Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ida Virginia Clegg Tilden, 1852-1914
By Matthew Leichman, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park
Ida Virginia Clegg was born on December 29, 1852 in Moundsville, Virginia to Isaac and Susan (Russel) Clegg. The family moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1867. There, Ida attended Brownell Hall, an all-girls boarding school, graduating in 1871. She later served as the president of the school's Alumnae Association. Ida Clegg married George Tilden on April 28, 1874. Her husband was a doctor who specialized in the treatment of mental diseases. They had two children, Mary and Howard. During her lifetime, Ida was a prominent member of her community who became involved in many public welfare projects around the city.
Referred to as "the foremost woman of the city," Ida took leadership positions in civic and social clubs. She was the first president of Omaha's first suffrage society, the Omaha Equality Club. In this role, she updated club members on the latest suffrage news and organized to encourage their participation in state conventions for women's rights. The club hosted a variety of speakers and held discussions on topics such as suffrage, property rights, and women factory workers. In 1908, members of the Omaha Equality Club decided to become an auxiliary to the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association rather than continue on as their own club. The reason for this change, according to an article called "Suffragists Reorganize" in the Omaha Daily Bee, was that much of the work of the organization was being done by the Omaha Women's Club and Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the members found it too difficult to continue overlapping work in the various clubs. Perhaps this decision was spearheaded by Ida; she served as president of both the Omaha Women's Club and the WCTU, among other clubs.
Ida V. Tilden was most well-known for serving as the first president of the local Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), a position she held for many years. Considered the "mother" of the YWCA, she oversaw the construction of the YWCA building in the city. Ida was known for her passion and attention to detail. She took on many projects, such as improving educational standards, bringing missionaries to the city, and creating community gardens to feed the poor. Even in her retirement from the positions she held, Ida remained a constant source of inspiration and advice for the people who took over for her.
One of the most notable examples of Ida's suffrage advocacy occurred in 1914, when Nebraska activists vigorously petitioned to get a suffrage amendment on the ballot for the general election. In early February, Omaha suffragists canvassed businesses and churches seeking names for their petition. As was reported in the History of Woman Suffrage, Ida Tilden joined forces with Lillian Harford [LINK] to organize suffragists to gather support for their cause by waiting outside of church services during a blizzard. Their efforts were successful, in large part due to Tilden's goodwill within the community. Only one of the churches refused the committee's requests, with many offering the committee the space to talk within their buildings. Joining forces with the newly formed Omaha Men's Suffrage League, the women were able to gather over 11,000 names. When added to the nearly 39,000 signatures from other counties in the state, they succeeded in getting the amendment on the ballot. However, they faced major opposition from anti-suffragists, including brewers in the state who warned that suffrage would lead to prohibition. Ultimately, the amendment failed, and Nebraska women were not able to exercise even limited suffrage until three years later.
Ida did not live long enough to see the amendment fail. She passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 61 on June 25, 1914. At her death, she bequeathed $5,000 each as endowments to the YWCA and Old People's Home. The YWCA building in Omaha bears a plaque that states, "In memory of Mrs. George Tilden, who worked hard and for many years to see this building erected, 1852-1914."
Note: An image of Tilden is available here: https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/lccn/sn99021999/1911-05-18/ed-1/seq-8/#words=Ida+Tilden
Harper, Ida Husted, editor. "Nebraska." in The History of Women's Suffrage, vol. 6, pp. 374-375. [LINK}
Hickman, Laura McKee. "Thou Shall Not Vote: Anti-Suffrage in Nebraska, 1914-1920." Nebraska History, 1999, history.nebraska.gov/sites/history.nebraska.gov/files/doc/publications/NH1999Anti-Suffrage.pdf.
"Mrs. George Tilden." The Blue Book of Nebraska Women: A History of Contemporary Women, by Winona Evans Reeves, Missouri Print. and Pub. Co., 1916, pp. 163-164.
The Courier, 22 Dec. 1900, p. 4. Library of Congress, Chronicling America.
Omaha Daily Bee, 30 Nov. 1902, 31 Oct. 1908, 30 June 1914, Library of Congress, Chronicling America.
Wakeley, Aurthur Cooper. "Mrs. George Tilden." Omaha: The Gate City, and Douglas County, Nebraska, vol. 2, Wentworth Press , 2016, pp. 107-110.