Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth A. Murray Wardall

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Elizabeth A. Murray Wardall, 1848-1916

By Erin Hvizdak, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Washington State University

Elizabeth A. Murray Wardall (also listed as Libby, Libbie, or with first initial L. instead of E.; Wardall is also spelled Wardell in some documents) was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1848 to Edward Murray and his wife. On October 14, 1868, Elizabeth married Alonzo Wardall in Osage, Iowa. The 1880 census lists Alonzo as a farmer and Elizabeth as a housekeeper, with several children: Anna, Norman, Ray, and Max, and living in Township 120 Range 50 in Grant County of the Dakota territory. The 1900 census has the family living at 118 E 9th Street in Kansas City, Kansas, with all four children still living at home. Alonzo is listed as an insurance inspector. The Wardalls lived in South Dakota from about 1879-1893 and then lived in Kansas for about a decade before moving to Seattle. Wardall became a Theosophist while in Kansas. The 1910 census lists Elizabeth and Alonzo in Seattle at 2640 SW Walnut Avenue, on the same street as several of her children and their families. In both South Dakota and Washington, she worked on suffrage causes alongside her daughter, Anna Wardall Scott. According to her obituary, they had lived in Seattle for about 15 years at the time of her death in 1916.

In South Dakota, Wardall worked alongside well-known suffragists including Emma Smith DeVoe (whom she later worked with in Washington) and Marietta Bones. Elizabeth's husband Alonzo was also active in political organizations. Namely, he was Secretary of the South Dakota Farmers' Alliance, and Vice President of the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association. Elizabeth was active in South Dakota suffrage efforts early on, speaking on the topic at the 1889 South Dakota state fair, and at the Aberdeen Opera House during that same year, where Susan B. Anthony addressed several hundred Farmers' Alliance delegates; throughout the years, her speaking skills developed and she used these to serve the People's or Populist party. She had a regular column in the Farmers' Alliance paper, the Dakota Ruralist, where she wrote about the "amendment campaign" and other suffrage matters. Annie Diggs (People's Party leader and eventual President of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association) wrote of Wardall in 1892 that she was an "able writer and an untiring worker in the Alliance ranks." Elizabeth also served as Superintendent of the Press for the South Dakota State Suffrage Association during that state's 1890 suffrage amendment efforts.

In February of 1890, Alonzo went to Washington to ask for assistance from the National Woman Suffrage Association, and was awarded $3000 to start a state Campaign Committee in Washington, with Susan B. Anthony as chair. Anthony initially sent $300 to the South Dakota State Executive Committee. After several months of miscommunication between the state organization and Anthony, who refused to send more funding without a plan of action, Anthony set up headquarters in South Dakota in April 1890 to work on organizing. In June 1890, The Farmers' Alliance and Knights of Labor formed the Independent Party in South Dakota (Alonzo was secretary of The Farmers' Alliance at the time). Anthony was not in favor as she felt it would weaken the suffrage movement, as she felt that the larger Republican Party needed the Farmers' Alliance if they were to continue; at the new party's convention, women's suffrage did not make it into the program. Afterward, a convention of suffragist men and women was conducted and an organization was formed to cooperate with the South Dakota Campaign Committee, for which Alonzo served as Vice President. Elizabeth called this suffrage convention, with 130 delegates present, to order. Speakers were brought into the state and the organization did outreach. In September 1890, Anthony notes in a letter to Olympia Brown that only a handful of women are kept very busy working in the South Dakota office - including Elizabeth "[and] her lovely daughter Anna." In November 1890, the Wardalls hosted Anthony in their home for a "Love-Feast" of a reception (as noted by Anthony in Alonzo's diary, which served as the guest book). Anthony travelled around the state to increase support for the amendment, but was not received well, and the amendment failed. Anthony gave $100 to Elizabeth Wardall for her efforts to organize; she was only one of two women to receive this, indicating her hard work. Elizabeth is further listed in The Woman Suffrage Movement in South Dakota (1975) as one of the "most effective" state workers in the effort for suffrage in South Dakota. For more details about that year's events, see this publication. Alonzo, a civil war veteran, eventually rose to serve on the national Farmers' Alliance board, was the President of the Alliance Insurance Companies of the Dakotas, and was a leader in the Rochdale co-operative movement, among other endeavors.

By the next year, 1891, Elizabeth was the Secretary and Treasurer of the South Dakota State Suffrage Association (also referred to as the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association) and served in this position until the Wardalls moved to Kansas in 1894. During her time here as secretary, she tried to secure a woman's day at the state fair and at the Lake Madison Chautauqua without success; the latter gave the day to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union instead. In 1893, she was also serving on the Federal Suffrage Committee of the NAWSA, which worked for a federal suffrage amendment; she served on this committee alongside her friend Emma Smith DeVoe. In The Handbook for the National American Woman Suffrage Foundation (1894), the South Dakota State Suffrage Association exclaimed, "it was unanimously voted to send her to Kansas, with a good-bye and God speed, upon condition that she was to be returned to us after Kansas women are bona fide, constitutional, genuine American citizens." The Wardalls moved to Kansas around 1894, the same year that supporters were campaigning for a full suffrage amendment in the state (it failed; municipal suffrage had previously passed). The Populist Party, or People's Party, was growing in Kansas during this time, aligning with the political beliefs and activism of the Wardalls.

By 1897, Elizabeth represented Kansas on the Committee on Resolutions of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and was active in the Farmers' Alliance. Alonzo continued to be active in Populism and suffrage; he was noted to be on the platform with Susan B. Anthony as she spoke to the Populist convention in Kansas in 1894. Elizabeth seems to have concentrated her time in Kansas on Theosophy; in 1899, for example, she advocated for a national College of Theosophy at the Theosophical National Convention in Chicago, and she remained active throughout her later years. After the Wardalls moved to Washington state, she traveled around the region speaking on the topic. A 1907 article in the Spokane (WA) Press indicates that she was speaking on "Karma, The Divine Law" at the Theosophical Reading Room; she was noted to be "an unusually interesting speaker." Her sons Ray and Max were also active in the Theosophical movement.

Around 1902, the Wardalls moved to Washington state. Wardall was the first President of the King County Equal Suffrage Association. During her tenure, she was one of the outspoken opponents of Dr. Mark A. Matthews, a well-known Seattle city reformer and pastor of one of the country's largest Presbyterian churches, who spoke out against women's suffrage. She further served as the Literature officer of the Washington State Suffrage Association during their 1910 amendment campaign, which passed. Wardall served on numerous reception and convention planning committees both during and after amendment work, including a 1911 reception for Emma Smith DeVoe, National President, and Virginia Wilson Mason, Washington State President of the National Council of Women Voters. This reception was held to start a chapter of the organization in Seattle, and Wardall was a member of this group as well. She also held parlor talks in her home for women to come together to hear talks and participate in discussions on equal suffrage. Elizabeth died in Seattle on December 31, 1916, with Alonzo following in 1918.


Collections consulted on FamilySearch (

California, County Birth and Death Records, 1880-1994 (Norman Wardall)

United States Census 1880, 1900, 1910

Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934 (Elizabeth A. Murray)

Washington Death Certificates, 1907-1960, (Elizabeth Wardall)

Other Works:

Diggs, A. (1892). The Women in the Alliance Movement, The Arena 6, 160-79.

Goldberg, M. (1994). Non-Partisan and All-Partisan: Rethinking Woman Suffrage and Party Politics in Gilded Age Kansas. The Western Historical Quarterly,25(1), 21-44. doi:10.2307/971068

National American Woman Suffrage Association (1894). The Hand Book of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Annual Convention, vol. 26-30.

Riessen-Reed, D. (1975). The woman suffrage movement in South Dakota. South Dakota Commission on the Status of Women. Retrieved from

Ross-Nazzal, J. M. (2011). Winning the West for women : the life of suffragist Emma Smith DeVoe. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Stanton, E. C., Gordon, Ann D., & Anthony, Susan B. (1997). The selected papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Theosophical Society (1909). The Theosophic Messenger, Vol 10-11.

Archival Materials:

"Club Woman Dies After Long Illness," Post Intelligencer (Seattle), January 1, 1917. Emma Smith Devoe: 1920 Collection (Scrapbook M). Washington State Library. [INCLUDES PHOTO]

"Equal Suffrage Orator Holds Many Meetings," The Seattle Sunday Times, April 12, 1908. Emma Smith Devoe, 1892-1897; 1906-1908 Collection (Scrapbook E).

"South Dakota: Equal Suffrage Work," The Union Signal, November 7, 1889. Emma Smith DeVoe Collection, 1880-1890.

Invitation: DeVoe Reception (p. 28). Cora Smith Eaton: 1910-1912 Collection (Scrapbook 1).Washington State Library.

"The Convention," The Dakota Ruralist, July 19, 1890. Emma Smith DeVoe Collection, 1880-1890. (Scrapbook D).

"Women Desiring the Ballot Scold Matthews," Seattle Daily Times, October 2nd (year not listed). Emma Smith DeVoe: 10/1/1910-12/30/1910 Collection (Scrapbook L). Washington State Library.

Newspaper Articles:

"Bits O' News," The Spokane Press, February 9, 1907.

"Equal Suffrage Convention," The Daily Plainsman, December 21, 1891.

"College of Theosophy Advocated by Mrs.Wardall at Chicago Meeting," The Topeka State Journal, May 23,1899.

Further information:

Alonzo and Elizabeth Wardall diaries, account books, and other materials. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

Primary Washington. Digitized materials available through the Washington State Library. Wardall may be found listed in numerous documents by searching across collections (in particular, the Cora Smith Eaton and Emma Smith DeVoe collections).

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