By Lynn Wenzel, independent historian
Mary DuBrow was born in April 1896 in Belarus. Her father, Isadore DuBrow, born in 1873, was a carpenter and active union member who, after immigrating to the United States in 1896, sent for his wife, Catherine Cahan, born in 1873, and their daughter, Mary. Like many other Jewish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, they settled in New Jersey and worked in the trades in both New Jersey and New York. The family was quite poor when they arrived but soon prospered. The DuBrows were living in Garfield, New Jersey in 1910 and thereafter in Passaic, New Jersey. Mary DuBrow had four siblings--Fannie(y), Lillian and Jacob (twins), and Evelyn--all younger than she and all born in New Jersey. Mary's sister Evelyn, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999 for her work on behalf of pay equity, universal health care, civil and women's rights, said she was inspired and influenced by her older sister, Mary, who fought for women's rights and was a militant suffragist.
Mary DuBrow was an earnest student and ultimately completed three years of college. She was a teacher in Passaic, New Jersey until, inspired by the fight for woman suffrage in New Jersey, she joined the National Woman's Party (NWP) as an organizer and speaker in 1917 when she was 20. In January 1917, the NWP began to picket the White House.
In 1918, Alice Paul devised a new plan, called the Watchfires, to bring the attention of the president and the country to the necessity of passing the 19th Amendment. The original plan was to keep a fire burning in front of the White House until the amendment was passed. Wood for the bonfire was to be sent from all the states. Whenever the president made a speech for democracy, that speech was to be burned in the watchfire. While this was taking place, a bell set above the door of the headquarters of the NWP, would toll. On the afternoon of New Year's Day, 1919, a wagon deposited an urn filled with fire on a sidewalk in front of the White House, a bell began to toll, and a group of women, including Mary DuBrow, marched from NWP headquarters to the urn. President Wilson's words, from a speech he had addressed to the wounded of England, were dropped into the fire. As Mrs. Lawrence Lewis lit the paper, DuBrow and Annie Arniel, standing behind the urn, unfurled a banner which read:
PRESIDENT WILSON IS DECEIVING THE WORLD WHEN HE APPEARS AS THE PROPHET OF DEMOCRACY. PRESIDENT WILSON HAS OPPOSED THOSE WHO DEMAND DEMOCRACY FOR THIS COUNTRY. HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF MILLIONS OF AMERICANS. WE IN AMERICA KNOW THIS. THE WORLD WILL FIND HIM OUT.
This was the first of the many Watchfires of Freedom lit by the NWP in which DuBrow continually participated. Inez Hayes Irwin described this massive undertaking thus: "The activity at Headquarters was increased one hundred-fold. The pickets themselves refer to that period as the most 'messy and mussy' in their history. Everything and everybody smelled of kerosene. All the time, there was one room in which logs were kept soaking in this pervasive fluid. When they first started the Watchfires they carried the urn and the oil-soaked logs openly, to the appointed spot on the pavement in front of the White House. Later, when the arrests began and the fires had to be built so swiftly that they had to abandon the urn, they carried these logs under coats or capes. Once the fires were started it was almost impossible to put them out. Kerosene-soaked wood is a very obstinate substance. Water had no effect on it. Chemicals alone extinguished it."
The fire in front of the White House was continually rebuilt and rekindled. It burned all night long and into the next day and into the next. On the fourth day, a Friday, the same banner was unfurled by DuBrow and Matilda Young. As soon as it was held up, a crowd of soldiers, sailors and boys attacked. They tore the banner, broke the urn and ripped the purple, white and gold flags. It continued to rain, snow, and sleet. "In the winter," wrote Inez Hayes Irwin, "picketing was a cold business. The women found that they had to wear a surprising amount of clothes--sweaters and coats, great-coats, mufflers, arctics and big woolly gloves." But the fires continued. Ultimately, the police put them out but they were relighted at night. On Saturday afternoon as the bell tolled, the fires, now popping up everywhere, were lit again. President Wilson's speech on liberty, given in Italy, was burned. The police put out the fires--again and again the women restarted them. Finally, DuBrow and Julia Emory, the first of many, were arrested, but released on bail. By now, the fire had burned all day and all night for four days in the rain and snow.
On Sunday, January 5, DuBrow, Annie Arniel, Julia Emory and Phoebe Munnecke started a fire in front of the White House, burning another speech as the bell tolled. This time, when the women were arrested they refused to pay bail and were sent to jail. They were initially charged with breaking a federal park regulation, but when they came to court, they were instead "charged with building a bonfire on a public highway between sunset and sunrise." Three went to prison for five days, three for ten. All, including DuBrow, went on a hunger-strike. And all were subjected to spiders and vermin and cockroaches in their beds, worms in their food, rats in their cells, physical brutalities and the absence of legal representation.
The NWP's militant tactics and steadfast lobbying, coupled with public outcries against imprisonment and, ultimately, force feeding, forced President Wilson to endorse the federal amendment in 1918. Once Congress passed the measure in 1919, the NWP began campaigning for ratification by the legislatures of three-quarters of the states--thirty-six out of forty-eight. Along with her fellow organizers, DuBrow traveled all over the country to attain ratification. On March 10, 1920, she reported in an April issue of the Suffragist:
As I left for West Virginia, I confided to everyone I met how happy I was to go to a State which would probably ratify unanimously, and every leading citizen I interviewed for the first four days confirmed my expectations. Then the legislators began to assemble at the Kanawha Hotel, the political center of Charleston. I had their written pledges and I approached them more to exchange pleasant anticipations of victory than for any other purpose, and my fall began--a gradual inch-by-inch fall--.Then the splendid men who were leading our fight and who were standing staunch came to me with appalling reports of the wavering of this one and that one. It was an opposition stampede--nothing less.
DuBrow went on to describe how supporters, previously thought solid, faltered in their support of the Amendment. The Republican Senate was deeply concerned over the result of first votes in West Virginia as they had counted on that state to ratify, and communicated with the West Virginia Senate that the Republican Party would be greatly embarrassed if West Virginia failed to cooperate. DuBrow continued:
Now came the test of all our resources and of the loyalty of our friends and I do not believe that any stauncher loyalty has been displayed by any group of men in the whole ratification campaign than by the fourteen Suffrage senators of the West Virginia Legislature. For five days these fourteen men had to wait in Charleston while the fifteenth vote crossed the continent--I hovered round about trying with radiant cheerfulness, to instill into every one the feeling: "Senator Bloch [the final vote] is on his way and all is well with the world." The opposition tried to reconsider and were beaten; tried a referendum and were beaten. Nevertheless, all of the delegates of the lower House had to be held in Charleston as well as the Senators.
According to DuBrow, one legislator went so far as to try to take the train home, when the women ambushed him, rushed him off the train and back to his seat in the Capitol. The women remained constantly present and watchful, carrying pillows and decks of cards while relaying sandwiches and coffee to all. DuBrow wrote that the opposition weakened in the face of this intransigence. The day finally came for Senator Bloch's arrival and he was nowhere to be found. The women, including DuBrow walked the streets searching for him, "even daring to peer into barbershop windows." Eventually they discovered that Senator Bloch had been delayed by a blizzard. He was finally able to make it on a faster train and arrived to vote at 2:40 AM. As DuBrow wrote, "The day was saved again for the women of America."
Thirty-five states had now ratified. One more and woman suffrage would become part of the constitution. Against highly-organized opposition, the women continued their push. They were now aided by six national organizers, including Mary DuBrow. The Nineteenth Amendment finally became law on August 26, 1920.
Information on DuBrow's activities after 1920 is scant. In 1930 she was working in the New York school system and living alone in a rented home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. It is clear, though, that she remained a supporter of the fight for women's rights and a member of the NWP. On November 16, 1936, we find DuBrow at the biennial convention of the NWP at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City. "The women gathered in a spirit of 'no compromise,'" according to The New York Times, "until its objectives have been won. The party is pledged to fight for an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing equal rights to men and women in all fields." Six women were honored that day, among them Mary DuBrow, with a historic jail key, a symbol of the Washington jail cells in which more than one hundred fifty women were imprisoned in 1917 through 1919 for protests at the White House. The photo accompanying the article shows a small and serious woman with a determined visage flanked by her five suffrage comrades. In a speech during the ceremony, Florence Bayard Hilles recalled the day when the women were arrested for "obstructing a sidewalk sixty feet wide." She said: "There was not a key made to be turned on us that would slow the movement for freedom and liberty. This key of what has been the Bastille for American women will have a place in our headquarters. It belongs not to the National Woman's Party but to all women who believe in freedom and equality for women." During the convention, DuBrow, among many others, adopted resolutions affirming [the NWP's] stand that all minimum wage laws be based on the job and apply equally to men and women, and hailed President Roosevelt for the "first attempt to legislate equal pay for men and women."
The 1940 census shows Mary DuBrow living with her younger sister Fanny at 55 West 11th Street in New York City. She must have been doing well as a teacher working for the Board of Education. Though she was renting, her home was (and is) in one of the most historic residential neighborhoods in Manhattan, a haven for artists, musicians and writers, the buildings classically beautiful and the block very private. Mary DuBrow never married. She died on November 25, 1984 in Los Angeles at the age of 88. (She may have moved to Los Angeles to be with her sister, Lillian, who was living there.) In her obituary she was noted as a beloved sister, aunt and great aunt. She is buried in Mt. Sinai Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Bandler, Beverly. "The Woman's Vote: A Chronology." The Woman's Vote: Who's Who (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 11 May 2016.
"Fannie DuBrow." Ancestry.com. Ancestry Sources, n.d. Web. 11 May 2016.
Irwin, Inez Haynes. The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party. 2nd ed. Fairfax: Denlinger's, 1964;1977, 402-04, 451-55.
Mary C. DuBrow in the California, Death Index, 1940-1997. Ancestry.com, 2000. Web. 19 May 2016.
Mary C. Dubrow in the 1940 United States Federal Census. Ancestry.com, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016.
Mary DuBrow in the 1910 United States Federal Census. Ancestry.com, 2006. Web. 10 May 2016.
Mary Dubrow in the 1930 United States Federal Census. Ancestry.com, 2002. Web. 10 May 2016.
Mary DuBrow in the U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014. Ancestry.com, 2011. Web. 19 May 2016.
"Mary Dubrow Speaking in Washington, D.C." The Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 24 May 2016.
"Mary Gertrude Fendall, [of Maryland], and Mary Dubrow [of New Jersey]." Library of Congress, Photos, Prints, Drawings, n.d. Web. 24 May 2016.
Obituary of Fanny B. DuBrow in The New York Times, 11 May 2016.
Scanlan, Susan. "Sharing Stories Inspiring Change." Evelyn Dubrow, 1911-2006. Jewish Women's Archive, n.d. Web. 24 May 2016.