Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Martha Ellen Lockhart Keller, 1845-1917
By Mykah Jones and Joanna Woods
This entry has been republished with special permission from the Handbook of Texas Women, a project of the Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association. <https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fkell>. Accessed September 15, 2019.
KELLER, MARTHA ELLEN LOCKHART (1845-1917). Martha Ellen Keller, suffragist, early woman physician, and inventor, was born in Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois, on September 4, 1845, to Joseph and Louise (Chandler) Lockhart. She went to public schools in Vermilion County throughout her childhood. Ellen, as she was known, married John Benedict Keller on April 5, 1860. Their son, R. Walter Keller was born in January 1863. During the 1870s Martha Ellen Keller was involved in the early temperance movement, and she was a charter member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Her husband died during the early years of their marriage, and in the 1880 census Ellen was listed as "widowed" and living with her son in Lafayette, Indiana. Her occupation was listed as "Dressmaking." Keller pursued a career as a physician and attended Hahnemann Medical College of Chicago between 1882 and 1884. She then took post-graduate courses at the same college and specialized in gynecology.
In 1888 M. Ellen Keller moved to Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas, and lived there from 1888 to 1898. She had an obstetrics and gynecology practice at her place of residence, 611 West Fifth Street. Keller invented and patented a machine, called the electrovitalizer, to treat medical disorders while sexually stimulating the uterus. She took out a patent for the device and called it a combined pessary and womb battery. Its purpose was to treat disease and abnormal conditions of the pelvis and uterus and was meant to be comfortable for women to wear. Her device was advertised in the Fort Worth Gazette, which called it a "Petit electric battery" and described her success in the "perfection of electrical science in the treatment of the diseases of women." The article also stated her device was "highly recommended" by physicians throughout the United States. M. Ellen Keller was published in the Southern Journal of Homoeopathy for her work in obstetrics, and, according to her entry in Biographies of Homeopathic Physicians, she served as vice president of the Texas Homeopathic Medical Society. In her articles, she discussed "puerperal eclampsia," which she described as convulsions in pregnant patients, and ended her paper asking for replies that could help her understand what caused the convulsions.
Keller presented another paper titled "The Professional Woman" at the fifth annual meeting of the Texas Woman's Press Association in Waco in 1898. In Texas, she became an outspoken suffragist. While residing in Fort Worth, Keller was among the founders of the Texas Equal Rights Association organized in the spring of 1893. She attended the fifteenth annual convention of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Texas. The convention was held in Austin at the First Baptist Church on May 4, 5, 6, and 7, 1897, and Keller presented a "Hygiene and Heredity" paper. She was also involved in the Texas Woman's Press Association throughout much of the 1890s after the group's founding in 1893.
After 1898 Keller moved from Fort Worth to Indianapolis to live with her ill son, who died in 1902. Following his death, she continued her medical practice in Indianapolis and became a member of the Tippecanoe County (Indiana) Temperance Organization. Working as a doctor, Keller established an office at 320 North Meridian Street in the Colfax Building in Indianapolis. Martha Ellen Keller died on April 19, 1917, when her apartments and office building caught fire killing Keller and six others. The newspaper coverage of the conflagration referred to Keller as a "crusader" and "one of the first members of the WCTU." Following her death, members of the Indiana WCTU named a branch the Martha Keller Union in Hillsboro, Indiana.
Thomas Lindsley Bradford, Biographies of Homeopathic Physicians Vol. 19 (Philadelphia: 1916). Jessica S. Brannon-Wranosky, Southern Promise and Necessity: Texas, Regional Identity, and the National Woman Suffrage Movement, 1868-1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Texas, 2010). Fort Worth Gazette, December 9, 1894. Indianapolis Star, April 20, 1917. Jane Y. McCallum Papers, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library. Ruthe Winegarten and Judith N. McArthur, eds., Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas (Austin: Temple, 1987; College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015).