Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Elizabeth Colley, 1840-1925
By Laura Ellyn Smith
Vermont Woman Suffrage Association: President; Treasurer
Miss Elizabeth Colley was born in Sanbornton, New Hampshire on January 21, 1840 to parents Richard Colley and Martha C. Clark. For fifty years she lived in Waterbury, Vermont and as a single white woman, she earned a living for herself as a teacher, and following the closure of her school in 1906, by running a local hotel, the Green Mountain Lodge. As the principal of Green Mountain Seminary and Minard Commercial College in Waterbury Center, Colley's name was in newspaper advertisements for her school. Colley oversaw the education of pupils at this Free Will Baptist school, which was often simply referred to as Green Mountain Seminary. Colley's experience as a teacher and principal likely increased her prestige in a state where she was widely respected and provided her with the confidence and experience in public speaking that was central to her involvement in the suffrage movement and her role in other reform movements.
For over two decades, beginning in the late 1880s, Colley's activism is mentioned in Vermont newspapers, demonstrating both her prominence in the suffrage movement and the longevity of her activism. Following the defeat of a woman's suffrage bill in the Vermont Senate after passing the House in 1893, Colley made an address to the New England Women's Suffrage Association during their mid-year convention, held in Burlington. A decade later, Colley was the Vermont Suffrage Officer for Waterbury Center; in 1905 she was listed as the vice president for the county; and in 1906 Colley was again recognized by the New England Women's Suffrage Association.
During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Colley's stature in the suffrage movement in Vermont and the wider region of New England was apparent through her consistent election to leadership positions. In 1911 she was an elected Vermont vice president within the New England Women's Suffrage Association. Colley's leadership is further apparent by the publication of a quote from her included in an article entitled “Vermonters on Equal Suffrage” in The St. Johnsbury Caledonian in 1904. The article quotes Colley as saying, “I believe the enfranchisement of woman is required by honor and justice to her, as a citizen; and is essential to the development of social and political righteousness, in our great republic.” Colley's election as president of the Vermont Woman Suffrage Association (VWSA) in 1900 recognized her leadership in the suffrage movement.
Beyond the VWSA, there were other reform movements in which Colley was involved. She was also president of the Vermont branch of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) in 1888. The intertwined nature of the suffrage and temperance movements is evident in how meetings concerning woman's suffrage (specifically in 1893 and 1900) included mention of the W.C.T.U. and prohibition in Vermont.
Later in her life, Colley was also involved in the Grand Army of the Republic Woman's Relief Corps. In 1903 she had served as vice president and was a delegate to the department convention, in 1909 she acted as their conductor, and in 1913 as their chaplain. Additionally, Colley demonstrated both her experience of giving addresses and her religiosity by addressing the Vermont Bible Society in 1893. Colley's years of activism declined as she aged and on February 2, 1925 she succumbed to what her death certificate describes as an “apoplexy cerebral embolism” (hemorrhage).
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Ancestry.com. New Hampshire, Death and Disinterment Records, 1754-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.
Ancestry.com. Vermont, Death Records, 1909-2008 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce. Waterbury Town Library. Barre, VT. 2011 http://2016.centralvt.com/towns/library/Waterby.htm
“Green Mountain Seminary and Minard Commercial School,” Burlington Clipper, August 1, 1889, p. 4.
“A Week in Burlington,” Burlington Clipper, October 13, 1893, p. 4.
“Vermont Suffrage Officers,” Burlington Clipper, July 18, 1903, p. 3.
“Waterbury Centre,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, March 16, 1888, p. 8.
“Waterbury Center,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, April 24, 1902, p. 7.
“Woman's Suffrage Convention,” The Burlington Independent, October 7, 1893, p. 4.
“News of the State,” The Cambridge Transcript, October 20, 1893, p. 2.
“Woman's Suffrage Convention,” The Chester Advertiser, June 17, 1905, p. 1.
“Waterbury Center,” The Daily Journal (Montpelier, VT), June 19, 1900, p. 2.
“Waterbury Center,” The Daily Journal (Montpelier, VT), December 23, 1902, p. 2.
“Waterbury Center,” The Daily Journal (Montpelier, VT), January 9, 1903, p. 3.
“Vermont News,” Deerfield Valley Times, May 25, 1906, p. 4.
“The Women Suffragists,” The Londonderry Sifter, July 7, 1893, p. 1.
“Green Mountain Seminary and International Business College,” Montpelier Daily Record, February 4, 1899, p. 4.
“Waterbury Weavings,” Montpelier Evening Argus, June 14, 1900, p. 2.
“Waterbury Center,” Montpelier Evening Argus, January 12, 1909, p. 7.
“Waterbury Center,” Montpelier Evening Argus, January 7, 1913, p. 2.
“Green Mountain Seminary and Minard Commercial School,” The Northfield News, July 24, 1889, p. 8.
“Green Mountain Seminary and Minard Commercial School,” The Northfield News, April 30, 1890, p. 2.
“Waterbury Center,” The Northfield News, July 13, 1892, p. 5.
“State of Vermont,” The Northfield News, June 6, 1911, p. 7.
“Woman's Suffrage Convention,” St. Johnsbury Caledonian, July 12, 1895, p. 1.
“New England Briefs,” St. Johnsbury Caledonian, June 20, 1900, p. 7.
“Vermonters on Equal Suffrage,” St. Johnsbury Caledonian, August 10, 1904, p. 2.
Image of Miss Elizabeth Colley as principal of Green Mountain Seminary and Minard Commercial School (below). Photo credited to Waterbury, VT Historical Society.