Biographical Sketch of Ellen Llewellyn Robinson

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Ellen Llewellyn Robinson, 1872–1923

Written by Brent Tarter for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, a publication of the Library of Virginia. Reprinted with permission.

Ellen Llewellyn Robinson (16 March 1872–21 September 1923), woman suffrage activist, was born in Webster Groves, Missouri, near Saint Louis, and was the daughter of Archibald Robinson, an insurance executive, and Ariana Ambler Holliday Robinson, both natives of Virginia. Robinson never married and lived with her parents in or near Saint Louis. At the time of the 1910 census, her parents were living with a married daughter in Falls Church, Virginia, while Robinson boarded nearby. By 1913 she and her parents had settled together in an Elizabeth City County neighborhood that later became part of the city of Hampton.

Robinson quickly became involved in the campaign for woman suffrage. The names Miss Robinson and Mrs. Robinson appear together on a list of members of the Hampton Equal Suffrage League sent in January 1914 to the headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and almost certainly refer to Robinson and her mother. Robinson worked with other local suffragists to circulate petitions urging members of the General Assembly to amend the state constitution to grant women the vote, and even proselytized shipyard workers in Newport News on their lunch breaks. Robinson's neighbor Faith Walcott Morgan was one of the most active regional members of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia and longtime chair of the nearby Newport News league. By the end of 1915 Robinson, Morgan, and other suffragists had recruited 575 members of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia in the greater Hampton Roads area and procured about seventeen hundred signatures on petitions. Morgan inserted a comment in one of her annual reports that appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, Robinson "is not a whole league by herself."

Robinson regularly attended state meetings of the Equal Suffrage League and national meetings of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1915 and 1916 she was coordinator of suffrage work in the state's First Congressional District, which included the two counties on the Eastern Shore, the cities of Fredericksburg and Newport News, and the fourteen counties between those cities north and east of the Pamunkey and York Rivers. When the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia began to create local leagues throughout the state during the middle years of the decade, Robinson assisted in southeastern Virginia. Her suffrage work shifted to the northern part of the state when her mother moved to Strasburg, in Shenandoah County, following her father's death in July 1914. Robinson visited often to care for her mother, who was likely suffering from the cancer that eventually killed her. In September 1916 Robinson helped league president Lila Hardaway Meade Valentine organize a chapter in the nearby town of Woodstock. Robinson offered informed advice about whom the league's state officials should work with in nearby Clarke County. She also spoke and campaigned for woman suffrage in Fairfax County, just outside Washington, D.C., and she addressed an audience she estimated at 15,000 at an annual reunion of Confederate veterans at Fisher's Hill, in Shenandoah County, on 5 August 1916.

From 1915 to 1918 Robinson spent long stretches of time in Washington where she worked as a volunteer in the National American Woman Suffrage Association office. A letter she wrote in June 1915 on letterhead stationery of the Southern States Woman's Suffrage Conference suggests she may have worked for a time for that regional suffrage organization. Robinson was an active participant in the Woman's Peace Party in Washington during 1916 and 1917 in opposition to the country's entrance into World War I. By the summer of 1918 Robinson had moved to Strasburg permanently to care for her mother. When the state league began a campaign to obtain endorsements from as many as 250,000 Virginians in support of the proposed amendment to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote, Robinson scoured Shenandoah County and obtained her quota of signatures earlier than any other worker in the state. It was a small quota, she acknowledged, but "it meant a great deal in this hard field & 150 here is equal to 1000 in some places." That achievement earned her a small bit of permanent celebrity when it was reported in 1922 in the pages of The History of Woman Suffrage but without Robinson's own observation that her quota was a small one. Her former neighbor, colleague, and admirer, Faith Morgan, traveled extensively during 1918 and 1919 and obtained more endorsements than any other Virginia suffragist. Despite their efforts, the General Assembly did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, but Virginia women gained the right to vote after Tennessee ratified it in August 1920.

Robinson's mother died in Strasburg on 13 October 1920, less than three weeks before women voted in Virginia for the first time. Robinson may have traveled to Saint Louis for her burial, and it is not clear whether she returned to Virginia in time to vote in the presidential election on 2 November. She either remained in Saint Louis or later moved back there, where she probably lived with one of her brothers. Ellen Llewellyn Robinson died of a pulmonary embolism in a Saint Louis hospital on 21 September 1923 and was buried next to her parents in Bellefontaine Cemetery there.

Sources:

Birth and death dates on Missouri State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics Certificate of Death, File No. 28715, Registered No. 3719, Saint Louis Co., Mo.; full name on gravestone in Bellefontaine Cemetery, Saint Louis, Mo.; Ida Husted Harper, ed., The History of Woman Suffrage (1922), 6:668; undated Hampton Equal Suffrage League membership list enclosed in Lillie F. Jones to Miss Briggs, 21 Jan. 1914, National American Woman Suffrage Association Papers, container 30, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; correspondence in Adèle Goodman Clark Papers, Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, and in Equal Suffrage League of Virginia Records, including Faith W. Morgan to Madame President, 8 Dec. 1915 (first quotation), and Robinson to Miss Thompson, 14 Nov. 1919 (second quotation), Accession 22002, Library of Virginia; death notice in St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, 22 Sept. 1923.

Written by Brent Tarter for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, a publication of the Library of Virginia. Reprinted with permission.

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