Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ellen L. Thomas, 1853-1925
By Sabine Westfahl, undergraduate, Rosemont College
Ellen L. Thomas was an active suffragist from the early years of the movement (the late 19th century) to 1911. She was born on January 5, 1853, in Upper Merion, Montgomery County PA to Elwood and Anna Thomas. Her father and mother were both born in 1826, and her father died in 1888 while her mother died in 1908. Growing up, Ellen was one of seven children, the oldest being William Bell Thomas (1851-1897) followed by Harry C Thomas (1859-1922), Mary A. Thomas (1856), Anna B Thomas (1868-1928), Charles Franklin Thomas, Elliot Thomas, and Henry Thomas. Thomas grew up in a Quaker household and attended several meetings throughout her early life such as the Radnor Monthly Meeting, Gwynedd Monthly Meeting, and later the Friends' Association of Norristown.
Her work in the suffrage mainly lasted between the 1890s and the early 1900s. She was one of the founding members and president of the Montgomery County Suffrage Association and was extremely active in different associations throughout her years of work. One of the first mentions of her work is from a local newspaper article discussing her attendance at the Annual Convention of the Pennsylvania Women Suffrage Association on November 3, 1897. Throughout her career in the movement, she was a regular attendee at conferences like this. She was one out of six women to be appointed as a press chairman to distribute papers and advertisements for the movement in her community. The articles that were distributed were sent out to schools along with community papers as an effort to promote women's suffrage.
On November 12, 1908, Thomas was mentioned in an article entitled, "Suffragettes Veto Violent Agitation." In this article, the author discusses the pushback from suburban suffragist communities against the violent responses made by isolated groups of suffrage supporters to the inequalities of the time. The article noted, "members of Pennsylvania Association favor, instead, tactful education to further cause." Thomas was very active at conferences and conventions that dealt with reforming education in schools and churches.
In one particular article, Thomas was quoted while speaking about the goal of the movement and the peaceful approach that associations like hers were aiming to achieve: "men and women should stand together in the State as they do in the home." She was a firm believer in equality and equity being spread throughout the country. The last article that mentions her work is one from March 13, 1911. The Harrisburg Independent published a story on the progress of bills being passed in favor of the movement and mentioned Thomas as a representative of the Philadelphia Association at a conference in Colorado about polls and voting rights.
After 1911, Thomas stepped away from her suffrage activism. Her family was fairly wealthy, allowing Ellen to live independently wealthy for the majority of her life until she moved in with her sister (Mary) and brother-in-law (Jerus C. Walker) in 1910 (a year before her last public mention). There, she lived a quiet life with the couple and their children, Harry, Ellen, William, Elwood, and Ivins until her death. She died on December 15, 1925, in Norristown PA at the age of 72. She is buried at Valley Friends Meeting Burial Ground in Wayne, Chester County, PA.
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6."Judge Lindsay Addresses House," Harrisburg Independent Daily, 13 March 1911, 4. atch=1
7."Woman Suffragists," Harrisburg Telegraph, 03, November 1897, 4.
8."Suffragists Veto Violent Agitation," The Valley Times Star, 12 November 1908, 6.