Her right to vote came in Illinois

The first women to vote in Illinois was from Chautauqua County

Several weeks ago I was contacted by a member from the League of Women Voters in the Chicago area. She asked me if I would go to the Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown and put flowers on the grave of Ellen Annette Martin (1847-1916) and send a picture. The local Lombard, Ill., league was making a documentary for April 6 about Ellen Annette Martin.

Here is the “rest of the story”; Ellen Annette Martin was born in 1847 to Abram Martin and Mary E. (Burnham) Martin in Kiatone, Chautauqua County, New York. She had an extraordinary education for the time and perhaps even now.

She attended Jamestown Academy and Randolph Academy. In 1865 she graduated from Clinton Liberal Institution in Clinton, New York. Among the other celebrated graduates were Matilda Joslyn Gage and Clara Barton. She was the first women law student in Chautauqua. She graduated in 1875 from University of Michigan with a degree in law. Opportunities in higher education for women were limited in this period. Cornell admitted women in 1870 and only two of the seven sisters were formed prior to 1875. Mary Lyon from Mount Holyoke started the Western College for Women in 1855 in Oxford, Ohio (now Miami of Ohio.)

In January 1876 she was admitted to the Illinois Bar and joined Mary F. Perry in a law firm on 84 LaSalle St., Chicago.

Ellen Annette Martin’s grave is in Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown. Below is Martin’s photo.

The Chicago Legal News wrote in 1912 that Perry and Martin formed a partnership in 1876 and the partnership continued until Fredrika Perry died. Martin continued the practice retaining the same name until a year before her death. She commuted from her home at 219 West Maple Street in Lombard, Ill., to her office in Chicago from 1876 to 1915. The practice paid special attention to real estate law. An integral part of her practice was women’s rights. Ellen Martin was an ardent advocate for all aspects of equality for women. She also had a personal reason as well for franchisement. In Illinois, attorneys were required to be registered voters to argue a case in court. By not being a voter, Miss Martin was prevented from the full practice of her profession.

Miss Martin worked years on a legal brief based on her hometown charter of Lombard, Ill.; outlining women’s legal right to vote in Lombard. Twenty-two years earlier, Civil War Gen. Benjamin Sweat, author of the founding charter of town of Lombard, deliberately wrote “All citizens … shall be entitled to vote at any election.” He had a very strong relationship with his daughters and intentionally omitted any male specific language. One might assume that he intended his daughters to vote.

On April 6, 1891, wearing two sets of spectacles and legal brief in hand, Ellen Martin was the first to take advantage of the charter and demanded the right to cast a ballot. She stated her case on the fact that the town charter enfranchised all citizens, with no mention of sex. The story goes that the three voting judges were flabbergasted by Miss Martin: “Mr. Marqurdt was taken with a spasm, Reber leaned stiff against the wall, and Vance fell backward into the flour barrel.” Rather than bothering to read the extensive legal brief the poll workers permitted Ellen Martin to vote. She was followed by fourteen of Lombard’s most prominent women.

A judge eventually proclaimed the legitimacy of the votes of those 15 women. They became the first women’s votes tabulated in Illinois history and Ellen Martin had the distinction of being the very first woman to vote in the state. The men of Lombard quickly reorganized the town charter in line with the state charter, so that women were only allowed to vote in school election. No surprise there.

Ellen Martin did not stop at voting. Some of Ellen Martin’s later efforts certainly contributed to the ability of Illinois women to vote. She worked for woman’s suffrage at the national and local level.

The Chicago Woman’s Club, of which Ellen A. Martin was a member, founded the Chicago Political Equality League in 1894 specifically to work for women’s full political equality. Martin was elected to the first Board of Directors at the first meeting in November 1894 of the Chicago Political Equality League.

Susan B. Anthony was in attendance at that meeting. In May 1898, she held the office of corresponding secretary of the Chicago Political Equality League. The first “political equality club” you may remember from the article about Elnora Babcock (Dunkirk citizen) was founded in 1887 in Chautauqua County.

By 1890, the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club was the largest county suffrage organization in the United States. The Political Equality Clubs and later league taught women about civic institutions and parliamentary procedure, and it shared news of women’s issues around the nation and the world.

Martin was elected to the office of chair of the Women Voters of Lombard (Illinois) in April of 1892. Her opinion was covered in the Sunday Inter Ocean in November 1892 regarding the woman’s right to vote for school officers in Lombard. Martin called a meeting of the Congress of Women Lawyers in Chicago to order and made the opening remarks in August 1893. On a national level, Martin and Perry hosted delegates of the first regular session of the Woman’s National Suffrage Association Convention in Chicago in 1880 at their law office. The association was made up of local and state groups throughout the United States, coordinated the national suffrage movement.

The Women’s Club of Chicago acknowledged Martin as a legal authority on discussions of the law in the Woman’s club. Martin was also a frequent contributor of articles to law journals and was well versed in the naturalization of citizens. In 1897, Martin was recognized as the woman who practiced law the longest in Chicago; at which time she would have been practicing for twenty-one years.

In Illinois, women were enfranchised to vote statewide in 1913 and the annual tally for Lombard’s elections proved how important it was. In 1912, 223 people votes were casts in Lombard, in 1913, 225 votes, but in 1914 when women could vote, 562 votes were cast in the ballot box.

I am not an historian but I think that research on women can be difficult compared to their male counterparts. In many cases historians have to deal with name changes through marriage. In this case Martin was never married. I am sure that Martin’s life was far more accomplished than the information I have gathered.

Some of the league members went with me to take a picture of Miss Martin’s grave in Jamestown.

The office at the Lake View Cemetery was very helpful but they were not aware of the history of Ellen Martin. They gave me her death certificate and the name of another Suffragist; Edith Mary Ainge who was also buried in Lake View. Perhaps more about her in another article.

Many of the reference I had about Ellen Martin stated that she died in Rochester on April 24, 1916. Her death certificate that I obtained stated she died in Harmony, N.Y., at the age of 69. In the Chicago Legal News, there was an obituary stating that she died in Jamestown, New York. The cause of her death was declared as “senile decay.”

She had only stopped her legal career a year earlier. My guess she could even at the time of her death run circles around most intellectually. As with so many women who worked so hard for suffrage she died never to see the 19th amendment passed in 1920.


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