Elizabeth King Ellicott

(1858 - 1914)

 

 
Elizabeth King Ellicott's vision of a government that included women was at the center of her commitment towards state and national government reform. She was instrumental in changing the perception of women in society largely through her involvement in broadening the scope of Maryland women's organizations and through the movement for women's suffrage at the turn of the 20th century.

Elizabeth King was born in 1858 to a prominent Baltimore family. Her mother died when she was very young and King grew up with her cousin and future founder of Bryn Mawr, M. Carey Thomas. Together they attended the Quaker Howland Institute in New York.

By her mid-30's, King was among the founders of the companion Bryn Mawr School for Girls in Baltimore and was instrumental in opening the medical school of Johns Hopkins University to women students. King later became a member of the Women's Literary Club and joined a small faction that wished to expand the club's scope beyond the discussion of literary topics. King's circle was unable to amend the literary club's constitution, so, in 1894, they organized the Arundell Club and elected King as their president.

King viewed municipal government as housekeeping on a larger scale. Therefore, she felt a purpose of the Arundell Club should be to promote the economical and efficient management of government. Soon, the Arundell Club was affiliated with the General Federation of Women's Clubs. By 1896 membership had reached 300. King wanted to develop a special section of the club solely dedicated to government reform so, in the same year, she launched the Arundell Good Government Club. It was the first women's organization in Baltimore to discuss and act on civic problems. However, King realized that while local women's groups, along with the help of male reformers, could achieve some reform goals, larger organizations with greater memberships were needed to produce more significant results. In 1809, King helped organize the Maryland Federation of Women's Clubs. King was the federation's first president and she led the effort to broaden the potential impact of women's efforts from Baltimore to the entire state. By the federation's first meeting, membership consisted of 19 women's clubs and 2,100 women.

A year later, King married architect William Ellicott, heir to a flour milling fortune. However, her marriage did not affect her activism.

Elizabeth King Ellicott was deeply involved in the women's suffrage movement. She led the effort to create and maintain unity among various state suffrage organizations and helped to spread suffrage activism across the state.. By 1910, because of unity issues, responsibility for organizing the state suffrage movement fell to Ellicott and Edith Houghton Hooker, founder of the Just Government League.

Ellicott led the Maryland Federation of Women's Club once again in 1914 and steered it towards influencing the Maryland General Assembly. For the first time, the federation endorsed legislation such as strengthening compulsory education laws, the state assumption of the Maryland Industrial School for Girls, tree planting and conservation, and the reorganization of the Board of State Aid and Charities. Also, it supported a measure to open the Maryland Agricultural College to women on an equal basis with men and a minimum wage for women. Noting, in 1914, the failure of most of the federation-sponsored legislative agenda, Ellicott begged members not to be discouraged. She declared, "We have gained insight and experience and at the next legislature we will be better equipped for punishing the interests of women."

King was plagued with frequent bouts of poor health. Following the 1914 legislative session, Ellicott became ill and could not attend the federation's annual meeting in April. However, she sent a message to the gathering expressing her belief in the power of the federation. She wrote, "I am convinced of the Vitality and far reaching influence of the federation and its usefulness in supplying to the lives of women and communities in which they dwell, a power for good and for progress."

Elizabeth King Ellicott died on May 14, 1914, at the age of 56. Her will directed that $25,000 be used for the political education of women.
 
 

 

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001