Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Elizabeth Ann Claridge McCune, 1852-1924
By Dr. Kathryn Mackay, Professor of History and Public History Program Director, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.
Board member, Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association.
Patron, National Council of Women of the United States and International Council of Women.
Member, General Board of the Relief Society.
Member, Utah Art Institute.
Board member and vice-president, Utah State Agricultural College.
Elizabeth Ann Claridge McCune was born in Bedfordshire, England, but came with her family to Utah Territory in 1853 as part of the "Gathering" of converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Claridges settled in Nephi. In 1872, Elizabeth married Alfred W. McCune (b.1849-d.1927) whose family had also settled in Nephi in 1858 as converts to the faith. The couple eventually had nine children, seven of whom lived to adulthood.
Alfred turned from farming to railroad building in the 1870s and then to mining in the 1890s. He became a very wealthy man with additional interests in electric streetcar systems, newspapers, and the Utah Power Company. After moving to Salt Lake City in 1888, the McCunes became among Salt Lake City's most prominent residents. They lived in the Gardo House and then built a 21-room mansion in 1900. Their homes became saloons for politics and the arts. McCune had already run for the appointment to the Senate in 1899. He ran again in 1901 but was defeated by millionaire Republican Thomas Kearns. In 1916, McCune was defeated in his efforts to become governor by another millionaire Simone Bamberger.
Elizabeth's involvement in politics came about through her activities in the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She became a counselor to the president Ann D. Groesbeck in 1888 and a member of the board in 1898. She became a patron of the National Council of Women of the United States and later of the International Council of Women (ICW), both affiliates of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. McCune attended the Congress of the ICW in London in 1899, at which Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw were official U.S. delegates.
The leaders of the Y.L.M.I.A. and the other LDS organization for women, the Relief Society, were ardent advocates of woman suffrage both in the successful efforts to include woman suffrage in the Utah state constitution of 1895 and in the continuing efforts to achieve suffrage nation-wide. Elizabeth was a member of the General Board of the Relief Society from 1911 to 1920. As she became part of the circle of LDS women connected by familial and ecclesiastical ties, she also became part of their political activities.
The Utah Art Institute was established under the leadership of congress woman Alice Merrill Horne by the state legislature in 1899. It was the first such organization in the country. Elizabeth served on its governing board. She also served on the board of the Utah State Agricultural College from 1905 to 1915, for seven of those years as vice-president.
Before moving to Los Angeles in 1920, the McCunes donated their $1 million home on north Main Street to the LDS Church. The LDS School of Music which was located there became the McCune School of Music and Art upon Elizabeth's death.
Such generosity and Elizabeth's skills as an organizer and leader were no better recognized than in the 119-page Memorial to Elizabeth Claridge McCune: Missionary, Philanthropist, Architect published by her friend and fellow activist Susa Young Gates. Gates and the other contributors to the pamphlet, Elizabeth S. Ivins, Alice K. Smith, and Ann D. Groesbeck, had worked with Elizabeth in LDS church, political, and civic circles. According to them, Elizabeth was "loved by many, admired and respected by all."
Gates, Susa Young. "Elizabeth Claridge McCune," History of the Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, from November 1869 to June 1910. 213-216.
Gates, Susa Young, Memorial to Elizabeth Claridge McCune: Missionary, Philanthropist, Architect. Salt Lake City: Seagull Press, 1924.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "Utah," History of Woman Suffrage, 1900-1920, vol. 6. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1922. [LINK]
Whitney, Orson Ferguson. "Elizabeth Ann Claridge McCune," History of Utah., vol. 4: 606-610. Salt Lake City, G.Q. Cannon, 1904.