Miss Santa Claus Inhales Gas (1909)

Image from the Harper’s Bazaar (full article linked below)

From The Marion Daily Mirror (Marion, OH), Aug. 12, 1909:

Inhales Gas Because Her Plans Were Not All Successful.
 She Gladdened Many Little Hearts.
Gave Her Time to Making Others Happy.
Assigning Poor Health As a Cause, Elizabeth A. Phillips Commits Suicide-Those Who Knew Her Best Say Her Rash Act Was Caused by Disappointment Due to Lack of Interest by the People. 
     Philadelphia, August 12.-Elizabeth A. Phillips, ‘Miss Santa Claus,’ committed suicide yesterday by inhaling illuminating gas. Despondent because part of her plan to make the less fortunate children of America a little happier failed, she ended the struggle. Pinned to her dress was a note, a planitive plea for the recognition after death which had not been given her efforts, wholly, during life. It read:
     ‘I have been failing in health for some time. I have always tried to do my best for mankind.’
     ‘Miss Santa Claus’ gave ill health as the cause for her suicide, but her friends say that the chief cause was the failure of her store, which she opened recently, the proceeds to go toward Christmas gifts to those children who wrote to Santa Claus but for whom there were likely to be few answers.
     But though ‘Miss Santa Claus’ is dead her work will live after her, a constant Christmas joy to thousands of little people for whom otherwise Christmas would have been but yet [another] pretty story to be enjoyed by the favored ones. For so thoroughly did ‘Miss Santa Claus’ plan touch the heartstrings of philanthropic persons throughout the country that the movement was established on a basis which provides for its future.
     Elizabeth A. Stewart was the daughter of a prominent merchant of Philadelphia. She enjoyed almost a national reputation by reason of her work at Christmas time among the poor children. For weeks prior to Christmas of each year she collected funds which she expended for toys and clothing for the needy, and on Christmas eve she visited the homes of the children in a big automobile. She was a familiar figure in all local newspaper offices and was the subject of a number of special ‘Christmas stories.’
     Two years ago at her request all the letters written by children and mailed to Santa Claus were delivered to her by the Philadelphia postoffice. These she sorted, picking out those from children who seemed to be in danger of being forgotten and getting up on Christmas morning to find empty stockings.
     But she did not confine her good deeds to the holiday time. At any time in the year, day or night, when she heard of distress she endeavored to relieve it, and if she lacked the necessary means she at once appealed for aid. Last year, with the object of making her charitable work national in scope, she asked permission of the postmaster general to have all letters addressed to Santa Claus, from whatever source sent to her here, but the request was refused.

  That the suicide was premeditated was shown by the fact that the cracks of the door and window of the room had been carefully stopped by bedclothing.
     Pinned to the woman’s clothing was a note which read: ‘I have been failing in health for some time. I have always tried to do my best for mankind.'”

Note: I’m not sure why her surname is mentioned as “Stewart” midway through the article. The only information I found about Elizabeth was that she was 35, single, and her father’s name was F.R. Philips.

The Washington Herald, 12 Aug. 1909

The Washington Herald suggested another factor contributing to Elizabeth’s decision to take her own life.

“Misplaced confidence in a man whom she took virtually from a prison cell and attempted to reform is said to have preyed upon the unhappy girl’s  mind and thrown her into melancholia.
Miss Phillips has been in a despondent condition since the man whom she befriended purloined the meager funds which she had reserved for her festivals for the children, and then used her name to defraud trades people.”

The Caucasian 24 Aug. 1909

In addition to a number of other clippings about Elizabeth’s suicide and efforts to continue her work after her death, I stumbled upon this feature detailing her cause printed in a 1907 Harper’s Bazaar.

*Originally posted in December 2013.