Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Dorcas Chamberlain (Mrs. Charles) McLellan, 1830-1903
By Joan Alexander, Glover Historical Society
Vermont Woman Suffrage Association: Benefactor
Dorcas Chamberlin McLellan left $150 to the Vermont Woman Suffrage Association in her will when she died in Glover, Vermont in 1903. It doesn't sound like much today, but it would have meant almost $4,000 in today's money; a tidy sum.
One might assume that this benefactress must have been heavily involved in the suffrage movement, locally and at the state level, to have made this bequest. But after scouring historic local newspapers for reports of suffrage meetings and events, her name was not to be found. Glover was a small town in 1903, in the rural northeast corner of Vermont, and yet Glover hosted two state-wide VWSA conventions. Glover women (and men) were noted in the newspaper accounts, as early as 1884, as speakers, organizers, debaters, and petition gatherers for the suffrage cause. Dorcas's only recorded link to the movement, besides the legacy in her will, is her active membership in the women's group of Glover's Universalist church: it was the church's Women's Mite Society that hosted the VWSA conventions.
No, Dorcas was not one of the movers and shakers of the suffrage movement whose name was chronicled in the newspaper. Instead, she represents the everyday women who supported the cause and made a difference in the strength of their numbers. Her own life experiences, quite ordinary, would have given her, and thousands like her, the motivation to support the movement.
There are few known details of Dorcas's early life. But from her marriage and death certificates, census records, and her obituary, some facts about her life as a young girl and woman emerge. Born in 1830 in Littleton, New Hampshire to Reuben and Mercy (Wright) Chamberlain, she had eleven siblings. As a young woman she worked at textile mills in Somersworth, NH.
She did not marry until she was in her thirties, and surely knew the difficulties of being a woman on her own. She had relatives and neighbors who had unhappy or tragic ends to their marriages and were sometimes left with children they could not care for. She and her husband, Charles McLellan, a successful farmer, raised three girls whom they took in; two were Dorcas's relatives and one was a neighbor. Dorcas would have seen first-hand how women were not given the same opportunities, pay, protections, or rights as were men. She would recognize that gaining the right to vote was a step towards equality.
The newspaper's gossip columns show that Dorcas was very active in the Ladies' Mite Society and the Women's Relief Corp. She visited family often. “A kind neighbor and true friend,” was how her obituary phrased it. Like all the other everyday women who backed the suffrage movement, her support made a difference. And because she had a little extra money in her purse at the end of her life, she had a little legacy to leave to a cause she felt important. It was the only organization outside the village of Glover that she chose to remember.
Census records: for Somersworth, NH: (Year: 1850; Census Place: Somersworth, Strafford, New Hampshire; Roll: M432_439; Page: 171A; Image: 355); Sheffield, VT: (Year: 1870; Census Place: Sheffield, Caledonia, Vermont; Roll: M593_1616; Page: 172A; Family History Library Film: 553115. Year: 1880; Census Place: Sheffield, Caledonia, Vermont; Roll: 1342; Page: 149D; Enumeration District: 052); and Glover, VT (Year: 1900; Census Place: Glover, Orleans, Vermont; Roll: 1693; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0166; FHL microfilm: 1241693), all accessed on Ancestry.com in March and April, 2018.
Marriage and Death records for Dorcas McLellan, (Vermont, Vital Records, 1720-1908) accessed on Ancestry.com, March 2018.
Dorcas McLellan's will: recorded in the Glover, VT land records, Vol. 16, pages 341-344, accessed May, 2018.
Local newspaper items about suffrage, and the McLellans, 1884-1904 were found in the Orleans County Monitor, published weekly in Barton, VT, 1872-1953; Argus & Patriot, published weekly in Montpelier, VT, 1863-1920; St. Johnsbury Caledonian, published weekly in St. Johnsbury, VT, 1867-1919. Dorcas's obituary was in the Monitor on Nov 2, 1903 issue. Accessed February-April, 2018 on GenealogyBank.com and the Library of Congress Chronicling America website: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/.
Ladies Mite Society, Universalist Church in Glover, VT, book of minutes, 1876-1884; accession number 2015.4.5. Glover Historical Society Museum, Glover, VT. Accessed in February, 2018.