Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834-1907
By: Daphne Lavonia Stanley, Freelancer Researcher, Writer, and Intern for Salem Museum in Salem, Virginia
Keywords: Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, Suffrage Movement, Georgia Woman Suffrage Association
There is much one can learn about and from the life of Mrs. Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas. Born 4 April 1834 in Georgia, she was raised in a family of wealth and Southern refinement. Her father "doted" on her, and she spent most of her childhood days in leisure. She studied hard and was very intelligent. Education was always very important to Gertrude Thomas. She was proud of the education she received at Wesleyan Female College, and she served two terms as Vice President of the Alumni association in 1866 and 1891.
In 1851, she met her future husband, James Jefferson Thomas, a Princeton graduate and the brother of a college friend. The two wed in 1852. Through their life together, Gertrude bore ten children, losing four under the age of five years. J. Jefferson served during the Civil War and became a farmer. Their marriage was tried, between the war, losses, Jefferson's poor management of finances, and suspicions of adultery and alcohol abuse. Mrs. Thomas in her writings, never states these issues, but alludes to a hidden family secret. She was ever the Southern woman...Don't speak of family troubles. Through it, though, she was a devoted wife, mother, then grandmother.
Mrs. Thomas was a writer. Forty years of journals are published in The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889, minus one journal between 1871-1872. She speaks in her own words the pride of being a Southern woman from Georgia, her love for her husband and family, her worry for him through the Civil War, and even shows first hand, her struggles with slavery. In these journals, one can see her life shift from that of a young, wealth-bred, and idyllic teenager to a woman that has seen much struggle and pain, but with a strong and intelligent voice that demanded to be heard.
Thomas served as an officer of the Richmond County Grange. In this position, she wrote several essays that earned her awards. She also wrote on the subject of prison reform, as well as, opinions on civic and political issues in newspaper editorials. In 1891, for instance, she called for the Georgia legislature to create a home for veterans of the Confederacy.
Gertrude became involved in the struggle for the rights of women. In 1893, she moved from Augusta to Atlanta, where she and Jefferson had children and grandchildren. There, she joined in work of the Suffrage Movement. She was involved with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. In 1899, she was elected President of the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association. As Secretary of the Ladies' Memorial Association of Augusta, she advocated for Confederate Memorial Day and a monument. Gertrude Thomas was also a member of both the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Daughters of the Confederacy organizations.
In 1899, the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association State Convention was held at the Universalist Church of Atlanta. During the two-day convention, Gertrude addressed the women, speaking to the activists about women being equal to men "in the work on the world," At this time she became president. Eight years later in an inscription in a gift from Susan B. Anthony. Gertrude found out that she had become a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Mrs. Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas passed on 11 May 1907 and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia. Her husband and several of her children rest there with her. In her obituary, the Augusta Chronicle (11, 12 May 1907) wrote "...She was almost an indisputable authority on Southern affairs" and was "regarded as one of the most brilliant and brainy women of her time".
Bun, Virginia Ingraham (editor): The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889, University of North Carolina Press, 1990
Censer, Jane Turner: The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood, 1865-1895, Louisiana State University Press, 2003
Curry, Carolyn Newton: Suffer and Grow Strong: The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834-1907,Mercer University Press, 2014
"Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas", Find a Grave www.findagrave.com/memorial/search
"James Jefferson Thomas". www.findagrave.com/memorial/search
National Women's History Alliance Suffrage Resource List, www.nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org