Elizabeth McConaughey (Bettie) Wassell (1859–1923)

Elizabeth McConaughey (Bettie) Wassell was the honorary state regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a member of the Political Equality League, and the chairperson of the History Committee of the Arkansas Equal Suffrage State Central Committee.

Bettie McConaughey was born on October 12, 1859, in Searcy (White County) to James W. McConaughey and Albina McRae McConaughey. Her parents were prominent social and cultural figures during the Civil War; James was a captain in the Confederate army, and Albina was the sister of Confederate general Dandridge McRae.

McConaughey married Samuel Spotts Wassell on April 8, 1978. Samuel Wassell was a Cornell University graduate and attorney in Memphis, Tennessee, and later in Little Rock (Pulaski County). They had four children, including Samuel McConaughey Wassell, who was mayor of Little Rock from 1947 to 1952.

Elizabeth Wassell was active in the political sphere of Arkansas and Little Rock during the 1910s and 1920s. In 1914, she was a noted presence and speaker at the first National Suffrage May Day rally in Little Rock on the steps of what later became the Old State House. Several other prominent female and male suffragists from the state also spoke on the topics of women’s suffrage and political rights in Arkansas. Apparently, Wassell had a significant amount of political clout in Arkansas—a letter preserved at the Arkansas State Archives shows a request for her to write a note supporting a judge because of his past attitudes toward suffrage; this was in hopes that other women could read it and justify their support for this judge. This letter also makes clear that Wassell possibly had connections and power with the Arkansas General Assembly as well.

Wassell was active in several social, cultural, and historical groups in Arkansas throughout her life. She served as the vice-regent for the Daughters of the American Revolution and was later given the status of honorary state regent. Wassell was an active member of the Political Equality League and its study club, where she helped lead political debates dealing with suffrage and women’s political rights. Wassell was also an active speaker at historical events and venues around the area; she once gave a talk on the Civil War for the Keller Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She also served as the chairperson for the History Committee for the Arkansas Equal Suffrage State Central Committee (the successor of the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association).

Along with Wassell’s numerous social and political appointments, she also was a regular contributor to the Arkansas Gazette and was the lead writer for a column titled “History of Equal Suffrage Movement in Arkansas” in 1919, which re-documented Susan B. Anthony’s visit to Arkansas in 1889, as well as exploring the history and changes of women’s political rights and suffrage in Arkansas at the time. This two-part column ran on the front page of “The Woman’s Page” of the Gazette.

Wassell died in Little Rock on November 29, 1923. She is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.

For additional information:
Cahill, Bernadette. Arkansas Women and the Right to Vote: The Little Rock Campaigns, 1868–1920. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2015.

Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6. N.p: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922.

Pinkston, Renee. “Two Lesser-Known Little Rock Suffragettes: Elizabeth McConaughey Wassell and Julia McAlmont Warner.” Pulaski County Historical Review 67 (Winter 2019): 128–130.

Wassell, Mrs. S. S. “History of Equal Suffrage Movement in Arkansas: An Account of the Patient, Persistent Efforts for the Emancipation of Women, From Pioneer Days to the Present.” Arkansas Gazette, February 9, 1919, p. 30.

———. “History of Equal Suffrage Movement in Arkansas: An Account of the Patient, Persistent Efforts for the Emancipation of Women, From Pioneer Days to the Present.” Arkansas Gazette, February 23, 1919, p. 34.

Wassell Family Papers Collection. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at http://archives.arkansas.gov/research/browse-archival-collections.aspx?id=1455 (accessed May 28, 2020).

Renee Pinkston
Arkansas State University

Last Updated: 12/16/2019

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