Eliza A. (Lizzie) Dorman Fyler (1850–1885)
Lizzie Dorman Fyler was an activist in Arkansas in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Although she died at the age of thirty-five, she had already made a mark as a leader in the temperance movement, and she laid the early foundation for the drive to achieve women’s suffrage in Arkansas.
Eliza (Lizzie) Dorman was born on March 11, 1850, in Massachusetts to Dr. Uriah Dorman and Eliza Alma Dorman. She moved with her parents and her mother’s parents to Wisconsin in 1853. While little is known about her youth, she appears to have grown up and received her early education in Wisconsin before marrying Frank F. Fyler in 1870. The couple had a daughter in 1871, by which time they were living in Missouri.
It appears that Lizzie Fyler was involved in the temperance movement while living in Missouri, but after the family moved to Arkansas from Missouri in 1880 and settled in Eureka Springs (Carroll County), she turned her focus to the pursuit of women’s suffrage. In September 1881, Fyler took the first step toward an organized campaign to secure the woman’s vote, founding the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) and assuming its presidency. In reporting on its organization to the Woman’s Journal in October, Fyler issued a statement that went beyond voting rights, declaring that “the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association has been organized for the purpose of securing such legislation as shall secure to woman all the rights and privileges which belong to the citizens in a free republic.” Fyler’s effort to secure the woman’s vote was a lonely battle, as conservative Arkansas was not overly receptive to the idea. In an effort to overcome the strong local resistance, she sought to get suffrage leaders from outside the state to come in to talk with local citizens.
While pursuing the suffrage cause, Fyler also read law in Eureka Springs and, by 1884, had begun to practice. However, due to her gender, she was not allowed to plead in court, although she could assist and was reported to have done so. While she is believed to have been one of the first female lawyers in Arkansas—and, indeed, the whole South—the limitations on her involvement undoubtedly fueled her determination to achieve suffrage, as well as the other rights she had referenced in her earlier announcement.
In 1884 Fyler traveled to Washington DC to the annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association—the first time Arkansas was represented. However, in October 1885, Fyler reported that the AWSA was disbanding. Fyler professed not to be discouraged, saying that although Arkansas was not yet ready to support such an organization, the cause itself was “rapidly gaining ground.”
Fyler was not able to see the process continue, for she died suddenly in Eureka Springs on November 11, 1885. Her death was mourned by local activists, and it was not until three years later that a formal movement resumed, with the 1888 founding of the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association by temperance activist Clara McDiarmid in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
For additional information:
Cahill, Bernadette. Arkansas Women and the Right to Vote: The Little Rock Campaigns, 1868–1920. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2015.
Evins, Janie Synatzske. “Arkansas Women: Their Contribution to Society, Politics, and Business, 1865–1900.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 44 (Summer 1985): 118–133.
Taylor, A. Elizabeth. “The Woman Suffrage Movement in Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 15 (Spring 1956): 17–52.
William H. Pruden III
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