Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ellen Murphy Ackerman, 1868-1952

By Kristen Van Valkenburg, Mohawk Valley (NY) Community College

Ellen Murphy was born on May 13, 1868 in Stillwater, Minnesota to Patrick J. Murphy (1841-1926) and Elizabeth Burden Murphy (1844-1919). In 1870, her family moved to Nebraska ultimately settling in Brown County in 1884, living first in Long Pine and later Ainsworth. In 1887, Ellen married banker James G. Ackerman (b1855?) of Ainsworth. They had two children: George Morris Ackerman (1891-1963) and Dorothy Elizabeth Ackerman Hartung (1899-?).

Ackerman lived most of her life in Ainsworth, Nebraska. She was active in many organizations including the Woman's Relief Corps, Ainsworth Woman's Club, Five Hundred Club, P.E.O, the Ainsworth Library Board and the Ainsworth School Board. She held offices in the local, state and national chapters of the Woman's Relief Corps (WRC), serving as president of the Nebraska Women's Relief Corps in 1912 and on the national executive board in 1913. In the WRC she was noted for her support of woman suffrage. The Woman Citizen remarked, "The Women's Relief Corps of Nebraska also looks to a member of the suffrage board, Mrs. E. Ackerman, for one of its most ardent workers."

Ackerman was an active presence for the suffrage movement in Nebraska. She became involved in local suffrage organizations around 1910 when the Brown County Democrat reported that she hosted a meeting of the "newly organized" Woman's Suffrage League where she was elected the secretary and treasurer. Ackerman would regularly host suffrage meetings where she would often present reports of events happening within the state suffrage movement. In 1914, Ackerman served as a secretary for a campaign to secure signatures on a petition for a referendum allowing for woman suffrage in the November 1914 election. While the referendum was defeated overall, the electorate of Brown County voted in favor of suffrage by 59%. By 1916, Ackerman's involvement with suffrage work extended beyond Ainsworth: she was the chairman of the Brown County suffrage league where she would speak and attend rallies throughout the county. In addition, Ackerman was appointed as a local delegate to the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association convention held in Hastings, Nebraska, where Carrie Chapman Catt was the featured guest speaker. Ackerman was on the executive board and served as the second auditor of the state suffrage organization, the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1917, a legislative act granted Nebraska woman partial suffrage, giving women the right to vote in presidential and municipal elections. However, the Nebraska Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage filed a petition later that same year seeking a referendum vote in the November 1918 election, temporarily blocking the new suffrage legislation. After investigating the petition, Nebraska suffragists concluded that many of the signatures were fraudulent. In 1918, the executive board of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association filed a counter suit claiming that the anti-suffrage petition was not valid because many of the signatures weren't legal; all nineteen executive board members of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association, including Ackerman, were plaintiffs in the suit of Barkley v Pool. In 1919, the Nebraska State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the suffragists and in a special session that same year, the Nebraska legislature unanimously voted to ratify the 19th Amendment.

After winning suffrage, Ackerman's work continued; she chaired a temporary organization to form, when fully organized, a local League of Women Voters chapter. In the 1930s, she moved to San Francisco. James, her husband, died on March 21, 1939. Ellen Ackerman died on November 29, 1952 after sustaining a fall in the Garden Nursing Home where she had been a resident since 1948. She was 84 years old.


Ainsworth Star Journal
June 15, 1887 page 5
April 28, 1916 page 1
Sept 22, 1916 page 1
Nov 22, 1917 page 3
Jan 30, 1919 page 1
Sept 4, 1919 page 1
July 15, 1926 page 1

Brown County Democrat
May 13, 1910 page 1
May 17, 1912 page 1
May 31, 1912 page 1
Feb 20, 1914 page 1
March 20, 1914 page 1
Nov 13, 1914 page 1
Nov 16, 1916 page 1

The Ainsworth Star Journal and Brown County Democrat were accessed through:

Coroner's Register, San Francisco, Mar, 1939

Coroner's Register, San Francisco, Nov, 1952

"Halt Referendum in Supreme Court." Omaha Bee, June 29, 1919, Page 3-A.

Hickman, Laura McKee. Thou Shalt Not Vote: the Struggle for Woman's Suffrage in Nebraska, 1997. University of Nebraska at Omaha, PhD dissertation.

"The People Who Wouldn't Give Up." Woman Citizen. February 8, 1919, pages 756-757.

"Woman Suffrage." History Nebraska. Official Nebraska Government Website.

Image Source: Woman Citizen

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