Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Elizabeth Pauline Alston Clark, 1870-1944
By Elizabeth La Beaud, Assistant Director of the Mississippi Digital Library
Woman Civic and Suffrage Activist
Elizabeth Pauline Alston was born on April 2, 1870, in Panola County, near Batesville, Mississippi, to Philip Summerfield Alston (1831-1892) and Sarah Allen Cooper (1842-1932). “Polly” was educated in private schools including Miss Woodward's in Batesville, Mississippi; Mrs. Lancaster's School in Oxford, Mississippi; the renowned Higbee School in Memphis, Tennessee; and the Boston Conservancy of Music. She married Walter Clark (1860-1930), son of John Clark, the founder of Clarksdale, Mississippi, on November 14, 1894. Together they had four children: John Alston (1896-1975), Walter Jr. (1901-1902), Pauline Alston (1905-1991), and Philip Alston (1911-1976).
Clark's extensive public service record began during World War I. She served as the Vice-chairman of the Clarksdale and Coahoma County Chapter of the Red Cross (1917), the Chairman of Nursing Committee of the Red Cross, and the County Chairman of the Woman's Council of Defense, for which she received a Certificate of Appreciation from Washington. Clark also actively participated in various clubs. She was a charter member of the Clarksdale Woman's Club, Auditor of the Mississippi Federation of Women's Clubs, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, secretary of the Kings Daughters Club, and a member of the Colonial Dames of Mississippi.
After the war, Clark continued her public service by holding a number of public offices; and she was the first woman in Coahoma County to do so. She served on the Clarksdale City School Board of Trustees and the Clarksdale Hospital Board of Trustees in 1922, the State Democratic Executive Committee from 1924 to 1928, the County Congressional Executive Committee in 1928, and the Board of Trustees of the Mid-South Fair in Memphis, Tennessee.
Perhaps her most unsung contributions are those in support of women voters. It is unclear exactly when Clark became involved in the suffrage movement. Her efforts are documented as early as 1898 where she is noted in the minutes of the first annual Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association as the President of the Third Congressional District. Later that year, the Clarksdale Equal Suffrage Club was organized on May 7, 1898, with Clark listed as a founding member and as the Corresponding and Recording Secretary.
In 1899, she helped organize the state convention of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association in Clarksdale, Mississippi, at which she was elected Corresponding Secretary. Between 1899 and 1920, Clark held various offices in the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association including Secretary (1903) and Corresponding Secretary (1908), as well as serving on multiple committees and forming and serving as President of the Clarksdale Suffrage League (1917). In 1919, she served as a committee member of the Mississippi Ratification Committee in support of the national amendment. And on August 20, 1920, Clark became the second woman in the state of Mississippi to register to vote.
Clark continued to advocate for women voters by helping to form the Mississippi League of Women Voters in June 1920 and serving as the Congressional District chairman for the fourth district (Clarksdale). She also formed the League of Women Voters in Coahoma County and served as its president. In 1922, she became the president of the Mississippi League of Women Voters and organized the annual convention in Clarksdale. In her opening remarks Clark stated:
“To those who have long believed in the justice and wisdom of giving the privilege of suffrage to women has come one of the most satisfying experiences given to humanity, that of seeing their belief become an established fact adopted by the world. The keenest pleasure to me has been that young women have taken up the burden of carrying on and are busy now helping to train the most intelligent body of new voters the world has ever known.”
As expected, Clark was heavily involved with every convention held in Clarksdale (1899, 1922, and 1927), but in 1927 she turned her attention to running for the Mississippi House of Representatives to which she was elected. In her campaigning efforts, she declared herself as a homemaker. On May 20, 1927, the Yazoo Herald rightly commented, “Mrs. Walter Clark of Clarksdale listed as ‘housewife' though that word, omnibus as it is in meaning, by no means covers the varied field of her talents and activities...”
After leaving the legislature in 1932, Clark again became active in the Red Cross and the Clarksdale Hospital Board of Trustees. On March 14, 1944, Clark suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 74. The local Red Cross closed to honor her memory stating “Mrs. Clark has given unstintingly of her time, her interest and her energy...she gave everything.”
Clark, P.A. (n.d.). Unpublished Survey. Folder 8.11, Southern Women Legislators Collection, Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library, The University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Library Commission. (1980). Women of the Mississippi Legislature. Retrieved from https://cdm17313.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/mpc/id/111
Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. (1898). Minutes of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. Clarksdale, Mississippi: Clarksdale Challenge Print. Retrieved from http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/25/rec/8
Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. (1899). Minutes of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. Clarksdale, Mississippi: Clarksdale Challenge Print. Retrieved from http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/suffrage/id/50/rec/6
Worley, B.T. (1922). Rally of League of Women Voters Success. In Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters, Vol. 1, 22.
(1920). Mrs. Waldrop and Mrs. Clark first in registration. From Clippings of Newspapers filed in Carnegie Library, Clarksdale Mississippi.
(1944). Red Cross will honor memory of Mrs. Clark Thurs. From Clippings of Newspapers filed in Carnegie Library, Clarksdale Mississippi.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. The History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, p. 328. [LINK]