Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Elvira P. Thorndyke, 1825-1906

By Nicole Dicen, undergraduate student, University of California San Diego

Elvira P. Snow was born on January 25, 1825 in South Thomaston, Maine, to Captain Israel Snow and Lucy W. Thorndyke Snow as their eldest child. She had seven siblings: Lavinia Snow, Israel L. Snow, Lucy A. Snow, Susan Snow, Eliza T. Snow, Lydia T. Snow and Charles W. Snow. She married Captain Joshua K. Thorndyke on December 20, 1845 in her hometown of South Thomaston. They had four children: Ardelle Blake, Ada C. Krebs, Ella Thornton, and Melbourne Thorndyke. Thorndyke came to California four years after her husband came in 1847. The Thorndyke family first settled in Sacramento, and later in San Francisco. The 1860 census recorded Elvira and four children residing in San Francisco. Joshua was not listed in the household. On January 7, 1862, Joshua and Elvira divorced.

Thorndyke traveled back to the East Coast several times after settling in Northern California. In 1868, she assisted her sisters, Lavinia and Lucy, in founding the Equal Rights Association of Rockland, the first society of its kind in Rockland, Maine. Following quickly after the establishment of the Equal Rights Association of Rockland, the sisters wrote a letter to The Revolution in New York, the newspaper founded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, stating its establishment and essentially encouraging noble, like-minded women to join and support the society.

Thorndyke was an advocate for women's rights and social reform, notably seen through her republishing of "The Baker Oration: Power and Permanence of American Institutions" as the editor of the journal Astiaca. In 1881 she published a collection of poetry, Astrea, Goddess of Justice, the introduction of which underscored her continuing commitment to the "cause of Woman."

According to the Society of California Pioneers, she was the first president of the California Woman Suffrage Society, founded in 1870, but resigned from the position after two years due to her health. She remained active, though, in women's reform circles and spoke at the second California Woman's Congress held in San Francisco in May 1895. By this date she had settled in Temescal and spent the last fifteen years of her life there. Many of her friends and family gathered there and she would celebrate the Advent of Modern Spiritualism annually with other spiritualists.

The 1900 census found Elvira, now 75, living in Washington township in Alameda Country. That year Thorndyke helped organize the Association of Pioneer Women. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Thorndyke prioritized the remobilization of the Association of Pioneer Women. Thorndyke's efforts and contributions were recognized and honored through her title of the "Most Valued Member" of the Association of Pioneer Women.

At the age of 81, Thorndyke passed away in Alameda, California, on September 5, 1906. In her will, she granted the majority of her estate to her daughter, Ada, and cut off her only son, Melbourne. Many members from the Association of Pioneer Women, along with people who aligned with her spiritualist beliefs, attended her funeral in the home of one of her granddaughters.


Federal manuscript census, California, 1860 and 1900. Accessed via Ancestry Library Edition.

Alameda Daily Argus, September 7, 1906, Pg. 1, Alameda, CA, United States

Biographical Sketch of Lucy A. Snow and Lavinia M. Snow, written by Angela M. Keith. [LINK]

Elliott, LisaRuth, "Suffrage and Spiritualism: Historical Essay," accessed online at

"Elvira P. Thorndyke Obituary." Her Side of the Story. The Society of California Pioneers. Accessed May 31, 2021.

Hunt, Rockwell D., and Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez. "California Biography." Essay. In California and Californians. Chicago, IL: Lewis Pub. Co., 1926.

Pierce, Frank. "An Act: To Dissolve the Bonds of Matrimony Between J. K. Thorndike and Elvira P. Thorndike, His Wife." Essay. In Laws of Washington: A Publication of the Session Laws of Washington Territory, Including the General Laws and Resolutions of the Years 1854 to 1888 Inclusive; The Federal and Colonial Orders, Treaties, Acts and Ordinances Affecting Land Titles in Washington. Seattle, WA: Tribune Print. Co., 1895.

The San Francisco Call, September 6, 1906, p. 13,

The San Francisco Call, September 13, 1906, p. 6,

Thorndyke, E.P. Astrea, Goddess of Justice (San Francisco: Amanda Slocum, 1881).

"The Woman's Congress," San Francisco Call, 26 May 1895, p. 8.

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