By John Sheehy, Penngrove, California
Role in Women’s Suffrage: Sonoma County Woman Suffrage Association, Founding Treasurer, 1869; Sonoma-Marin W.C.T.U, County Superintendent, 1890s, President, 1900-01; California Woman Suffrage Central Committee, 1896; Petaluma Political Equality Club, President, 1896-1902.
Ellen Hulett was born in 1839, in Danby, Vermont, to Silas Hulett (1807-1895), a farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Campbell (1808-1896). In 1857, at the age of eighteen, Ellen married Isaac V. Button (1835-1929), also of Danby. In 1861, the couple, along with members of their extended family, moved to Petaluma, California, where Isaac bred cattle. Between 1863 and 1878 Ellen gave birth to eight children, only two of which, Isaac Monte Button (1878-1945) and Mable Ella Button Brown (1869-1963), survived beyond infancy. Ellen served as founding treasurer of the Sonoma County Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 and signed the 1870 Petition for Woman’s Suffrage presented to the California State Legislature. In 1873, the Button family moved to the new mining town of Spring City, Nevada, where Isaac acquired the 64,000-acre Double-Square Ranch, turning it into the West Coast’s most extensive horse breeding ranch. In 1892, Ellen and Isaac separated, with Ellen returning to Petaluma while Isaac remained in Nevada.
In Petaluma, Ellen became actively involved in the suffrage movement through the W.C.T.U, writing regularly for the Petaluma Courier newspaper as the union’s local press superintendent under the initials “E.H.B.,” and later serving as Petaluma president. Like scores of other evangelical Protestant women, she embraced the W.C.T.U.’s intersectional motto of “do everything,” making the case that as the morally superior sex women needed the vote to act as “citizen-mothers” in protecting their homes and curing a host of society’s ills, many of them rooted in alcohol consumption.
Following the 1893 veto by California governor of a suffrage bill passed by the state legislature, Ellen confronted the local opposition. “It is hard perhaps for one not in the work to realize,” she wrote, “what women have done in the busy walks of life towards creating a public sentiment that gradually places women foremost in all great reforms, as she ever has been in the church and in the home.”
An active member and clerk of Petaluma’s First Congregational Church, Ellen ran the church’s Petaluma Chinese Mission School, one of sixteen such California schools co-founded by the former Petaluma pastor William C. Pond. Although the Chinese Exclusion Acts greatly decreased enrollment, the night school offered instruction in English and Christianity to Chinese servants for the sole purpose, as Ellen wrote in a xenophobic article, of sending them back to China as Christian evangelists.
At the request of the California Woman Suffrage Central Committee, Ellen organized suffrage clubs in Napa County during the run up to California’s failed 1896 suffrage referendum. In her writings and public talks, she communicated to women a message of courage.
In 1909, Ellen reconciled with her husband Isaac, joining him in San Francisco, where he had started a draying business after selling his Nevada ranch. The couple later moved to Berkeley, where Ellen died in 1922 at age 83. She was buried at Cypress Hill Cemetery in Petaluma.
Petaluma Morning Courier: January 25, 1893, March 18, 1893, March 19, 1893, September 11, 1896, September 28, 1896, October 2, 1896, October 3, 1896, November 6, 1896, May 12, 1897, October 25, 1897, June 15, 1897, July 8, 1897, October 25, 1899, July 7, 1900, October 17, 1900, May 8, 1901, November 1, 1901, September 29, 1902, January 6, 1904, September 25, 1906, August 17, 1909.
Petaluma Argus: September 30, 1902, August 3, 1909, March 17, 1922.
Reno Gazette-Journal: October 1, 1929.
San Francisco Call: September 29, 1896.San Francisco Chronicle: December 22, 1907.