Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Sara Ellis Cushing, 1863-1921

By Al Bernardo, librarian, North Dakota State University

Clubwoman, Journalist, and Advocate for Suffrage

Sara Cushing, known as Sherry to family and friends, was born Sara Elvira Ellis in Manistee, Michigan on October 15, 1863. She grew up in Manistee, attending high school and college there, before moving to Chicago, where her sister, Mrs. C. B. Simons, lived. Her father, Dr. L. S. Ellis, had a medical practice in Manistee, and served as postmaster and mayor of the city, in addition to holding other state and local offices. In 1883, Dr. Ellis started a farm in Oriska, North Dakota, eventually giving up his medical practice and moving there permanently in 1888. While on a visit to North Dakota, Sherry met Walter F. Cushing, a newspaperman, whom she married in Chicago in 1892. With Walter, Sherry had four children: Gay, Anne ("Nana"), Charles, and Martha ("Mirth"). As Walter moved among newspaper jobs and political appointments, the Cushings made their home in many cities across North Dakota, spending the most time in Fargo and Bismarck.

Carrying on in the tradition of her father and mother (Sarah W. Ellis, who in 1889 was elected treasurer of the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association), Sherry took an interest in political and civic life. In 1907, she served as stenographer for the North Dakota Legislature, and the following year published a paper, "Suggestions for Beautifying Bismarck," in the Bismarck Daily Tribune. As a result of this paper, she became the first president of the Bismarck Civic League, serving for three weeks before stepping down over differences with other members. Later in 1908, she was made a member of the Civic Improvement Committee at the annual meeting of the North Dakota Women's Club State Federation.

At the October, 1911 North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs meeting in Devils Lake, ND, Sherry was named the chair of the Federation's press committee for the coming year. She also delivered the meeting's opening remarks, in which she spoke to the growing power of women in the state, particularly in respect to the issues of food prices, ending child labor in favor of compulsory schooling, and the ventilation and sanitation of school facilities. Sherry also covered the meeting as a journalist for the Courier-News of Fargo, where Walter was editor at the time. A contemporary report in the Devils Lake Weekly World noted that "Mrs. Cushing is as experienced a writer as her husband." Later that year, she won a prize from The Housekeeper, a Collier's publication based in New York, for a recipe submitted in competition for "dishes that men like best." Her prizewinning recipe was for one-two-three sherbet served with child's birthday cake.

The following year, in her role as chair of the press committee of the North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs, she advocated for the publication of women's clubs' proceedings in their local newspapers, suggesting that the clubs create and preserve multiple copies of their work so that they might be distributed to local press outlets, while also maintaining a copy for the club's own records. On March 16, 1912, Sherry attended a Fargo Votes for Women League luncheon in honor of special guest Belle LaFollette, wife of the Wisconsin senator. Attendees to the luncheon spoke on the topic of "Why I am a Suffragist," with Sherry stating, "I am a suffragist because I believe that within a very short time we shall be voting - it has to come. And I want to get ready." That June, in advance of a campaign for a North Dakota suffrage amendment, she was named to the promotion committee of the North Dakota Suffrage Association.

1913 saw the Cushings move from Fargo to Bismarck, as Walter was appointed secretary of the state railway commission. Sherry wasted no time reintegrating to the civic life of Bismarck, being chosen to represent the Civic Improvement League on the library committee, and writing items about North Dakota women's clubs, including suffrage activities, for the Bismarck Tribune. She also designed an envelope and package seal intended for use by Women's Suffrage Associations throughout the country. Using the colors of the association, orange and white, the design depicted a shield with a ribbon across, along with the slogans "Votes for Women," and "Service for Uplift." In North Dakota, the seals were distributed at a reception at the state suffrage headquarters the following year.

Sherry represented North Dakota at the biennial session of the General Federation of Women's Clubs in Chicago in 1914. Upon returning to Bismarck, she reported on the session to an audience of Civic League and Suffrage Association members. At the session, the federation decided to actively advocate for suffrage, and Sherry described suffrage as "the open sesame to the biggest and best spirit that ever prevailed at any biennial, and the spirit of efficiency and service ranked every other." Later in 1914, the Monday Club of Bismarck held a meeting devoted to suffrage, at which Sherry served as discussion leader.

In the latter half of the decade, Sherry authored two books, Glimpses of Jamestown and Stutsman County (1915), and Bismarck, Capital of North Dakota (1916). In 1917, the Cushings incorporated the Post Publishing Co. and launched the Fargo Post, for which she served as associate editor, and later, editor. Sherry also expanded her efforts as a promoter of the arts, particularly music, managing appearances of touring singers, symphonies, and ballets in Bismarck and Fargo. Sherry Cushing died in Bismarck on Friday, July 29, 1921, following an illness sustained during cross-state travel for a New York Philharmonic performance in Fargo.


"A Novel Idea." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 06 July 1913, p. 7.

"About the Capital." Grand Forks Herald, 01 Sept. 1919, p. 6.

"Both Houses Furnish Grist." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 17 Jan. 1907, p. 5.

"Civic League." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 14 May 1908, p. 1.

"Club Women Hear Reports on Great Chicago Meeting." Bismarck Daily Tribune. 18 July 1914, p. 1.

"Committee Appointments." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 14 Oct. 1908, p. 2.

Cushing, Mrs. W.F. "Suggestions for Beautifying Bismarck." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 15 Apr. 1908, p. 3.

"Cushings Incorporate New Publishing Company." Jamestown Weekly Alert, 05 April 1917, p. 10.

"Department Work in North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs Made Great Strides in One Year -- Publicity is Good for Women's Clubs." The Evening Times [Grand Forks, ND], 17 Oct. 1912, p. 2.

"Dr. Ellis Dead." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 16 Feb. 1900, p. 3.

"Federation Officers Elected this Morning---Sessions Very Successful." The Evening Times [Grand Forks, ND], 12 Oct. 1911, p. 6.

"Federettes." Devils Lake Weekly World, 13 Oct. 1911, p. 5.

"Local and Personal." Devils Lake Inter-Ocean, 13 Oct. 1911, p. 5.

"Mrs. Cushing Passes Away in Bismarck." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 29 July 1921, p. 1.

"Prize Winning Recipes." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 29 Dec. 1911, p. 2.

"Reception at Suffrage Headquarters." Jamestown Weekly Alert, 05 March 1914, p. 3.

"Society Notes." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 22 May 1913, p. 6.

"Suffragists Will Meet." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 15 July 1914, p. 3.

"To Seek Suffrage." Bismarck Daily Tribune, 25 June 1912, p. 7.

"Woman Suffragists." The Times [Owosso, MI], 29 Mar. 1889, p. 8.

"Work of Women's Clubs Through-out the State." The Evening Times [Grand Forks, ND], 19 March 1912, p. 6.

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