Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lily Wilkinson Thompson, 1867-1942
By Heather M. Kuzma, Independent Historian
Woman Suffrage Activist
Lily Gabrielle Wilkinson was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi on March 9, 1867. She was the daughter of William Clemments and Gabrielle Flowers (Barnes) Wilkinson. Her father was an immigrant from Ireland who worked as a merchant. Her mother was a native Mississippian. She attended Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi graduating in 1884. On February 18, 1891 she married Charles H. Thompson in Grenada, Mississippi. During the first years of their marriage the couple continued to live in Copiah County as Charles worked as a travelling salesman.
By 1910, Charles was working as an insurance agent in Jackson, Mississippi. The Thompsons set up residence in Jackson with their four surviving children, James Wilkinson (b. 1894), Primrose (b. 1896), Cynthia (b.1904) and Sarah Summers (b. 1907). Upon moving to Jackson, Lily Thompson became an active member of the community. She served in leadership roles in several organizations including the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Chaminade Club. She was an especially active member in the local and state suffrage movement, a cause she supported even when living in Copiah County. Thompson was an avid writer on many topics and used this interest to further the suffrage cause.
Thompson's involvement with the suffrage movement began even prior to the creation of a state suffrage association with her involvement in the suffrage movement of her home town, Crystal Springs. At the birth of the statewide organization in 1897, Thompson served as corresponding secretary. Thompson held many leadership roles throughout the duration of the statewide organization, the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). When the association was reorganized in 1906, she became treasurer. Her longest running role was superintendent of the press. She first assumed this role in 1907.
As superintendent of the press, Thompson published many articles in local newspapers. When Thompson was first elected to the role, she wrote to most of the editors in the state. She was successful in convincing twenty-one of those editors to discuss suffrage in their papers. In one of her early articles published in September 1907, she wrote:
“As long as Mississippi women have access to the tax list, and the penitentiary, may they not justly have access to the polls? Would not the ballot in the hands of women afford them the quickest, quietest, most dignified method of effecting legislation, for is not an ounce of voting worth a pound of petitioning?”
Moving up the ranks of the MWSA, Thompson was elected vice president in 1908. Her involvement with the press, however, continued even with her increased leadership role in the suffrage association. By 1909, Thompson was writing a weekly column in the Jackson Daily News. At this time, Thompson became very active in supporting the local suffrage movement in Jackson. She helped establish The Equity League, the local Jackson organization and served as president at its inception in 1911.
In 1912, Thompson was elected president of MWSA, but declined re-election in 1913 citing demands at home. Even so, Thompson continued to be an outspoken leader for the cause including speaking in front of the Mississippi House of Representatives on January 22, 1914. Of the women who spoke that day, Kate Power of the Jackson News wrote: “England may prefer her brand of suffragists, but it is with our own gently-bred ladies in the lead that the South will ere long achieve the ends for which she aims.”
In the following years, Thompson focused her efforts on the movement in Jackson serving in various leadership roles in The Equity League and as MWSA District President for Jackson. As the suffrage amendment became a possibility, Thompson worked with the MWSA's Ratification Committee that was created in 1919. She took responsibility for the Jackson press and wrote prolifically in support of ratification until the amendment was successful.
Not only was Thompson involved, but her family also took part in the woman suffrage movement. In November 1907, the Thompsons hosted a five-day conference at their home. Mr. Thompson was one of only three men in attendance. Their children also took active roles. Thompson's daughters were often present at the meetings supporting their mother and providing entertainment. At the state convention in 1913, Thompson's daughter, Sarah Summers, read a statement titled “Equal Suffrage Baby” to the audience. Primrose Thompson also participated in this meeting serving as an usher and presenting a “Votes for Women” apron to the speaker, Mrs. Royden Douglass.
Thompson was dedicated to preserving the history of the movement and greatly contributed to the Mississippi chapter in History of Woman Suffrage Vol. VI (pp. 326-341) [LINK]. Thompson passed away in 1942. After her death, her papers and memorabilia were archived at the University of Mississippi with access to many online at http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/suffrage.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Equity Minutes 1911-1914. Lily Thompson Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. <http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/243>
Equity Minutes 1915-1916. Lily Thompson Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. <http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/176/rec/7 >
Harper, Ida Husted. History of Woman Suffrage.Vol. VI (1900-1920) New York, N.Y., 1922. pp. 326-341 [LINK]
Report of the Organization of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. Meridian, Mississippi, May 5, 1897. Lily Thompson Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. <http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/6/rec/19>
Ballots for Both: Thirteenth Annual Convention of Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. Court House, Starkville, April 13-14, 1917. Lily Thompson Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. <http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/121/rec/1>
“THOMPSON, Lily Wilkinson.” Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915, ed. by John William Leonard. New York, NY: American Commonwealth Company, 1914. pp. 813 [LINK]
“Woman's Suffrage and the Solons.” The Lexington Advertiser. (Lexington, Miss.), Jan. 23, 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024271/1914-01-23/ed-1/seq-3/>
“Women Are Wanting a Say.” Hattiesburg Daily News. (Hattiesburg, Miss.), Sept. 11, 1907. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065163/1907-09-11/ed-1/seq-6/>
Year: 1880; Census Place: Crystal Springs, Copiah, Mississippi; Roll: 646; Page: 253A; Enumeration District: 026
Year: 1900; Census Place: Beat 5, Copiah, Mississippi; Page: 9; Enumeration District: 0047; FHL microfilm: 1240806
Year: 1910; Census Place: Jackson Ward 1, Hinds, Mississippi; Roll: T624_742; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0017; FHL microfilm: 1374755