Biographical Sketch of Katrina Brandes Ely Tiffany

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Katrina Brandes Ely Tiffany, 1875-1927

By Chelsea Gibson, Visiting Assistant Professor, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY

President of the New York State College Equal Suffrage League. Treasurer of the Empire State Campaign Committee. Chair of the New York City Woman Suffrage Party, Manhattan Borough. Chairman of the War Service Committee, NAWSA.

Katrina Brandes Ely Tiffany was born on March 25, 1875 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Her father, Theodore Newell Ely, was a prominent engineer who pioneered an innovative steam locomotive engine while working at the Pennsylvania Railroad. Henrietta van Siden Brandes Ely, her mother, was born into a well-known family in Erie, Pennsylvania and passed away young at just thirty-four. She therefore grew up in comfort, something that continued after her 1901 marriage to Charles Lewis Tiffany, grandson of the famous Louis Comfort Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co.

Before her marriage, Tiffany graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1897 and remained very active in the alumni association, later becoming the New York City branch president of the Bryn Mawr Club. After marrying into a wealthy family, she quickly used her social standing to support charitable causes. She frequently contributed to the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, serving on the Executive Committee, and also volunteered at the Sunnyside Day Nursery. One of her favorite pastimes was golf, and she served as the president of the Women's Metropolitan Golf Association in the late 1800s.

The New York Times later remembered Tiffany as "one of the best known of New York's suffragettes" and she indeed became a dedicated activist for women's right to vote. In 1911, she joined a week-long woman suffrage fast organized by the NYC Woman Suffrage Party. The fast had women abstain from anything unnecessary for survival and donate the saved money to suffrage work in California, which was facing a suffrage vote that October. In 1912, she participated in the famous suffrage parade in New York City, which drew over 20,000 women. She continued to march in parades regularly until New York women won the vote in 1917.

Tiffany notably supported the suffrage cause without the support of either her husband or her father-in-law. One story from her classmate Frances Arnold describes her marching proudly in a New York suffrage parade carrying "a large flag much too heavy for most, which a mocking wind tried continually to wrest from her determined hands." From above, watching the parade was Tiffany's "unconverted husband... look[ing] sorrowfully down from the window."

Tiffany held many positions in the suffrage movement. She served as the President of the College Equal Suffrage League for five years and the recording secretary of the New York City Woman Suffrage Party, for which she also lead the 27th District. In 1915 she was also the treasurer of the Empire State Campaign Committee.

Perhaps her most notable work came during the First World War, when she helped to organize the Women's Overseas Hospitals Unit, a mobile unit fully staffed by US women doctors. The unit was organized jointly between NAWSA and the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in December 1917. The American Army refused women's service, and so the unit worked with the French Army. Tiffany served as the chairman of the fund-raising and advisory committees for the unit, helping to raise $133,000. She also served as the chairman of NAWSA's War Service Committee. Notably, her two sisters, Gertrude Sumner Ely and Henrietta Brandes Ely, also sympathetic to suffrage, also volunteered for the war effort. The two women ran an American Red Cross canteen in France and Getrude later won two Croix de Guerre from the French government for her bravery under fire.

Following the war, Tiffany worked to realize Woodrow Wilson's promise to "make the world safe for democracy." She worked for the ratification of the League of Nations. She later helped establish a $50,000 fund in honor of Woodrow Wilson in 1927. The winner, man or woman, had to write an essay about "What Woodrow WIlson Means to Me." In 1919, she founded the National Social Unit organization, which aimed to Americanize foreign immigrants by teaching them democracy with "love, brotherhood, and 100 per cent cooperation." She continued international activism through the 1920s, serving as the president of the Internal Migration Bureau and director of the Foreign Policy Association.

She served as the regional director of the League of Women Voters in the 1920s. She also became a passionate member of the Democratic Party and worked closely with the women's division of the Democratic State Committee of New York.

When Tiffany died unexpectedly from pneumonia on March 11, 1927, a friend remembered her "fighting qualities." Carrie Chapman Catt, speaking at her funeral, declared that Tiffany was "the best example I know of what a good citizen should be."


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"Mrs. Charles L. Tiffany," The Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 March 1927, 33.

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"Wilson Essay Fund Donors Announced," The New York Times, 30 January 1927, 14.

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