Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Elizabeth Sims Brownlow, 1884-1966
By L. Karen Darner, Arlington League of Women Voters and Arlington Branch of the American Association of University Women
It may seem a bit unusual, but the importance of Elizabeth Sims Brownlow in the events that led to the passage of the 19th Amendment, Woman's Suffrage, should never be considered minimal. She truly may have changed history. If you were to search for her in Wikipedia, it will reference her husband, Louis Brownlow, or her father, Representative Thetus Sims of Tennessee. She is nonexistent, unless you request an entry to be made. That is an injustice to this particular suffragist, Elizabeth Sims Brownlow, of Washington, DC.
She was born December 1, 1884, and died eighty two years later, approximately four years after her husband, Louis Brownlow, a political writer and long-time presidential advisor on administrative management. Surprisingly, the two, who married in 1909, were both involved in the suffrage quest, but definitely on opposite sides of the issue.
Elizabeth Sims Brownlow was the third president of the DC Equal Franchise League, one of a number of branches throughout the United States that was formed to organize and pass national legislation to give women the right to vote. In 1908 when the first league was formed in New York City, primarily wealthy women were members, and they became politically active on behalf of women's suffrage in what was considered to be a "more comfortable milieu." A founder of the New York group, Katherine Duer Mackay, had envisioned a membership that included working-class women as well as upper-class women, who would work together for women's suffrage in one organization, beginning with New York. The League also invited anti-suffragists to meet with them for the purposes of debate during scheduled meetings and rallies. The DC branch was quite similar, and Mrs. Brownlow was their leader.
Various accounts document Elizabeth Brownlow's suffrage activism. In January 1917 she and her husband were listed as patrons of a suffrage meeting at which Ida Husted Harper spoke. After the United States' entrance into World War I, Mrs. Brownlow led the League's founding of a Red Cross branch at its DC headquarters. She also helped to organize a series of suffrage teas sponsored by the Equal Franchise League in early 1918.
The decade of the 1910s saw increased public demonstrations for woman suffrage that culminated in picketing of the White House. Between 1917 and 1919 almost 200 of the White House protestors, organized by the National Woman's Party, were arrested, principally charged with obstruction of traffic. As DC Commissioner, Louis Brownlow, though supportive of the concept of woman suffrage, was the person who ordered the arrests.
Elizabeth's father, Thetus Sims, was a member of Congress, representing a district in Tennessee. In 1915 Thetus Sims voted "NO" on the constitutional amendment that would have given women the right to vote. In 1918, when the vote was taken once again, Thetus Sims surprisingly cast an "AYE" vote, joining the majority. What had changed his mind? Not "What", but "Who" – Elizabeth Sims Brownlow, his daughter.
Continuing the legacy of Congressman Sims, it is noted the day the Nineteenth Amendment passed in the Senate, it had to be discharged to the states for ratification. On his way to the Capitol, he fell and broke his collarbone, and instead of seeking medical assistance, he continued to his seat where he cast the deciding vote for discharge, 174-136, with 17 voting "present." His daughter's persuasive powers gave the nation a chance to ratify a woman's right to vote. In fact, her father referred to her as "his iron jawed angel daughter" and he voted for women.
Elizabeth Brownlow and her husband endured this "bump in the road" of their marriage. Louis was subsequently named city manager of Petersburg, Virginia and they moved there together in 1920. By 1930 the couple, who had no children, had moved to Fair Lawn, NJ, where Louis was recorded as a real estate advisor. In 1940 the couple lived in Chicago where Louis worked as a Public Administrator. No death record has been found for Elizabeth Brownlow.
The account of the vote by Congressman Thetus Sims in 1918 was posted in Tennessee history on September 19, 2019 by Tom Humphrey, former News Sentinel Nashville bureau chief.
Elizabeth Sims Brownlow's civic activism on behalf of woman suffrage was noted in the 1917 Woman Citizen. Although she was not mentioned specifically, the History of Woman Suffrage 1900-1920, published in 1922, details the activities and events critical to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Wikipedia provided supporting information concerning the founding of the Equal Franchise League and activity on behalf of women's suffrage.