA, Inc. joined together to form the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Association. McCormack attended the meeting as president emeritus of TESA.
In 1919, both houses of Congress passed an amendment to the Constitution for woman suffrage. It moved to the states for ratification. By midsummer of 1920, thirty five states had ratified the amendment; one more was needed. The focus became Tennessee. On August 26, 1920, Tennessee officially ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
On August 26, 2016, the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument was unveiled in Nashville's Centennial Park. Five suffragists are depicted in the statue and on a banner held by one of the figures, the names of other suffragists are honored. Under the Western Grand Division heading, the name of Eleanor McCormack can be found.
Harper, Ida Husted et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, Vol VI. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
Louis, James P. Sue Shelton White and the Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee. Tennessee Historical Quarterly vol. 22, No. 2 (June 1963): 170-190.
National American Woman Suffrage Association. Hand Book of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the 44th, 46th, and 47th Annual Conventions. https://catalog.hathitrust.org
Sims, Anastasia. Powers that Pray and Powers that Prey: Tennessee and the Fight for Woman Suffrage. Tennessee Historical Quarterly, vol. 50, No. 4 (winter, 1991): 203-15.
Stapler, Martha G. The Woman Suffrage Yearbook, 1917. New York: National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company, Inc., 1917. [LINK]
"Suffrage Leagues Amalgamate." The Commercial Appeal, March 24, 1918, p. 7.
"Suffragists Give A Monster Parade." The Commercial Appeal, March 30, 1916, p. 11.
Taylor, A. Elizabeth. The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee. New York: Bookman Associates, 1957.
Tennessee State Library and Archives: Death records 1908-1958. Ancestry.com.
U.S. Bureau of the Census: 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930. Ancestry.com.
Wedell, Marsha. Elite Women and the Reform Impulse in Memphis, 1875-1915. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991.
Weiss, Elaine F. The Woman's Hour – The Great Fight to Win the Vote. New York: Viking, 2018.
Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill. New Women of the New South – The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, ed. Votes for Women! The Women Suffrage Movement in Tennessee. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995.
Yellin, Carol Lynn and Janann Sherman. The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage. Memphis, Tennessee: Iris Press, 1998.