Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ella Bushnell-Hamlin, 1853-1936
By Wendy Woerner, Student, University of California San Diego
Ella Bushnell-Hamlin was born Eliza Grace Coney in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in about 1853. Her parents were William Hamlin Coney and Martha Bushnell. She married Jonathan Cline in May 1880 and had two sons with him. After she divorced Cline, she dropped her married name and changed her name to Ella G. Bushnell-Hamlin, taking both her mother's and her father's names. Throughout those years, she was mainly known for her work in print, such as being the editor for the Muscatine (IA) Tribune for multiple years.
In 1902, Ella moved to Davenport, Iowa, where she became a society editor and general writer for the Davenport Republican. Then, in 1904, she and another woman founded the publishing company, "The Trident," which published a successful magazine under the same name. During this time, she became active in her community, advocating for parks, community centers, and even creating the first school arbor day while working as a teacher for a short period.
Ella was also one of the founding members of the Davenport Women's Club and went on to become a delegate to the national convention in 1893 and to the National American Woman Suffrage Association's Washington DC conference in 1900. One of the accounts of specific suffrage activity comes from the Quad-City Times in August of 1910, where Ella denounced President Taft for his stance against women's suffrage in an interview with the paper.
In contrast, she promised that the Trident would "champion the commission form of city government, advocating direct legislation" and support "the political equality of women." In the same interview, Ella described how, during her time as the secretary for the school board in Cedar County, the men had attempted to get women off the board. In response, she nominated the wife one of the board members as his competitor for the position of director.
Ella's political engagement reached its peak in 1926 when she announced her candidacy for the United States Congress. She ran as an independent, describing herself as "a Lincoln Republican and a Jefferson Democrat," and campaigned under the slogans "Mind your business" and "Spirit of 1776." A committed pacifist, her central argument was that Congress should promote firm treaties with all countries that agreed to outlaw war. She failed to win the election, which some attribute to her "radical nature."
Ella was an active charter member in the Davenport Women's Club until a year before her death. Due to declining health, she stepped down from the club before passing away in 1936 at her home in Davenport.
"Mrs Ella G. Bushnell Hamlin, Well Known Figure in Davenport for 30 Years, Dies Following Long Illness" The Daily Times, May 8 1936, Page 6 https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/105596062/ella-grace-bushnell-hamlin/photo
"Davenport Suffragette Defies Mayor and Aldermen to Put Her in Jail" Quad-City Times, August 14 1910, Page 8 file:///C:/Users/Wendy/Downloads/clipping_77575713.pdf
"An Iowa Woman's Claim - the Real Founder of Arbor Day" The Des Moines Register, December 31 1916, Page 16 file:///C:/Users/Wendy/Downloads/clipping_77575890.pdf
Mullenbach, Cheryl. "Iowa's 1920s Populist Congressional Candidate Who Ran on a 'Mind Your Business' Platform." Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, 29 Aug. 2017, www.iowawatch.org/2017/09/16/the-iowa-congressional-candidate-who-ran-on-a-mind-your-business-platform/
"Construction of Community Center Urged" Quad-City Times, January 20 1929, Page 4 https://www.newspapers.com/clip/2460097/ella-bushnell-hamlin-letter
"Bridge building muscles along," Quad-City Times, 26 August 2018, accessible online at https://qctimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/columnists/alma-gaul/bridge-building-muscles-along/article_c52aa73a-b66e-52bb-806e-9c7e92846a20.html