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This Day in Georgia History

April 04, 1834

Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas Born

Diarist and early feminist Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas was born in Augusta, Georgia. She was born into an aristocratic family and seemed destined to live the life of a wealthy white southern woman when she married Princeton graduate Jefferson Thomas in 1852. Financial problems began to plague the Thomas family early. Much of their property was in slaves, and after the Civil War they fell deeply into debt - ultimately losing all their property. Thomas was extremely well read and as a college graduate (Wesleyan Female College in Macon), she helped the family survive by teaching school. Later in life, Thomas became involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. When one of her sons, a successful physician, invited his parents to come live with him, they liquidated all their property to help clear debts, and moved to Atlanta. Here, Thomas became involved with the Georgia Women’s Suffrage Association, attended the national convention in 1895, and served as its president in 1899, while corresponding with noted figures Rebecca Latimer Felton and Mary Latimer McClendon. She was a unique thinker and talented writer and kept a journal from 1848-1889 that covers her life from an aristocratic young teen, through her courtship and marriage, the turmoil of the Civil War, and her family’s slow descent into poverty after the war. Through the journal one can watch her grow into a pioneer feminist as well as enjoy her commentaries of the momentous events she witnessed. Significant portions of the journal have been published in Virginia Ingraham Burr (ed.), The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990). Ella Thomas died in 1907 and is buried in Augusta’s Magnolia Cemetery.