Judith Hurley Prosser: Tracking a shining star, Ellen Clark Sargent
Since it is Women’s History month, and Ellen Clark Sargent is one of our shining stars locally, I would like to clarify some information that appeared in the Aug. 26, 2020, edition of The Union.
There was a wonderful article about her contributions to women’s suffrage and her efforts here in Nevada County. She also went on to be the president of the California Woman’s Suffrage Association and the treasurer of the National Woman Suffrage Association (when I was looking at original sources for the names of these organizations, there were multiple spellings. In my own research, I found many instances of contradictory information, just as there are in our media today).
Backed by national figures and supported by powerful, visionary women in California, Ellen Clark Sargent’s leadership proved a key unifying force in our state’s suffragist movement.
A photo and caption appeared with the article. I would like to correct and expand on the information in the caption. It is important, for the historical record, that these corrections be made both in print and The Union’s online edition.
Having written an article on Ellen Clark Sargent, which is in the current edition of the Nevada County Business Focus magazine, I am quite familiar with this photo. We were looking for photos to accompany the article and I was able to make an appointment to view some at the Searls Historical Library. The Sargent family gifted them with all their photos and writings and each of them has been cataloged there.
I was personally able to view an original of the photo in question and on the back in cursive handwriting it had the date and purpose of the event: “June 28, 1895, Luncheon at Mrs. Nellie Holbrook Blinn’s.” It also listed all the women present.
Because we had difficulty reading the handwriting for some of the names, we did significant research to make sure our information was accurate, including checking newspaper articles in both the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Call (now Chronicle) in that time period, as well as articles in The Sixth Star, a book on women in politics we discovered in Found SF. It is part of the Bancroft Library collection. We also did searches on the names of the women listed. They were all movers and shakers in the women’s movement, primarily in California.
Here is the lineup:
High-powered California women gather at a luncheon on June 28, 1895, to honor suffragist Susan B. Anthony, center, seated next to Ellen Clark Sargent, right. Pictured are, standing, from left, Louisa Marriner-Campbell, an internationally renowned singer and vocal instructor; Hester A. Harland, lecturer and secretary of the California Woman’s Suffrage Association; hostess and California Woman’s Suffrage Association President Nellie Holbrook Blinn; and Annie Kennedy Bidwell, wife of Gen. John Bidwell. Seated, from left, are journalist, lawyer and racial equality advocate Mabel Craft; the Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw; Susan B. Anthony; Ellen Clark Sargent; and Rachel Andrews, a popular travel writer who published under the pen name of Lillian Leland.
At the time of this photo, Anthony was president and Shaw was vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (Searls Historical Library).
The reason Susan B. Anthony and the Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw were in San Francisco was because the Tuesday following this luncheon, July 2, 1895, was the annual convention for the California Woman’s Suffrage Educational Association (according to the Oakland Tribune), and they were to speak at the convention. The then current president of that organization was Nellie Holbrook Blinn, who hosted the luncheon.
That convention was a turning point for California’s suffrage movement. There had been a split in the movement, and two groups were claiming to be California’s true woman’s suffrage organization. One of the groups put off their meeting until September, waiting to see who was elected to the leadership position.
Supported by Susan B. Anthony, Ellen Clark Sargent got elected by a landslide to be president of the California Woman’s Suffrage Association. She was the unifying factor for the two groups. Susan B. Anthony had brought the by-laws of the National American Woman Suffrage Association with her, and these were used to create the by-laws for what was to be called the California Woman’s Suffrage Association. Finally unified, they could move on with their work.
Ellen Clark Sargent worked her entire adult life for women’s suffrage. Like so many of the suffragists, she herself never got the chance to vote, but her daughters and grandchildren did. Her legacy is the empowerment of women throughout this country.
Judith Hurley Prosser lives in Grass Valley.
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Before I tell you about my Darling, I want to follow up on my column from two weeks ago.