By Gabriella DiMarco and Maeve Shields, students, Padua Academy, Wilmington, Delaware
Edited by Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware
Annie Josephine Strilith was born in Chester, Pennsylvania on May 4, 1873 to immigrant parents: Annie Quigley from Ireland and Eugene Stirlith from France. The parents had met and married in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, before immigrating to the United States, eventually settling in Wilmington, Delaware, where her father made a living as a rag dealer. She was the sixth of their ten children; several brothers became scrap iron dealers in the Wilmington area. In 1892, in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Wilmington, Annie Stirlith married Thomas McGee, a mechanic who later was a city police officer and then worked at a gas plant. The couple had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood. By 1920, Annie was a widow (Thomas having died in 1918), living in Wilmington with her sons Vincent and Lawrence McGee, and her daughter (Mary) Eva Dewey, along with Eva's husband, Preston Dewey, and their four children. Her other daughter, Paulina (Lena) McGee Paynter (later Moore), lived nearby. Annie McGee was remarried in 1923 by a Methodist minister to a Maryland widower and stonemason, Benjamin F. Jackson. The couple moved to Linwood, Pennsylvania, across the state line from Claymont, Delaware. Jackson died three years later, leaving Annie a widow for the second time. After spending her final years in Linwood, Annie Stirlith McGee Jackson died of heart disease on April 26, 1934.
Described by a suffrage colleague as "being of strong physique," Annie McGee worked at a variety of jobs throughout her life. In 1910, she had a cigar storefront at her house on Market Street in Wilmington. During the First World War, she worked as a coal-grinding operator at the General Chemical Company works in Claymont, Delaware, and in the 1918 flu epidemic, she served as a volunteer nurse at temporary hospitals.
According to a suffrage co-worker, she "became interested in the [suffrage] cause" in 1912, attending street meetings in Wilmington and serving as "a tower of strength to the speaker," probably Mabel Vernon, who opened an office of the Congressional Union in 1913 and became known for her weekly street-corner speeches. In May, 1914, she joined a group of Delaware suffragists, led by Florence Bayard Hilles, to attend a massive parade in Washington, DC. In 1915, The Suffragist reported that she and Annie Arniel spoke at "open-air meetings" in Wilmington for the Congressional Union. When the members of the Congressional Union created the National Woman's Party (NWP) in 1916, she became a supporter.
Seeing it as her "duty" to picket the White House when the NWP called for assistance in January 1919, and knowing that she was likely to be arrested, Annie McGee "adjusted her domestic affairs, [and] journeyed hopefully to Washington." Upon her arrest with other demonstrators on January 20, 1919, she and the others were tried, found guilty on a specious charge and given the choice of paying a fine or jail time. Like most others, Magee refused to pay the fine and was sentenced to a five-day prison term, then joined others in a hunger strike. McGee was recognized for her sacrifice in the NWP newspaper, The Suffragist, where her name is listed among the over 160 women "Decorated for Service," who participated in watchfire protests and were arrested.
At her death in 1934, Annie McGee Jackson was eulogized by NWP co-workers as an "alert defend[er of] the cause," someone whose "demonstrative" way of describing her prison experiences "gained sympathy for the cause and interested many people in it." Two former comrades from the Delaware branch of the NWP, Florence Bayard Hilles and Mary E. Brown, brought flowers tied in NWP colors (purple, gold, and white) to her burial in Riverview Cemetery, Wilmington, Delaware.
Biographical details for Annie J. Stirlith McGee Jackson and her family can be traced in the decennial U.S. censuses and city directories, as well as birth and death records available on Ancestry.com and familysearch.org. An oral history of her brother, Frank T. Stirlith, provides some background on the family, including his interest in Henry George's single tax reform, and his wife, suffragist Elizabeth Bussier Stirlith's career, though he does not mention his sister. See transcript of interview with Frank T. Stirlith, January 12, 14, 1960, Box 1, Reel, 27, Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation oral history interviews on the history of the DuPont Company Powder Yard [accession #1970.370]. Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware. http://digital.hagley.org/islandora/object/islandora:2033695#page/1/mode/1up
Newspaper articles chronicling her arrest and sentencing appeared in the Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, January 21, 1919, 2, and January 22, 1919, 2, 3; and the Wilmington Morning News, January 23, 1919, 3. Records of her involvement in the NWP can be followed in The Suffragist, 3:36 (September 4, 1915), 7; 4:7 (February 12, 1916), 8; and 7:24 (June 21, 1919), 11. An obituary, "Annie S. McGee Jackson," Equal Rights, 20:15 (May 12, 1934), 120, provides additional details about her career and suffrage activism. There is a death notice in the Wilmington Morning News, April 28, 1934, 2. A brief obituary for her sister-in-law, NWP member Elizabeth Bussier Stirlith, appeared in the Wilmington Morning News, April 25, 1974, 53.
For NWP records of her involvement, see Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 364, and "When You Vote, Remember These," Equal Rights, 16:29 (August 23, 1930), 229. Photos of Annie Magee (McGee) can be found in Stevens, Jailed for Freedom, after p. 343; and Paul Preston Davis, "Delaware Suffragists," Collecting Delaware Books http://jnjreid.com/cdb/suffragists.html. See below. Davis's account is in error on one point: unlike Florence Bayard Hilles, McGee did not receive a presidential pardon.
For broad context on suffrage in Delaware and NWP picketing, consult Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of the Woman's Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921), 395-97; Janet Lindenmuth, "Delaware's Silent Sentinels, Delaware Women in the Fight for Women's Suffrage." Widener Law Delaware Library. Last modified March 23, 2012. Accessed October 11, 2015. http://blogs.lawlib.widener.edu/delaware/2012/03/23/delawares-silent-sentinels-delaware-women-in-the-fight-for-womens-suffrage/; Carol E. Hoffecker, "Delaware's Woman Suffrage Campaign," Delaware History, 30:3 (Spring-Summer, 1983): 149-67; and Constance J. Cooper, "Women Warriors," Delaware Today (October 1995): 14-18.
Photo of some of Delaware's suffragists, taken at the Wilmington railroad station on May 9, 1914; the group traveled to Washington, D.C., for a large suffrage parade.
Original Photo: Wilmington, DE Sunday Morning Star, May 10, 1914, 1. Hi-Resolution version: Paul Preston Davis, "Delaware Suffragists," Collecting Delaware Books http://jnjreid.com/cdb/suffragists.html
Davis and the original newspaper caption identify the individuals as:
Front row: Miss [Mabel] Fowler, Mrs. J.F. Thomas, Miss Mayme Stantnekoo [Annie Arniel?], Miss Mary deVou, Mrs. Harry Yerger, Mrs. Anne (sic) McGee
Second row: Mr. J. F. Thomas, Miss M[atilda] Seipp, Mr. D[onn] Stephens, Miss Marguerite Wallace, Mrs. Florence Bayard Hilles, Mrs. Frank Stephens, Mr. Frank Stephens, Mrs. Reuben Satterthwaite [Elsie], Miss [May] Stroman