Biographical Sketch of Rose Ella Conlan (Nelson)

Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920

Biography of Rose Ella Conlan (Nelson), 1906-1976

By Katherine M. Swafford, Independent Scholar, member of Legendary Ladies, a historical performance organization (

Rose Conlan was born October 5, 1906, in Canadian County, Yukon Township, Oklahoma, to Joseph Patrick Conlan and Sarah Marie Conlan. Her father farmed and they owned a home with a mortgage. She had 3 brothers and 2 sisters. The family moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 1918.

Rose's connection with woman suffrage was being present at the National Woman's Party's New Year watchfire demonstration, January 1, 1919, in Washington, D.C. Mildred Morris, Denver, CO, a journalist then in Washington, D.C., wrote the most specific description of this incident for the January 11, 1919 edition of The Suffragist, the National Woman's Party's weekly publication, as paraphrased below:

On New Year's afternoon at 4 o'clock, a bell tolled and Alice Paul with members of the National Woman's Party marched carrying banners to the White House gate. They kindled a "watchfire of freedom" in an urn there and burned Wilson's words from his speeches in England. As Mrs. Helena Hill Weed was speaking, a mob of soldiers and sailors overturned the urn and tried to stamp out the flames. Policemen arrived and attempted to use a fire extinguisher to put out the fire.

Suddenly, directly opposite in Lafayette Square, a second fire flamed up in a large permanent ornamental urn by Lafayette's statue. Miss Rose Conlan, age 12, from Colorado, had climbed up the lofty pedestal and lit a second watchfire! Policemen rushed over and demanded she put out the fire. When she refused, a policeman climbed after her and brought her to the ground, where she was arrested. The policeman returned to the urn and threw the flaming wood and paper to the ground. Alice Paul added more wood, and was arrested when she refused to stop. Miss Julia Emory and Miss Edith Ainge added wood and paper and were also arrested. The women and the girl (Rose Conlan) who lit the fire in the urn were taken to the station.

At the police station, they were informed the urn was worth $10,000, and urged to only burn fires at the base of the statue. The women refused to pay the bail demanded and were eventually released later that night. The watchfires continued to burn all day and night for the next four days, guarded by women holding suffrage banners demanding democracy at home.

Research did not reveal how or why Rose, age 12, was in Washington D.C. Possibly she came with one of the three Colorado women: Mildred Morris, Denver; Berthe Arnold, Colorado Springs; or Dr. Caroline Spencer, Colorado Springs, who all participated in watchfire demonstrations that month, and served 5 days in the Washington D.C. District Jail. Records only list women who served sentences, and being a minor, Rose Conlan would have been released and not jailed.

By 1930 Rose and her family had moved to Riverside, California, where, at age 23, she worked as a stenographer for a fruit company. Two years later, she returned to California from a trip to Hawaii on the ship "City of Los Angeles." In 1934, at age 27, she married Daniel Earl Nelson, and they continued to live in California. Rose passed away in 1976, age 69.


Morris, Mildred. "The New Year Demonstration," & "The Watchfire," The Suffragist, VII-31 (Jan. 11, 1919), pp. 4, 6.

Adams, K. Katherine H., Keene, M. Michael L. After the Vote was Won: The Later Achievements of Fifteen Suffragists, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2010), p. 32.

Stillion Southard, Belinda A. Militant Citizenship: Rhetorical Strategies of the NWP, 1913-1920 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press), p. 166.

Stevens, Doris. Jailed for Freedom: American Women Win the Vote, O'Hare, Carol, ed. (Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, reprint ed. 1995), pp. 162, 205-11.

My Heritage entry for Rose Ella Nelson (born Conlan), 1906 - 1976. Accessible online at

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