Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth Hall Turnbull Shoemaker

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Elizabeth Hall Turnbull Shoemaker, 1871-1961

By Rigby Philips, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park

Elizabeth Hall Turnbull was born on June 9, 1871, in Maryland. Her father was Alexander Nisbet Turnbull, a cotton broker and staunch supporter of the Confederate cause. Her mother, Olivia Cushing Whitridge Turnbull, was a descendant of James Calhoun, the first mayor of Baltimore, and U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun. Alexander and Olivia Turnbull had six children, in addition to Elizabeth: Anne Graeme Turnbull, Alexander Turnbull, who died at age three, Horatio Whitridge Turnbull, Olivia Whitridge Turnbull, Lawrence Cushing Turnbull, and Alexander Nisbet Turnbull. Elizabeth Turnbull was especially close to her sister, Olivia, with whom she maintained a lifelong relationship. As a young woman, Elizabeth Turnbull played lacrosse at Baltimore Country Club.

In 1893, Elizabeth Turnbull married Edward Shoemaker, a member of Baltimore society who was devoted to various philanthropic causes. He was a director of the Henry Watson Children's Aid Society and held a similar position in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Edward Shoemaker did not work due to a severe case of Bright's Disease, which took his life in August 1907, when he was only 36. He left his wife with no children, and she never remarried. She lived at 1031 North Calvert Street in Baltimore during her adult life and summered at Tyrconnell, a historic home on Charles Street in Baltimore.

Elizabeth Shoemaker devoted her life to social causes ranging from women's suffrage to environmentalism, and her successes earned her recognition from multiple governors of Maryland and President Herbert Hoover. She was a successful recruiter and fundraiser, as well as a talented writer and public speaker, whose words had an impact on Baltimore for decades. She gave many talks at various parlor and club meetings, including one in 1920 about the meaning of the League of Nations in the presence of Maryland Governor Albert Ritchie. She often opened her own home for such meetings and entertained regularly in both formal and informal settings.

On top of the many women's organizations Elizabeth Shoemaker was involved in, she was active in Baltimore suffrage circles and participated in various suffrage clubs. She served as vice president of the Woman Suffrage League of Maryland, and she was involved in the Maryland Branch of the National Woman's Party and the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She was active in the Maryland League of Women Voters, where she worked on a project to urge Maryland representatives to support the Sheppard-Towner Act, a program that provided federal funding for medical education and care to decrease maternal and infant mortality.

Elizabeth Shoemaker's work as chair of the Maryland Women's Council of Defense was perhaps her most notable activity. The Women's Council of Defense was an organization created to support the United States' effort in World War I. Issues such as child welfare, food conservation and production, foreign and allied relief, protection of women in industry, and maintenance of existing social agencies were at the forefront of the council's mission.

The Maryland Council was called “the best women's organization in the country” by the Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette in 1919. Shoemaker's personal work for the Council of Defense included advocacy for education, innovative food production, food conservation, and community kitchens. Her work on food conservation was impressive: she collected 133,019 signatures in the 1917 food conservation pledge campaign; she served as Commander of the Maryland Food Conservation Army, and she acted as a committee member on the National Food Conservation Campaign. During World War I, she involved herself in other war-related efforts, such as the Women's Preparedness and Survey Commission, the Executive Committee of Memorial for Maryland War Martyrs, and the National War Savings Campaign.

In addition to defense work, Elizabeth Shoemaker spent time with the Women's Civic League. She wrote multiple reports for the Civic Courier, addressing early environmental issues like waste disposal, smoke abatement, the elimination of “bad gas,” clean streets, and other measures to create a “beautiful” city. As the chair of the Refuse Disposal Committee, for instance, Shoemaker created the Waste Paper Campaign, which placed waste paper cans on street-corners and raised awareness about city regulations regarding garbage and ashes in an effort to de-litter Baltimore's streets. She also created the membership committee and saw an increase of three women per day during her time as chair. In addition to her work with the Civic League, Shoemaker served as the vice president of the Maryland Children's Aid Society and as president of the Colonial Dames of Maryland.

Elizabeth Hall Turnbull Shoemaker died at Mercy Villa Convent Nursing Home on November 24, 1961. She was buried at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery in Owings Mills, Maryland.


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Shoemaker, Elizabeth. “Report of Refuse Disposal Committee.” Civic Courier 2, no.1. April 1915, pp.13-14. GoogleBooks.

United States Census 1880, s.v. “Elizabeth H. Turnbull, Philadelphia, PA.” HeritageQuest.

United States Census 1920, 1940, s.v. “Elizabeth T. Shoemaker, Baltimore, MD.” HeritageQuest.

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