Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Mary E. Eato, 1844-1915

Susan Goodier, History Lecturer
SUNY Oneonta

Mary E. Eato was born in New York City on September 23, 1844, the daughter of Sarah Jane Eato, dressmaker, and Timothy Eato, a Methodist preacher. Her father died in 1854, leaving her mother to raise their seven children alone. On September 24, 1860, at the age of sixteen, Mary began teaching for the "Colored Schools." She taught at Grammar School No. 3 on West 41st Street, eventually teaching at Grammar School No. 80 on 42nd Street. Maritcha Lyons, an assistant principal, considered Eato "one of the four greatest teachers she had ever known." Eato retired in 1904, after a career that lasted forty-four years. She lived most of her adult life with her brother, Edward V. C. Eato, a prominent member of the African American community in New York and longtime president of the New York African Society for Relief.

Like most women of her acquaintance, Eato held membership in a wide range of social justice organizations. A longtime member of St. Mark's Methodist Episcopal Church, she served as its treasurer. She also held offices in St. Mark's Mutual Aid Society, the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, and a branch of the African American Council. Eato helped establish and run the Hope Day Nursery for Colored Children, founded in 1902, serving for many years as its vice president.

During her teaching career she met Sarah Garnet, the first black woman principal in New York City. Garnet founded the Colored Women's Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn and Mary Eato held membership in the league for many years. Eato, as league vice-president, presided over most of the Equal Suffrage League meetings and events after its second president, Verina Morton-Jones accepted a post at Clark University in Atlanta in 1908. In 1910, Eato presided over meetings such as when Ida Craft, (white) president of the Kings County Organization of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association addressed the league, when they honored Harriet B. Stowe, when New York State Representative William M. Calder spoke to the membership on woman suffrage, and when members decided to hold a public memorial meeting in appreciation of Julia Ward Howe.

Mary Eato died on February 8, 1915 at age seventy. The parishioners of St. Mark's Methodist Episcopal Church celebrated her life in a memorial service on Sunday, March 14, 1915.


"Maritcha R. Lyons," Notable Black American Women, vol. 2, ed. Jessie Carney Smith (New York: Gale Research, 1996), 419. On Eato's career, see the records of the New York City Municipal Archives, "Seventh Report of the Secretary of the Board of Retirement," 1915. When Mary Eato retired, she had an annual salary of $1,500, and she earned an annuity of $750. For a sense of how much esteem her students and community members held for her, see "Naming a High School," New York Age, June 7, 1924, 4; "From Dr. Adena C. E. Minott," New York Age, December 18, 1926, 5. Regarding Eato's social justice and day nursery work, see "Local Council at St. Mark's," New York Age, October 18, 1906, 1; "St. Mark's Mutual Aid Society," New York Age, March 25, 1909, 3; New York African Society for Mutual Relief Celebrates Anniversary," New York Age, April 7, 1910, 7; "St. Mark's Church," New York Age, January 12, 1911, 2; "The Children's Carnival," New York Age, June 4, 1908, 2; "Women's Department: Gift to Hope Day Nursery," New York Age, August 15, 1912, 5. "Hope Day Nursery 25th Anniversary; Maude Griffin Hall Reads its History," New York Age, March 19, 1927, 7. Josephine Jewell Dodge, founder of the Day Nursery Movement (and an anti-suffragist), lent financial support to the Hope Day Nursery in its early years. Today the Hope Day Nursery operates as the East Harlem Block Nursery. For information on Eato's work for the woman suffrage movement, see "Equal Suffrage League," New York Age, May 21, 1908, 1; "Afro-American Notes," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 13, 1908, 6; "Suffragettes of Brooklyn," New York Age, June 24, 1909, 1; "Negroes Join Mrs. Belmont," New York Age, February 4, 1910, 22; "Afro-American Notes," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 13, 1910, 60; Hallie Q. Brown, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 114; "Afro-American Notes," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 13, 1910, 60; "Miss Craft Talks Suffrage," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1910, 2; "Honor Harriet B. Stowe," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 16, 1910, 6; "Calder Talks on Suffrage," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 22, 1910, 5; "Colored Suffragists Meet, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 20, 1910, 18. Regarding her death, see "Eato," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 10, 1915, 18; "St. Mark's M. E. Church," New York Age, February 11, 1915, 7; "St. Mark's M. E. Church," New York Age, March 11, 1915, 8.


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