Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Emma Sells Marshall, 1864-1949
By Carol Shipp, Hamilton, NJ
Member, State Equal Suffrage Association; Vice-President, Treasurer, Auditor and member of Good Government Club; member of Topeka Kitchen Cabinet advisory board; Registered Lobbyist for the Kansas State Legislature; Treasurer, Kansas Women's Press Association; member of and holder of various offices in a number of women's organizations including the Kansas Day Club, Topeka Woman's Club, Woman's Knife and Fork Club, Woodrow Wilson Luncheon Club, Jeffersonian Club and more.
Emma Sells Marshall was born September 19, 1864 in New Bedford, Illinois to Milton Sells and Paulina Odell Sells. At sixteen, she moved with her family to Kansas and at nineteen, she married her husband, Charles Johnston Marshall. They had two daughters, Dorothy and Paulina.
Mrs. Emma Sells Marshall became involved with Kansas women's rights during the 1890s. At this time, The Topeka Capital Journal described her as tireless worker who didn't know how to quit. Marshall did indeed appear indefatigable, even in the face of defeat. Commenting on an unsuccessful 1894 campaign for full political rights, Marshall was still confident that political equality was achievable, stating only that “It is not all done at once, only a step at a time.”
Beginning in 1901 annual suffrage conventions in Topeka supported women's equality. Women in Topeka formed the Good Government suffrage club in 1902 to help the State Suffrage association in its efforts, with an emphasis on working with the state legislature. By the convention of 1909 more organized and aggressive suffrage efforts included its legislative lobbying and membership outreach to women across the state. Marshall played a key role in the club activities. A special postcard was copyrighted under the supervision of Marshall and thousands were sold and distributed. As part of that broader membership initiative Emma Sells Marshall spoke about women's suffrage at a variety of receptions, dinners, teas, and other social occasions. She also hosted several similar occasions at her home in an effort to broaden the support of women across the state.
Key to the strategy employed by Marshall and others was a strong lobbying effort at the Kansas State Legislature. Members of Topeka's Good Government club, including Marshall, registered as lobbyists and became the front-line on the state's lobbying activities. Marshall spent fifty days in the legislature of 1910 resulting in the submission and ultimately passage of the women's suffrage amendment.
Thanks to the efforts of Emma Sells Marshall and the dozens of other fully committed women, an organized force of more than 2,000 women convinced the Kansas State Legislature to pass the equal voting rights amendment which the governor signed Feb. 12, 1911. On November 5, 1912 the citizens of Kansas granted women equal voting rights, only the 7th state to do so.
Marshall continued her civic activities beyond the suffrage movement becoming a parole officer for the Kansas Girls' reformatory on July 1, 1913 which she continued until July 1, 1915. In 1916 she made headlines when she challenged the parole and pardon of a man convicted of assault and murder of a woman. “The women of Kansas demand the protection the law affords,” she said in news reports. “They demand it for themselves and for innocent and defenseless children.”
She and Charles lived in Kansas until he died in 1943. Marshall remained in Kansas until 1945 when she moved to Los Angeles, California to live with her daughter, Paulina. Emma Sells Marshall died September 5, 1949 in Los Angeles. Her cremated remains were buried in Topeka, Kansas.
The Advocate, Topeka Kansas, The Official Report of the State Organization of Woman's Progressive League, June 13, 1893, June 21, 1893, page 8
Ancestry.com, Kansas County Marriages, 1811-1911 retrieved September 28, 2017; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=FSMarriageKansas&h=32465
Ancestry.com, 1870 United States Federal Census, Retrieved September 26, 2017; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=1870usfedcen&h=15894323
Ancestry.com, 1880 United States Federal Census, Retrieved September 26, 2017; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=1880usfedcen&h=46400579
Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census, Retrieved September 26, 2017; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&&db=1900usfedcen&h=17192902
Ancestry.com, 1910 United States Federal Census, Retrieved September 26, 2017; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&&db=1910USCenIndex&h=133585108&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true&rhSource=6224
Ancestry.com, 1920 United States Federal Census, Retrieved September 26, 2017 http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=1920usfedcen&h=73940952;
Ancestry.com, 1930 United States Federal Census, Retrieved September 29, 2017; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=1930usfedcen&h=33856357
Ancestry.com, 1940 United States Federal Census, Retrieved September 26, 2017; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=1940usfedcen&h=62041981
Ancestry.com, California Death Index 1940-1997, Retrieved September 28, 2017; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=CAdeath1940&h=4624886,
Ancestry.com, Kansas City and County Census Records, 1919-1961; http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=KSCensusRecords&&h=10534060
The Advocate, Topeka Kansas, The Official Report Of the State Organization of the Woman's Progressive Political League June 13, 1893, June 21, 1893, Page 8
The Lawrence Daily Gazette, Emma Sells Marshall of Dodge City to Speak on Woman's Suffrage, October 10, 1894, Page 2
The Topeka Daily Capital, Topeka, Kansas, Society September 27, 1903, Page 11
The Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, Society, January 5, 1911, Page 7
The Manhattan Republic, Manhattan, Kansas, Women to Lawrence Next, Mrs. C. A. Kimbell and Mrs. Spencer Re-Elected, May 16, 1912, Page 1
The Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, Society, June 29, 1912
The Topeka Daily Capital, Topeka Kansas, Saw the Good Results in Campaign of 1896, October 27, 1912, Page 17
The Topeka Daily Capital, Topeka Kansas, History of Good Government Club; It Was Organized a Dozen Years Ago to Work for Suffrage, October 27, 2012, Page 18
The Topeka Daily Capital, Of 13 Lobbyists Registered, 8 are women working to secure Passage of Suffrage Bill, January 14, 1911, Page 1
The Topeka Daily Capital, Topeka Kansas, In Society, April 23, 1913, Page 6
Harper, Ida Husted, History of Woman Suffrage 1922, volume VI, p. 195, 206 [LINK]
The Topeka Daily Capital, Topeka, Kansas, Mrs. Marshall Slated for Parole Officer, June 29, 1913, Page 1
The Topeka State Journal, Topeka Kansas, Remove Parole Board Demands Woman Leader; Emma Sells Marshall in Challenge to Governor Capper, May 3, 1916, Page 1
https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=113108145, accessed September 26, 2017, image of Emma Sells Marshall Grave Marker at Mount Hope Cemetery in Topeka, Kansas