Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Vera Thomas (Mrs. G.D.) Henderson, 1881-1966
By Amanda Ritter-Maggio, English Instructor, University of Arkansas Community College at Hope-Texarkana
Recording Secretary, Political Equality League; Secretary, State Primary Junior Council
Vera Thomas was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on October 7, 1881 to Rev. Dr. Benjamin Thomas, a native of Wales, and Laura Reeve Thomas, who was born in Illinois. Dr. Thomas served as a Union Army chaplain during the Civil War. The family lived in Ohio before coming to Little Rock, where Dr. Thomas served as President of Judsonia College and participated in many prominent social and civic clubs. Vera had three sisters and one brother. She attended public schools in Little Rock.
After the deaths of her father in 1884 and mother in 1889, Vera lived with her older sister Luella "Lulu" Edmonson and brother-in-law Harris Pleydell Edmonson. The Edmonsons lived in the home previously owned by Vera and Luella's parents. By 1895, Vera was active in social organizations and youth activities in the city. She frequently visited friends in the cities of Fayetteville and Springdale, Arkansas and traveled with her sister, brother-in-law, and niece Frances to visit family in Illinois. An accomplished cornet player, she often performed solos at various club and social organization meetings. She was active in the Bay View Club, which was established in Little Rock in early 1904; the Daily Arkansas Gazette explained that the club's "object is both social and literary, having for its aim higher culture, equipoise and symmetry of character, which, when fully developed, brings a realization of high and lofty ideals of cultured and gracious womanhood." Vera participated in the Bay View Club's performances, speeches, and debates. She was also active in the Tuesday Musical Club, serving as its vice-president and organizing children's concerts.
On October 12, 1904, Vera married George DeMatt Henderson in her childhood home in Little Rock. The prenuptial dinner, held at the Capital Hotel, the wedding, and its lavish reception were chronicled in great detail in both of the city's major newspapers. Often referred to as G. DeMatt or simply DeMatt, Vera's husband was also a Little Rock native who graduated from public school in 1898. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in 1901 and a law degree from the State University in 1903 before returning to Little Rock to practice law. The couple had two children, Betsy Glenn, born in 1909, and Edgar DeMatt, born in 1915.
As a married woman, Vera became an active member of the Pulaski County Sunday School Association, regularly attending and speaking at the organization's conferences. She was elected secretary of the State Primary Junior Council in 1906.
Vera had a passion for bettering the city of Little Rock. Vera's sister Luella owned a large amount of property in Little Rock; in fact, in 1909, Luella and Vera petitioned the city aldermen in protest of improvement assessments in district 156 of the city, where many of Lulu's plots were located. In 1917, Vera was elected a Block Captain for the Women's Sanitation Commission. The commission's aim was to clean up the city and prevent the spread of disease.
By early 1916, Vera was involved with the Political Equality Study Club in Little Rock. At the Political Equality League's October 1916 meeting, she was elected the organization's recording secretary.
Vera also advocated for children and youth in Pulaski County. In June of 1918, she participated with the women's section of the Council of Defense Health and Recreation Committee to make rural areas of the county more attractive to young people. She was elected Chairman of the YMCA Recreation Committee and organized supervised play activities for children in the city. She also organized story hours for the Boys' Club and became a member of the Storytellers League, a club that met at the city library.
In the 1920s, Vera was a frequent speaker with the Pulaski County Sunday School Association, YMCA, and Storytellers League. She also participated in the Little Rock Women's Club. By that time, DeMatt had become a prominent lawyer in the city of Little Rock and served on the board of directors for several banks, including the Ladies Building and Savings Association; and institutions, including the Little Rock School Board. The couple were known for their humility, generosity, and philanthropy and were a staple on the newspaper society pages. For example, after the completion of Little Rock Central High School in 1927, DeWitt felt so strongly that African-American students of the city should also have a new high school that he traveled to Chicago to secure a grant to build Dunbar Highl.
Though accounts of much of Vera's participation in the suffrage movement have been lost to history, she was undoubtedly a vocal supporter of women's suffrage in Arkansas. According to the 1922 book Centennial History of Arkansas, she "long occupied a prominent social position" in the city of Little Rock. She died on November 6, 1966, and is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock.
"Announcements." Daily Arkansas Gazette 2 October 1904. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/132665845/?terms=vera%2Bthomas
"Arkansas Marriages, 1837-1944." Database. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 14 January 2020. Index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City.
"Bay View Club." Daily Arkansas Gazette 6 December 1903. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/132886333/?terms=vera%2Bthomas%2Bbay%2Bclub
"Discuss Government Ownership." Daily Arkansas Gazette 26 July 1916. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/142962633/?terms=Mrs.%2BG.D.%2BHenderson
"Educational Program Given by Woman's Club." Arkansas Democrat 22 October 1922. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/165969054/?terms=Mrs.%2BG.D.%2BHenderson
"Echoes from the Churches." Arkansas Democrat 9 April 1906. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/152559580/?terms=vera%2Bhenderson
Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 18 March 2020), memorial page for Vera Thomas Henderson (7 Oct 1881-6 Nov 1966), Find A Grave Memorial no. 87649029, citing Mount Holly Cemetery, Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas, USA ; Maintained by P. V. Hays (contributor 46588659) .
"Henderson." History of the LRSD. Little Rock School District, 2020. https://www.lrsd.org/Page/2948
Herndon, Dallas Tabor. Centennial History of Arkansas Vol. 3. S.J. Clark, 1922. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=8Ro7AQAAMAAJ&hl=en&pg=GBS.PP1
"In Society." Daily Arkansas Gazette 22 Nov. 1903. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/132886199/?terms=vera%2Bthomas
"Programs to Brighten Life in the Country." Arkansas Democrat 4 June 1918. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/173952974/?terms=Mrs.%2BG.D.%2BHenderson
"Pulaski County Sunday School Association." Daily Arkansas Gazette 22 Feb. 1906. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/140549997/?terms=vera%2Bhenderson#
"Social and Personal." Daily Arkansas Gazette 13 October 1904. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/132665940/?terms=george%2Bdematt%2Bhenderson
"United States Census, 1880." Database with images. FamilySearch. https://FamilySearch.org : 18 March 2020. Citing NARA microfilm publication T9. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
"United States Census, 1920." Database with images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 18 March 2020. Citing NARA microfilm publication T625. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
"Weary Aldermen Grant Petitions." Daily Arkansas Gazette 7 December 1909. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/138353784/?terms=vera%2Bhenderson
"Women Vigorously Continuing Work." Daily Arkansas Gazette 15 July 1917. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/146704873/?terms=Mrs.%2BG.D.%2BHenderson