Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mrs. Clarissa Johnson Clark, 1833-1919
By Kailey Loughran, student, University of Vermont
Vermont Woman Suffrage Association: Committee on Resolutions, 1883
Clarissa Johnson was born November 7, 1833 to Leonard Johnson and Betsy Merrill Johnson in Peacham, VT. Betsey and Leonard were both native to Peacham, a town known as one of the first antislavery towns in New England. Leonard was an Underground Railroad agent, an outspoken abolitionist who hid fugitive slaves enroute to Canada in his family's home and hosted abolitionist lecturers in his home. These lecturers included William Lloyd Garrison and Leonard's brother Oliver Johnson. However, the religious community didn't tolerate antislavery sentiments, so Leonard was censured at times due to Peacham's Christian institution and strong opposition to his views.
Clarissa was the fifth of nine children, all of whom attended Caledonia County Grammar School. She was the niece of Oliver Johnson, one of the originators of the abolitionist movement, as well as the niece of Reverend David Merrill, who started the temperance movement, influencing Clarissa to grow up with a knowledge of social justice movements. Clarissa became highly active in her community as an adult, participating in the women's' suffrage movement, the temperance movement, and various missionary causes.
Clarissa started working as a clerk in her town's Protective Union store when she was 18 years old, uncommon for women during her time. Clarissa was received in Peacham's Congregational Church in 1851. She married Ephraim Wesson Clark in 1857 and had five sons and four daughters. Ephraim's family was originally from New Hampshire, but he was born and raised on a homestead in Peacham. Ephraim returned to Vermont after spending three years in California mining for gold, working as a farmer and occasionally serving as Peacham's justice of the peace.
A voracious ally of the temperance movement, Ephraim was also known to be "just in his attitude towards women and used all his influence on the side of equal suffrage." Together, Ephraim and Clarissa were active community members and churchgoers, speaking on behalf of the Christian Temperance Union, leading devotional exercises, and participating on Temperance Union committees.
Clarissa was an early supporter of equal suffrage, attending the first annual Women's Suffrage Convention in 1883. Clarissa led an opening prayer at this meeting and was also appointed to the Committee on Resolutions. She addressed annual conventions of the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association until her death.
Ephraim died in 1900 from pneumonia on the farm where he was born. Clarissa went to live with her daughter in Brighton, Massachusetts and later with her son in Newtown Highlands, but returned to Peacham every summer. She died there July 21, 1919 and was buried in Peacham Village Cemetery.
St. Johnsbury Republican, 1885-1924 (St. Johnsbury VT), Newspapers.com
Sherburne, Michelle Arnosky. Abolition & the Underground Railroad in Vermont. Arcadia Publishing, 2013.
Vermont Historical Society. Minutes of the Women's Suffrage Convention. 1883.
Lyndonville Journal, 1874-1925 (Lyndonville, VT), Newspapers.com
North America, Family Histories 1500-2000. Ancestry Library Edition, Ancestry.com. University of Vermont.