Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Alice Sankey (Mrs. O.F.) Ellington, 1880-1970
By Sally Minyard, Ph.D. Student, Texas A&M-Commerce.
President of the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association, 1914-1917
Alice Sankey Ellington was born in Salem, Missouri, on December 14, 1880, to William J. Sankey and Margaret Williams. Her father worked in the coal and iron industries, and her mother died when she was a young girl. Around 1904, she married Olin Fletcher Ellington, a lawyer from Ellijay, Georgia. After marrying, the couple moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where her husband practiced law.
Although Arkansas had a suffrage organization during the 1880s, no formal organization existed when Ellington moved to Little Rock. Beginning in 1911, branches of the Woman's Political Equality League organized in Little Rock, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, and Fayetteville, with the goal of securing equal suffrage; by 1913, Ellington was elected president of the Little Rock League. In October 1914, Ellington organized a statewide meeting in Little Rock, where the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association was formally created and aligned with the National American Woman Suffrage Association. At the same meeting, Ellington was elected the first president of the AWSA, a position she held until 1917. During this time, Ellington was also an active member of her local and national chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and was an Arkansas delegate to several national DAR conventions.
During the next three years, Ellington actively participated in campaigns for woman suffrage across the state and nation, often writing articles and speaking on behalf of the AWSA, even speaking at the 1917 NAWSA convention. In one article, Ellington eloquently compares woman suffrage to basic patriotism and love of country, arguing that true patriotism “means the development of all the country's resources. Until the women of this nation are equally responsible with men, one half of its resources will be neglected and the country will not reach its full development of strength.”
In 1915, Ellington and the AWSA advocated several attempts to amend the Arkansas state constitution; although unsuccessful, the women drummed up public support and met privately with legislators. In 1916, Ellington helped organize a large suffrage rally in which activists marched through the streets of Little Rock and featured Carrie Chapman Catt and Minnie Trumbull, well-known leaders of the NAWSA.
However, after years of not making legal progress, Ellington “decided the time had come to adopt business methods in the suffrage lobby,” and during the 1917 legislative session, Representative John Riggs introduce the Primary Bill, which would allow women to vote in primary elections only (a feat considered easier since it did not require amending the state constitution). Alongside Representative Riggs, Ellington “undertook ... the whole responsibility of guiding this bill” by organizing meetings and speaking before committees, rather than “harassing legislators with large lobbies.” Ellington and members of the AWSA met quietly, but persistently, with members of the Arkansas Legislature, until the bill passed in the House of Representatives (February 15, 1917) and the Senate (February 27, 1917). The bill gave women partial suffrage and was considered a great step towards success.
In 1917, Ellington resigned her post as president of the AWSA, when her husband took a position with Texas and Pacific Railway that moved the couple to Dallas, Texas. Ellington joined the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, adding her expertise to their similar search for primary suffrage. During this time, Ellington also organized women to sell war bonds across Dallas, acting on promises from national suffragists to President Wilson that they would support the war effort.
The Ellingtons remained in Dallas for several more years. Olin Ellington died in 1949, and in the late 1960s, Alice Ellington moved to Tyler, Texas to be near her sister and niece. She died there on April 18, 1970. Ellington is buried at Parkland Memorial Park in Dallas, next to her husband.
Cahill, Bernadette. Arkansas Women and the Right to Vote, The Little Rock Campaigns, 1868-1920. Little Rock, Butler Center Books, 2015.
Ellington, Alice. “Primary Suffrage in Arkansas.” The Woman Voter, vol VII, no. 4, 1917.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage. Vols. V and VI (1900-1920). National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
Selected articles from the Dallas Morning News, the Arkansas Gazette, and the Woman's Journal, as well as census records from HeritageQuest Online.