Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mrs. Elda Ann Orr, 1846-1916

By Margaret R. Curry, attorney (retired); past Vice Regent, Captain John Oldham Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution; member of Nevada County Historical Society, Nevada City, California

Prominent Activist - Woman Suffrage in Nevada

Elda Ann Williams was born on August 31, 1846 at Indianapolis, Indiana to Martin Williams and Mary Jane Porter. Mr. Williams was a prominent grocer and fruit farmer in Marion County, Indiana. In 1861, he partnered with Gilbert Van Camp (now famous for Van Camp's Pork and Beans) to build a cold storage warehouse for fruits, meats and other perishables. Mr. Williams moved his family to Calhoun County, Illinois in 1863, a few years after the death of Elda's mother.

On September 12, 1870, Elda married Japtha Elmir Simpson. Mr. Simpson had gone West several years before their marriage, settling at Reno, Nevada, where he built up a successful drug store business. Elda joined Mr. Simpson at Reno soon after their marriage.

Mr. Simpson died suddenly in 1877 of typhoid fever, leaving Elda a young widow with two small children, Iva E. and Alameda. As the administrator of her husband's estate, Elda had to deal with various legal disputes over the next several years involving her husband's business partners; the sale of her husband's businesses; and the sale of his various real estate holdings. Undaunted, Elda continued to participate in various social activities and community organizations, including the Nevada Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.T.C.U.), which under the leadership of Frances Willard, broadened the scope of the organization's mission to include woman suffrage.

In 1888, Elda married John Thomas Orr, a successful miner and entrepreneur. They had a daughter, Elda A. Orr, born in 1891. Mr. Orr died in 1903.

During her marriage to Mr. Orr, and while a mother with a young child and two teenage daughters, Elda became a leader in the Nevada woman's suffrage movement. She was an outspoken advocate, not only for a woman's right to the vote, but also the right to teach after being married, equal rights in property ownership, and equal rights in divorce.

Elda was one of the organizers of Nevada's first women's suffrage convention; held in Reno on October 29 and 30, 1895. She held planning meetings at her home and hosted many of the movement's national leaders. In addition, she generously contributed financial aid to the cause.

At the 1895 convention Elda was elected Treasurer of the newly formed Nevada State Equal Franchise Society. Throughout 1896, she continued to hold organizational meetings at her home for the second Nevada state women's suffrage convention. Elda again hosted the national leaders of the suffrage movement while they traveled throughout the state gathering support, including, Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, and Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt.

At the 1896 convention, Elda was elected President of the Nevada State Equal Franchise Society.

In addition to her duties as President, Elda put herself forward as a candidate for School Trustee for Washoe County. She was the first woman to be nominated in the county for this position. While Elda did not win the 1896 election, she received favorable press for her efforts, and was considered a viable candidate.

Elda was again elected president of the Nevada State Equal Suffrage Association in 1897, and presided over the third convention at Carson City on October 30, 1897.

Under her leadership, the Nevada State Equal Suffrage Association successfully lobbied the legislature to put forth a resolution striking the word "male" from the suffrage clause of the Nevada Constitution. The resolution passed in the Senate, but unfortunately was defeated in the Assembly. This defeat slowed the forward momentum of the woman's suffrage movement in Nevada, but did not deter Elda from finding other ways to work for women's rights.

She became involved with the Reno Town Improvement Association, and was the only woman member of the Education Committee. As a committee member Elda was instrumental in securing, among other things, the first public library in Reno, Nevada.

Elda was also an active member of the Woman's Relief Corps, the woman's auxiliary branch of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The Woman's Relief Corps, founded in 1883, focused on promoting and running Memorial Day celebrations; petitioned for Civil War nurses to receive pensions; and provided financial aid to destitute Civil War veterans. The organization also lobbied for many other women's issues, including maternity care, child labor, education reform, and woman suffrage.

In 1912, she, along with several other Nevada pioneer suffragists, was nominated as an honorary Vice President for the state of Nevada by the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Elda died on April 4, 1916 at Reno, Nevada from physical injuries sustained during a car accident in December 1915, while visiting her daughter Alameda, in Yreka, California.

Following Elda's death, the Nevada Women's Civic League adopted special Resolutions memorializing her work for woman suffrage. She was also honored posthumously by the Women's Relief Corps for her years of service to that organization.

Elda is buried at Hillside Cemetery in Reno, Nevada.


"A Distinguished Visitor." Daily Nevada State Journal. October 23, 1895.

"A Woman Suffrage Convention Called for Tuesday and Wednesday, October 29th and 30th." Weekly Gazette Stockman, Oct. 24, 1895; p. 2. Illinois, Complied Marriages, 1851-1900 database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. Nevada, Death Certificates, 1911-1965 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc. 2016. Nevada Department of Health; Carson City; Nevada; Nevada Death Records. Robinson, Doreen. Ross-Burke Funeral Records, Reno, Nevada, 1904-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 1999. Year: 1870; Census Place: Point, Calhoun, Illinois; Roll: M593_191; Page: 70B; Family History Library Film: 545690;1 870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Certificate of Incorporation. Nevada State Journal. Jan 26 1876; p. 3.

"Civic League Adopts Resolution in Grateful Remembrance of Suffrage Leader." Nevada State Journal. May 4, 1916. p. 1.

"Death of an Old Resident. John T. Orr Passes Away After a Lingering Illness." Nevada State Journal. Jan 14, 1903; p. 8.

Death Notice, Lyon County Times. Feb 24, 1877 Vol: 6; p. 4.

"Equal Suffrage News." Reno Gazette Journal. Feb 5 1913; p. 10.

"Equal Suffrage News: Mrs. Catt Interesting to Nevadans." Reno Gazette-Journal. July 1, 1913; p. 5.

"Free Public Library, How to Obtain This Institution. The Ladies to the Rescue. They offer to Assist the Reno Improvement Association Committee." Nevada State Journal. May 24, 1899; p. 2.

"For Town Improvement. What Occurred at the Meeting Last Evening?" Nevada State Journal. March 2, 1898; p. 4.

Genealogy and Family History: Suffragist. Brief Biography of Elda Ann Williams Orr.

Gugin, L. C., & St, C. J. E. (2016). Indiana's 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State. Erscheinungsort nicht ermittelbar: Indiana Historical Society Press.

"Jottings." Reno Gazette-Journal. Mar 20, 1877; p. 3.

"Jottings." Reno Gazette-Journal. June 6, 1881; p. 3.

"Legal Notice. Nevada State Journal, Aug. 9, 1878; p. 4.

"Meeting of Equal Suffrage League." Weekly Nevada State Journal. Sept. 19, 1896; p. 4.

"Memorial Day, Successful Work of the Committee, Several Suspensions of Business and a Large Procession." Reno Gazette-Journal, May 30, 1884; p. 3.

Obituary: "Pioneer Resident is Called by Death. Mrs. Elda Orr Dies from Injuries Received in Auto Smash in December." Nevada State Journal. April 5, 1916; p. 8.

"Personals." Reno Weekly Gazette and Stockman, Nov. 1, 1892; p. 3.

"Relief Corps Pays Tribute to Mrs. Orr. Memory of Former Member Honored and Part of Her Labors Reviewed." Nevada State Journal. April 8, 1916; p. 8.

"Sign the Petition." Daily Independent. Nov 21, 1898. Vol 45; p. 4.

"Society Notes of Reno." Reno Gazette-Journal. Oct 12, 1912; p. 10.

"Suffrage Convention. A large and Enthusiastic Meeting." Nevada State Journal. Nov 3, 1897; p. 3.

"Suffrage Triumphs is Celebrated in Reno." Reno Gazette-Journal. Aug 30, 1920; p. 2.

Davis, S. P. (1984). The History of Nevada. Vol. 2. Las Vegas, Nev: Nevada Publications; p. 1123.

"Town and County." Nevada State Journal. Sept. 13, 1874; p. 3.

"Tribute is Paid to Mrs. Elda Orr. Nevada Woman's Civil League Drafts Resolutions in Memory Late Member." Reno Gazette-Journal. May 3, 1916; p. 8.

"Very Ill." Nevada State Journal. Feb. 18, 1877, p.3.

"W.C.T.U. Members Going to Carson." Reno Gazette-Journal. Feb 3, 1920; p. 3.

"Monday's Election. A Red Hot Fight and Many Votes Cast." Reno Weekly Gazette and Stockman, May 28, 1896; p. 2.

"Woman Suffrage Convention, To Be Held at Reno Tuesday and Wednesday, October 29 and 30 1895." Nevada State Journal. Oct. 23, 1895; p.3.

"Woman Suffrage Meeting. Steps Taken to Organize a Local Club." Weekly Nevada State Journal. Vol. XXV, No. 49. Oct. 26, 1895; p. 1.

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