Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ella A. Kilborn, 1868-1935
By Melissa Morataya, SUNY Old Westbury, Faculty Sponsor, Carol Quirke
Corresponding Secretary, Arlington, New Jersey, New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, 1907-1911.
Ella A. Kilborn was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on November 20, 1868. Her birth name was Ella Evarts Atwater. Kilborn was born to Cornelia Augusta Evarts and Edward Daniel Atwater, a civil engineer. Kilborn's father was the first to use a solar compass and the town of Atwater, Minnesota was named after him. In 1903, Ella married Daniel Parker Kilborn at her mother's home in Brooklyn, NY, at the age of 34, which was older than typical for marriage at that date. According to the Burlington Free Press, the newly wedded couple moved to Arlington, New Jersey after their honeymoon in the South. There are no records of any children or divorce between the couple. Kilborn resided in New York from about 1889 to 1903, and then moved to New Jersey beginning in 1903. It is not certain what year she returned to New York where she lived until her death in 1935.
Little is known about Kilborn's early childhood and education. However, records show Kilborn attended the University of Vermont, following in her father and grandfather's footsteps. She graduated with the class of 1889, being one of only two women in this class of seventeen. Then Kilborn studied in Heidelberg, Germany for from 1889 to 1890. To pursue a higher education as a woman was rare at this time, and extremely difficult to do in the U.S. Upon her return, records of the Catalogue of the University of Vermont indicate she became an assistant librarian at the University of Vermont. Kilborn next became a teacher at the Brooklyn Manual Training High School in 1899, according to the Middle States Association and Secondary Schools. Kilborn then became an assistant to the principal. She was forced to make a claim of $4,000 in back pay in 1904, a year after she married. This was not unusual as women were often let go from their public-school jobs after marriage, and New York school teachers made this a women's rights issue early in the 20th century.
Mrs. Kilborn was nominated in 1906 to be treasurer of the Arlington, New Jersey Woman's Literacy Club. The following year, in 1907, Mrs. Kilborn was named corresponding secretary of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association at the annual state suffrage convention. That year's convention was held in a “public library in Newark and it was voted to petition Congress for a Federal Suffrage Amendment.” Kilborn articulated women's electoral advances in Arlington in the 1908 “Fortieth Annual Report of the National American Woman Suffrage Association,” noting that Arlington had “elected a woman to the local school board.” The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association also set up a contest, which consisted of writing an essay that favored women's suffrage, for high school students. This contest was held to reach out to younger people and bring attention to women's suffrage. The contest spread to upstate New York and winners were announced during commencements. According to the History of Woman Suffrage, the next year ushered in a leadership change, though references to Kilborn as Corresponding Secretary can be found in the Bridgewater Courier News through 1910.
Ella A. Kilborn died February 8, 1935. Her name appears on two separate headstones in two separate locations, in the Lakeview Cemetery in Burlington, Vermont, and in the Derby Center Cemetery in Derby, Vermont, hence, the location of her burial is unknown.
Atwater, Francis. Atwater History. The Journal Press, 1918.
Bennet, James Gordan, “Lively Election for Arlington Woman's Club,” New York Herald, March 11, 1906, https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030313/1906-03-11/ed-1/?sp=48&st=text
“Catalogue of the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College.” University of Vermont. 1891-92. Accessed April 19, 2018.
Destromp, Barb "Ella Evarts Atwater Kilborn (1868-1935) - Find A..." Find A Grave. July 20, 2014. Accessed April 19, 2018. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/133064540
U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600's-Current. ancestry.com website. Accessed April 19, 2018. https://search.ancestry.com/cgibin/sse.dll?db=1930usfedcen&indiv=try&h=40617096.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage. Vols. V and VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
“Marriage of Former Burlington Girl.” The Burlington Free Press, November 24, 1903. https://www.newspapers.com/image/197292116/?terms=ella+atwater+kilborn
"Proceedings of the ... Annual Convention of the Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools in the Middle States and Maryland." Google Books. 1898. Accessed April 19, 2018.
“State Woman Suffrage Association Chooses Officers for the Coming Year, The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), November 21, 1908.
“State Suffrage Annual Meeting, The Courier-News, November 1, 1910.
Vermont, University of. Ariel vol. 002. University of Vermont Libraries, 1889.