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Fain, Elizabeth Finnigan (1875–1944)

Kelli R. Gill Biography Entry

Elizabeth “Bessie” Finnigan Fain, suffragist, historical preservation advocate, and daughter of Katherine (McRedmond) Finnigan and John Finnigan, was born in Houston, Texas, on May 9, 1875. As a young woman, she became active in the woman suffrage movement and served on committees for the annual conventions of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She attended Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, from 1893 to 1894. She later earned her bachelor of arts in 1902 from Barnard College in New York, where she joined the Beta Epsilon women’s chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma fraternity.

After completing her degree, Elizabeth returned to Houston, where in 1903, she and her sisters Annette Finnigan and Katherine Finnigan Anderson established new woman suffrage leagues in Houston and Galveston, then helped found the Texas Woman Suffrage Association (TWSA). Distinct from prior suffrage activity in Texas (such as through the Texas Equal Rights Association), the sisters focused on education by inviting pro-suffrage speakers and lecturers to the Houston area for small recruitment meetings of invited attendees. During the summer of 1903 Elizabeth aided her sister Annette in organizing a twenty-five-member suffrage committee in Galveston. She continued to work for the suffrage cause in Texas and served as a member of the national executive committee for the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Fain moved from Houston to New York, where on February 6, 1907, she married attorney William Hugh Fain. Together they had two daughters, Virginia C. and Elizabeth, and one son, William H. Fain, Jr. Fain returned briefly to Houston when her sister, Annette, fell ill. Alongside Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Fain helped organize the 1915 TWSA convention held in Galveston, Texas, at which time Cunningham was elected president and the organization changed its name to the Texas Equal Suffrage Association.

The Fain family later resided in Greenwich, Connecticut. Like many social elite women of the era, Fain devoted her time to women’s social clubs, including the Women’s Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, and charity work. Her largest contributions were made towards historical preservation. She was an original incorporator of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, alongside her husband, who served as legal counsel for the organization. She served on multiple committees (House Furnishings, Research and Education, and Fine Arts) and worked on restoration research of eighteenth-century fabrics. Fain was on the Stratford Hall’s board of directors as director for Connecticut from February 1929 until her death on October 23, 1944. She is buried alongside her husband at the Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Jessica S. Brannon-Wranosky, Southern Promise and Necessity: Texas, Regional Identity, and the National Woman Suffrage Movement, 1868–1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Texas, 2010). Helen Knox, “Lee Memorial is Restored Mansion: Plantation Serves Liberty’s Cause,” The Key: Official Magazine of Kappa Kappa Gamma (October 1940). Harriet Taylor Upton, ed., The Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Convention of the National American Suffrage Association, January 16, 1893 (Washington, D.C.: Stormont & Jackson Printers, 1893). Paula Williams Webber, The Early Houston Woman Suffrage Movement 1903–1917 (M.A. thesis, University of Houston-Clear Lake, 1995). Woman's Tribune, January 16, 1903.

Categories:

  • Education
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Advocates
  • Peoples
  • Irish
  • Politics and Government
  • Women
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Women's Clubs
  • Suffragists and Antisuffragists

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s

Places:

  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kelli R. Gill, “Fain, Elizabeth Finnigan,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 28, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/fain-elizabeth-finnigan.

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