Elizabeth Strong Tracy was born on September 8, 1838, in Coldwater, Michigan. She was the daughter of Seth Gregory Strong and Harriet A. (Curtis) Strong. She was educated in private schools in Kenosha Wisconsin. She married James Glover Tracy, a prominent and controversial figure in Reconstruction Texas, in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1855. They had six children. Tracy was an early and prominent proponent of women’s rights in Texas, a clubwoman, community activist, temperance leader, and newspaperwoman and author.
Elizabeth Strong Tracy came to Houston, Texas, in 1861, the first year of the Civil War, to join her husband who had come earlier to work on the Houston Telegraph. Her first civic effort in Texas was to join other ladies at the Harris County courthouse “to help make the garments and roll the bandages for the boys in gray.” As a northerner, it was noted that though “helping for humanity’s sake clothe and succor our soldiers [she] could not fill the cartridges to kill her own dear people—that she never would do.” By the time of her death, she appears to have been revered by the very people who reviled her Radical Republican husband, with a tribute stating “at the time of her death she was as much a Texan, and southerner as are many of us whose fathers wore the gray.”
During her fifty-seven years in Texas, Mrs. Tracy was noted as a “believer in woman’s rights at a time when it was thought unwomanly to champion such an unusual thing.” She was a longtime member of the Ladies Reading Club of Houston, a charter member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a charter member and parliamentarian of the Texas Woman’s Press Association, and a member of the Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was a noted suffragist and wrote on the subject. Tracy was also a charter member of the Texas Equal Rights Association and was elected fifth vice president at its first session, held in Dallas in 1893. Moreover, she served on the board of directors of the Florence Crittenton Rescue Home for Girls when it was organized in 1896.
Tracy was the first president of the Houston Pen Women’s Association, a group of Houston newspaperwomen. At one time she was Texas state reporter for the Union Signal of Chicago, the WCTU newspaper. For many years she edited the temperance column in the Houston Post. Throughout her life she wrote on many different civic subjects.
She was perhaps best-known as a “Parliamentarian,” serving, for example, as the parliamentarian of the Texas Woman’s Press Association, state superintendent of parliamentary law of the WCTU, and as parliamentarian of the City Federation of Women’s Clubs. By the early twentieth century, Tracy attended women’s conventions around the state and lectured on parliamentary procedure. She earned the sobriquet of “Quaint Little Woman.”
Belying that name, however, was her classic book The Club Woman’s Friend; An Analysis of Parliamentary Law, published in 1909, a handbook written to aid women in running groups at a time when women’s clubs and organizations became important and pervasive. It was called “the only book upon this subject ever published in Texas.” As opposed to the way her name usually appeared in print and in her other writings, her name appears in the book as “Elizabeth Strong-Tracy,” a hyphenation of her maiden and married name. Of her book, Mrs. Tracy wrote, “There is, so far as I know, no subject that requires the help of an experienced teacher more than that of parliamentary law.” In the book, she sought to provide “explanations of each motion and question as given in class.” Yet Tracy’s discussion of debates in the House of Commons and the United States House of Representatives demonstrates that her book went beyond simply showing ladies how to run a club to preparing women to participate in modern democracy.
Elizabeth Strong Tracy was an Episcopalian, and a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Houston, where she was active in the Women’s Missionary Society. She died on June 12, 1918, in Houston and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery there.