According to the Bakersville Methodist Episcopal Church South Sunday School record book, on a pleasant morning in June 1881, 11-year old Ella Bogue Clapp attended the service conducted by Mr. W.S. Hyams. The congregation sang “At the Beautiful Gate,” the lesson was “The Crucifixion,” and then Ella went to class led by 15-year old Ida Heap. She had no idea of the exciting future in store for her or the conflict that would divide the Clapp and Heap families.
Ella was born shortly after her parents, Elisha Bogue and Alice Jane Conley Clapp, moved in 1870 from Knoxville, Tennessee to Ledger in the Snow Hill Township of Mitchell County. Her two older sisters and older brother were born in Huntsville, Alabama. Ella and younger brother Frank were born at Ledger. Her father and his business partner John Graves Heap brought the first large-scale mica mining operations to Mitchell County and were very successful. The Clapps built a beautiful house just across from the Methodist Church on what was called Marion Street in Bakersville within sight of the one built by the Heaps.
Ella’s father suffered from a chronic respiratory disease, likely pulmonary tuberculosis, which plagued him most of his adult life. Hoping a change of climate would benefit him, the family moved to Los Angeles, California where he died January 18, 1874. Unfortunately, he had fully trusted his partner J.G. Heap and left all business interests in his hands.
The Clapp family returned to their home in Bakersville. There are no records indicating that Ella attended the local schools; however, it is apparent that she was precocious, and we are told she had tutors to guide her learning. In 1883, the 13 year-old Ella entered the Asheville Female College as a first year sophomore.
Asheville Female College was one of the first educational institutions established in western North Carolina with a mission “to instruct young ladies in the languages and the arts so that they may be able to perform more fully their duties in circles of refinement and culture.”
Ella succeeded academically and in 1888 at 18, she traveled to Washington, DC and took a position at the Census Bureau and the U.S. Patent Office. It was reported that she passed the Civil Service examination ahead of 12 men competing with her. She also was the only female in a geology and mineralogy course at the new Corcoran Scientific School known today as the George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Her mother Alice left Bakersville also and in 1893 was living at 1404 6th Street Northwest, Washington, DC. Whether Ella lived with her has not been determined.
Ella’s sister, Sarah Blanche Clapp, died in 1895. That same year, still living in DC, Alice sold the Clapp family house to William Grayson Poteat and his wife Harriett (Hattie) Matilda Greene of Bakersville.
In 1900, Ella was living in a boarding house and Edwin St. Clair Thompson, a lawyer, was living in a separate DC boarding house. On October 25, 1905, Ella (35) married Edwin (37) at Epiphany Church, DC. Later she was known by many as Mrs. Ella St. Clair Thompson. Her mother moved back to Asheville to be closer to her two sons; she died in 1907 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery.
Meanwhile, Heap and his associates had allegedly begun misappropriating funds from the Heap and Clap Company after Clapp’s death. Ella’s mother secured a judgement against Heap for $30,000 (about $800,000 today); however, she received only a portion. Without proper management and mutual trust, the mines were left idle. In 1909, Ella and a business partner, Virginia P. Cibotti, an attorney from Philadelphia, purchased about 20 mines and 2,000 acres of land, putting them back into operation.
Ella began her lifelong commitment to woman’s suffrage in 1913 when she joined other NC women in a suffrage parade in DC, giving her home as Bakersville. Later that year, she led a group of about 100 other women to present a petition to the DC Court of Appeals for Nathaniel Green to be hanged for his “brutal crime upon Mrs. Adelaide E. Grant” on Christmas night 1912. The Court refused to consider the petition.
From then until 1920, Ella was deeply involved in the “suffrage league” with the distinct purpose of getting the Susan B. Anthony Amendment passed through Congress. Her travels covered the entire country, and she worked with such noted women as Adelina Otero-Warren among many others.
Ella entered Fordham Law School in 1925 and In March 1926 she was installed in their Alpha Alpha Chapter, meaning that she had an academic ranking at least 15% above passing scores and demonstrated notable leadership and ethical characteristics. She graduated with the Bachelor of Laws degree in 1928 and became a successful attorney.
In June 1933, Edwin died in their living room in the St James Hotel, New York. Tragically, her younger brother, Frank, who attended his funeral, died at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station waiting to return to his home in Spruce Pine. Ella shortly after moved to Bakersville and built a house which she named Casa del Sol, which stands today. She also maintained an apartment in New York and made frequent trips back and forth.
In 1944 Ella died of pneumonia in the hospital in Asheville. Services were held in Casa del Sol December 18, she was cremated, and her ashes were taken to DC to remain near Edwin.
In 1951, agents for the Ella Clapp Thompson estate offered for sale 1,900 acres of timber land, several houses, a business building in Asheville, one-fifth of 1,920 acres of mineral lands, and another 11,000 acres in North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, and Tennessee.