Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Clara Moore Sherley Tower, 1869-1949
By Emmett Ball, student-researcher, University of Montana, Missoula, MT
Clubwoman, Socialite, Suffragist
Clara Moore Sherley was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in July 1869. Her father, Thomas H. Sherley, was born in Kentucky and worked as a wholesale liquor salesman, while her mother Ella Sherley, also of Kentucky, “kept house.” Clara Sherley had four siblings, all graduates of Louisville High School. One brother, Joseph Sherley, became a successful lawyer and a Democratic Congressman in Kentucky. In the early 1890s, while living in Kentucky, Clara Sherley joined the Women's Relief Corps, an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). While she was in the Women's Relief Corps, a patriotic and pro-suffrage organization, she became renowned for her skills as an event coordinator, interior decorator, and hostess.
Clara Moore Sherley spent the better part of 1903 visiting Butte, Montana, where she met Burt Adams Tower. The two were married in Kentucky on June 1, 1904. Burt Tower was a graduate of Harvard, and he was employed as a mining engineer with the Montana Ore Purchasing Company. His older brother, George W. Tower, Jr., had married Clara B. Tower, who served as the president of the Montana Suffrage Association from 1902-1906. According to the History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6, both women were involved in the state's suffrage efforts.
In 1909, Clara and Burt Tower relocated to Dillon, Montana, for mining business. “Mrs. Burt Adams Tower,” as the newspapers often referred to her, was a well-regarded community member, as a socialite and chaperone. The Tower home, named Silverwood, became a gathering place for teen parties, Christian clubs, and Clara Tower's weekly dance lessons, all of which were regularly advertised in the local newspapers.
Clara Tower also continued to engage in social reform and suffrage activities. In 1914, Tower enrolled at Montana State Normal College in Dillon (now, University of Montana Western). She earned a degree in domestic science. While enrolled in the program, Tower was appointed by Montana Governor, Sam V. Stewart, to appear as the Montana delegate to the fourteenth annual Vocational Art and Industrial Federation convention, held in Chicago. Later that year, Montana adopted woman suffrage. Early in 1915, she participated in a play entitled “Mrs. Pipp the Suffragette,” playing the lead role, Mrs. Pipp. The Dillon Tribune described it as “one of the best home talent plays ever staged in this city.” In 1916, Tower joined the Montana Women for Woodrow Wilson Club, a branch of the national Woman's Woodrow Wilson League. Tower served as the club's treasurer, presumably participating in fundraising campaigns and public outreach.
In 1924, the Towers sold their home and relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii. Clara Tower became the official story teller for Oahu's playgrounds under the city-county recreation division. According to her obituary in a Hawaiian newspaper: “She was famous for her apparently limitless store of folk tales, fairy tales, legends, and anecdotes.”
Clara Moore Sherley Tower died May 14, 1949. Her funeral was held in the historic St. Andrew's Cathedral on Oahu. She was seventy-one years old.
“Beautiful June Wedding.” Butte Miner (Butte, MT). June 12, 1904, p.16. Newspapers.com.
“Coming Important Event.” Butte Daily Post (Butt, MT). April 23, 1904, p.9. Newspapers.com.
“Governor Wilson a Reactionary?” Dillon Tribune (Dillon, MT). October 18, 1912, p.3. Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053040/1912-10-18/ed-1/seq-3/
Grand Army of the Republic. Journal of the Twenty-Ninth National Encampment, Grand Army of the Republic, Louisville, KY, September 11th, 12th, and 13th, 1895. Rockford, IL: Frank S. Horner Printing Co., 1895, p.454. Google Books.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. “Montana,” chapter XXV in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, pp. 360-367. [LINK]
“Local Department.” Dillon Examiner (Dillon, MT). October 14, 1914, col.3, p.3. Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053034/1914-10-14/ed-1/seq-3/.
“Normal [School] Notes.” Dillon Tribune (Dillon, MT). December 5, 1913, p.12. Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053040/1913-12-05/ed-1/seq-12/.
“Mrs. Burt Adams Tower is Called.” Dillon Examiner (Dillon, MT). May 25, 1949, p.1. Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053034/1949-05-25/ed-1/seq-1/.
“Mrs. Pipp, The Suffragette.” Dillon Tribune (Dillon, MT). February 12, 1915, p.5. Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053040/1915-02-12/ed-1/seq-5/.
“Mrs. Tower Honored.” Dillon Tribune (Dillon, MT). October 9, 1914, p.7. Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053040/1914-10-09/ed-1/seq-7/.
“Mrs. Tower, Teller of Children's Tales, Dies.” Honolulu Advertiser. May 15, 1949, Final Ed., p.1. Newspapers.com.
Sherley, Joseph Swagar. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present. House Office of History and Preservation and the Senate Office of the Historian. Accessed May 22, 2019. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=S000343.
United States Census 1870, 1880, 1900, s.v. “Clara Sherley, Louisville, KY.” Ancestry Library Edition.
United States Census 1880, s.v. “Adelbert Tower, Cambridge, MA.” Ancestry Library Edition.
United States Census 1910, s.v. “Clara M. Tower, Twin Bridges, MT.” Ancestry Library Edition.
United States Census 1920, s.v. “Clara M.S. Tower, Butte, MT.” Ancestry Library Edition.
United States Census 1930, 1940, s.v. “Clara Tower, Honolulu, HI.” Ancestry Library Edition.
Western Montana College of Education. “Seventeenth Annual Catalogue, 1913-1914.” Bulletin of the Montana State Normal College 15, no.4 (Jun3 1914), p.40. InternetArchive. https://archive.org/details/annualcatalogueo191314west/page/42.
“Wilson Club is Organized.” Dillon Examiner (Dillon, MT). October 11, 1916, p.2. Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053034/1916-10-11/ed-1/seq-2/.