Ellen Rand Perkins Van Valkenburg was the widow of Henry Van Valkenburg, who established the San Lorenzo Paper Mill in 1860. He was killed by a tree branch during the storms of 1862. Ellen, who was pregnant with their third child, was left to run the business. The mill was sold under foreclosure later that year.
|Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, September 9, 1871|
Ellen went on to be one of the founders of a local temperance movement, “Friends of Universal Suffrage,” and in 1871, tried to register to vote. Albert Brown, the Santa Cruz County clerk and an accomplice, formally refused to register her.
Albert was among many of the county’s esteemed residents that had signed a petition in 1870 to the California Legislature “to secure to the women of this commonwealth the right of suffrage.”
In the ensuing suit, Ellen argued was that under the 14th Amendment many American women like herself were granted citizenship, and therefore, the rights of citizenship which included voting.
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In August 1871, nationally renowned suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Emily Pitt Stevens were in Santa Cruz with Ellen when California's Third District Court ruled against her.
Elizabeth Stanton delivered these words at a lecture at the Unity Church in Santa Cruz: “in the eye of the civil law we are persons, but in representation we are not persons, and have no political rights which men are bound to respect."
Ellen's lawyer, Santa Cruz Judge Albert Hagan, appealed the ruling arguing that women had a right to vote under the Constitution by virtue of their absolute rights as citizens of the United States under the 14th Amendment. Among those rights, as recognized in the 15th Amendment, was the right to vote.
The case was heard by the State Supreme Court in 1872, which upheld the lower court’s decision. The reasoning was that Ellen had civil rights before the 14th Amendment, since she was already a citizen, and it gave her no political rights. The 15th Amendment specifically applied to males who had been slaves.