Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Lelia Gates Gilliam Munce, 1855-1915

By Frances S. Pollard for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, a publication of the Library of Virginia. Reprinted with permission.

Lelia Gates Gilliam Munce (12 August 1855–20 October 1915), civic activist and woman suffrage advocate, was born in Richmond, Virginia, and was the daughter of George W. Gilliam, a prominent tobacco manufacturer, and Sarah Elizabeth Anderson Gilliam. A lifelong Presbyterian, she was educated at the Richmond Female Seminary. On 17 April 1888, in Richmond, she married John Sinclair Munce, a businessman and recent immigrant from Ireland. At the time of and after her marriage to a man who was five years younger, she allowed people to believe that she was born about 1859 or 1860. They had four sons, one of whom died in childhood.

Munce was part of Richmond's elite society and she and her husband traveled to Great Britain and Europe for extended trips early in the twentieth century. She was a member of numerous associations, among them the Daughters of the American Revolution, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (later Preservation Virginia), the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, and the Virginia Folklore Society. She also belonged to the Woman's Club of Richmond, which was one of the city's most influential cultural institutions. Munce served on its board of directors, chaired its literary program in 1909–1910, and was elected a vice president in 1914. About 1904 she joined the Richmond Education Association, which several members of the Woman's Club had helped establish a few years earlier to advocate for better public schools and educational opportunities for white and African American students. In 1912 and 1913 she was a member of the association's executive committee when the association proposed a free public library for city residents. With her friend, novelist Ellen Glasgow, Munce was active in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and was named to its board of directors in 1911.

An early advocate for woman suffrage, Munce joined the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia soon after it was founded in November 1909 by about twenty prominent Richmond women, including Glasgow. Munce was named to its board of directors in 1910, elected the league's auditor, and regularly attended annual conventions of the Equal Suffrage League. Her husband was elected a vice president of the Men's Equal Suffrage League of Virginia at its founding meeting on 16 October 1911, and her daughter-in-law actively participated in the Equal Suffrage League's work beginning about 1916.

Lelia Gates Gilliam Munce did not live to cast a ballot, but died at her home of chronic nephritis on 20 October 1915 and was buried in the city's Hollywood Cemetery. Members of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia issued a public statement that described Munce as a woman who was "always ready fearlessly to express her confidence in the justice of the cause, and its ultimate success, and thereby rendered valuable service to the movement." In her honor, the family established a memorial book fund at the Woman's Club.


Birth and death dates on gravestone, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond; full name in Second Presbyterian Church Session Minutes and Register of Members, 1873–1894, microfilm at Morton Library, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond; John William Leonard, ed., Woman's Who's Who of America . . . 1914–1915 (1914), 584 [LINK]; Marriage Register, Richmond City, Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS), Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia (LVA); portrait in Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, 26 Oct. 1912; Death Certificate, Richmond City, BVS; obituaries in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 21 Oct. 1915 and Richmond News Leader, 22 Oct. 1915; quotation in undated memorial in Equal Suffrage League of Virginia Records, Accession 22002, LVA, printed in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 24 Oct. 1915.

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