Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Julia Burwell Merwin Wilkinson, 1860-1949
By Hallie Borstel, independent historian
Julia Burwell Merwin was born in May 1860 to Virginia Bolling Carter and Daniel Ostrander Merwin. The youngest of their children and the only daughter, she was born in Warren County, Mississippi but spent most of her life between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Daniel Merwin, a Civil War veteran, lawyer, and judge, died while Julia was still relatively young. Her mother, Virginia Carter Merwin, held various positions including acting as a merchant, running a girls' school, and writing.
On February 1, 1881, Julia Merwin married Horace (or Horario) Wilkinson in New Orleans, Louisiana. Horace and Julia had three children: Virginia, Sybil, and Horace Jr. The couple settled in rural Louisiana near Baton Rouge, at Poplar Grove Plantation. Horace and Julia purchased a building constructed for the 1884 World's Industrial and Cotton Exposition in New Orleans. It was moved upriver to the Wilkinson land, where it became the family home. Horace Wilkinson was known throughout the area as a sugar planter and politician.
Julia was a charter member of the Philhistoria cultural club, and acted as a delegate from that organization to the Louisiana State Federation of Women's Clubs in 1908. She was also a member of the social group the Five O'Clock Tea Club. By 1913, she was active in the suffrage movement. In that year, she was named the honorary vice-president of the Louisiana Equal Suffrage League.
Her involvement in the movement continued over the following years. In 1913, she co-authored a letter to the Woman's Suffrage Party as a representative of the Louisiana Equal Rights Association requesting that the two groups come together to form a committee to discuss legislation related to women's suffrage. This committee came to fruition later in the year, and Julia was one of its 100 members. She went on to be vice-president of the Louisiana Equal Suffrage League and to attend suffrage school in Baton Rouge.
After the 19th Amendment was passed, Julia's social activities continued as a member of the Southern Conservative League. She was also an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, claiming a distant kinship with George Washington. She continued to live on the family plantation until she was in her eighties.
Julia Merwin Wilkinson died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on December 13, 1949.