Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Elvira Downey, 1857-1928
By Sam Gilbert, Mark Grubb, Gabriella Ramirez, and Shelby Wilkinson, BA students, and Monica Burney, MA Student, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois
President, Illinois Equal Suffrage Association; Commissioner, Accounts and Finances; President, Parent-Teachers' Association.
Elvira “Ella” Hutchins was born in 1857 in Tunbridge, Illinois, to John Hutchins and Elizabeth (Proud) Hutchins. She was one of three girls. She married George B. Lane on May 18, 1876, but was widowed the next year after the birth of her only child, Hallie J. Lane Oakman (1876-1942). She remarried on July 29, 1880, and she remained married to Dr. Findly Edgar Downey until his death in 1902. She spent the majority of her life in Clinton, Illinois, but traveled to Chicago to participate in the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association.
Elvira was heavily involved in her community, serving as a probation officer for the DeWitt County Court, president of the Federation of Parent-Teachers' Association, and as an accomplished member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Good Citizenship League for women. When Elvira was the president of the PTA in 1914, they started a program called “Education Night.” Additionally, the Federation of Parent-Teachers' Association played educational moving picture shows every Friday night. Elvira was a member of the Civic club in her town from 1909 until 1915. Civic clubs were very popular in communities because members volunteered to improve specific problems that were present in their community.
Elvira's government involvement commenced in April 1911 when she served as the first woman on the school board in Clinton. As she recognized the inequity of her community, she insisted that the school purchase quality shoes for children of a lower socioeconomic status. She also served on the committees of “Textbook and Supplies,” “Truancy,” and “School Visitation.” Her involvement in local government included acting as the Commissioner of Accounts and Finances. In 1912, she proposed the city build a park during a City Council meeting, and the motion passed in the event that town members agreed to clean it up regularly. In the same year, Elvira partnered with government officials to make the basement of the court house into a women's restroom, showing that equality was more than just involvement—it was also about access and representation. She acted as part of the delegation to the Democratic Convention in March of 1912 and in November, she served as the director/head of the department for the state board.
Elvira was also active on matters of suffrage, both through her work in other organizations and in the suffrage cause itself. For example, she presented The Power of Woman with the Ballot at the DeWitt WCTU. For the Good Citizenship League, she held well-attended meetings in her house where over 75 members discussed what they could do as an electorate. Elvira Downey was elected to serve as the president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association in 1911; this came after she had held a woman's suffrage conference in the town square in Clinton. Through her broader involvement with the IESA, she was able to rally downstate support for women's rights.
Anthony, Susan B., Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Gage, Harriet Stanton Blatch, and Ida H. Harper. History of Women's Marches – The Political Battle of Suffragettes. Madison & Adams Press, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Brush, Mary I. “New Leader of Illinois Equal Suffrage Association shows Keen Business Ability.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 26, 1911.
Rock Island Argus, October 01, 1912.
“Elvira.” (1857-1928) - Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed November 07, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/140690133/elvira-downey#.
The Champaign Daily News, Nov. 10, 1915.
Trout, Grace Wilbur. “Side Lights on Illinois Suffrage History.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 13, no. 2 (1920): 145-79.
Weekly Pantagraph, March 10, 1911; April 21, 1911; May 5, 1911; May 10, 1912; June 28, 1912; September 27, 1912; March 4, 1904; May 26, 1905; May 21, 1909; April 1, 1910; January 30, 1914; October 16, 1914. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.