Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Margaret Ervin Ford, 1884-1957
By Gaye Jeffers, Professor, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
President of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association
Margaret Hamilton Ervin was born in Rockwood, Tennessee on August 24, 1884 to Thomas Callaway Ervin and Maggie Hamilton Wester. The Ervin family moved to Chattanooga in the late 1880s and built a house on the east brow of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Margaret married Charles Mastin Ford in 1917. She had two children, Charles Mastin Ford, Jr. (1923-1991) and Margaret E. Ford (1925-1961). Margaret moved from Chattanooga to Nashville in 1921. She died in Nashville on July 29, 1957 from leukemia.
Margaret Ervin was an active and involved woman. She graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1902 and continued her studies at the University of Chattanooga. She won an award for teaching the eighth grade in 1907 and was crowned "Miss Tennessee" according to her obituary. In 1909 Margaret participated in one of the first suffrage events in Chattanooga, giving a speech at the University of Chattanooga. On March 31, 1910 Margaret participated in a performance event for the Kappa Chi Literary Society at the university in which she provided a conversation concerning Woman's Suffrage. She then traveled to a Methodist church in Kingston, Tennessee and held a debate on suffrage.
In 1911 Margaret became a member of the Chattanooga Equal Suffrage League. On January 6 and 7, 1913 the Tennessee State Convention took place at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville. Margaret encouraged the League to introduce a bill that would urge the state legislature to consider the idea of suffrage. In November of 1913 Miss Ervin and her cousin, Catherine Wester, represented the state of Tennessee at the National Convention in Washington, D.C. Margaret was a member of the "committee of one hundred," that solicited President Woodrow Wilson to press for suffrage on the federal level.
In Chattanooga on National Suffrage Day, May 2, 1914, Margaret participated in a parade that ended at the court house steps. She read the following resolution: "We, citizens of Chattanooga, voice our demand that women citizens of the United States be accorded the full right of citizenship." In December of 1914 Margaret spoke at the newly organized Nashville Business Women's League. She returned to Chattanooga and organized the Business Woman's Suffrage Club of Chattanooga with 160 charter members.
While being heavily involved in the suffrage movement, Margaret attended the Chattanooga School of Law, completing her studies in 1916. She opened a law office in the James Building on Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga. On July 13, 1916 she and Mrs. Anne Dallas Dudley addressed the Tennessee delegates to the National Democratic convention in St. Louis, Missouri, urging them to vote for suffrage, "which they did unanimously."
In January 1917 Margaret was elected president of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association at its convention in Nashville. She testified before the judiciary committee of the Tennessee General Assembly, pressing the members to vote on a ballot to include women in presidential and municipal elections. In February 1917, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt organized a meeting of the executive council of the national association to "consider offering its assistance to President Woodrow Wilson." Margaret was the representative from Tennessee. In March 1917 the state legislature passed an act "amending the charter of Lookout Mountain so as to give the women Municipal suffrage." This was the first place in the South where women were permitted to vote in town elections. Margaret's family had lived on Lookout Mountain since 1890, and in 1916 she registered to vote there "in order to call attention to the injustice of ‘taxation without representation' but her name was removed from the records." In April of 1917 she traveled to Starkville, Mississippi and spoke at the suffrage convention. With the growing concern of the United States' involvement in World War I, a March 3, 1917 article in the Knoxville Independent reported that Margaret urged Tennessee governor Thomas C. Rye to consider "ways and means in which the organized women of Tennessee may best serve the Volunteer state and the nation in the event war is declared."
On July 7, 1918 Margaret Ford was fully enrolled as a member of the Tennessee Bar Association at their annual meeting. On August 8, 1918 the Tennessee State Bar Association passed a "strong resolution endorsing woman suffrage by Federal Amendment." Margaret, one of the first women members of the bar association, worked for this resolution.
In a letter written on June 23, 1919 to Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, Margaret, listed on the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Association stationery as press chairman, promised her continued support by writing, "Having given more than eight years of my life to the suffrage cause, I feel lost, not to be a part of its ‘final battle'." From September until January of 1919, Margaret worked as a member of the lobby committee, confronting politicians in Nashville as well as drumming up support outside of the capitol. Margaret attended the national convention in Chicago on February 20 and 21, 1920. On "the first of July  Governor Roberts appointed Mrs. Leslie Warner State chairman to organize for ratification. She selected a committee of one hundred, some from each county, recommended by the legislators, and opened headquarters at the Hotel Hermitage in Nashville and Mrs. Ford was elected secretary of the committee, which became known as the Democratic Ratification Committee." She was also elected vice-president from Tennessee of the Women Lawyer's Association, based in New York City and was asked by Mrs. Ida Husted Harper to write the Tennessee chapter on the activities of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association for the book The History of Woman Suffrage.
After 1920 Margaret Ford had two children and contributed to many organizations in Nashville, Tennessee until her death in 1957. In 1928 she served as president of the board of the local chapter of the Tennessee League of Women Voters. She was a member of the Women's Society of Christian Service at Belmont Methodist Church. She was an organizing member of the Fort Nashborough Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, serving as the first chairman of the legalization committee and corresponding secretary. She was also a member of the Association for Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, the East Nashville Women's Club (now known as the Women's Club of Nashville), the Col. Thomas Hart Benton Chapter of Daughters of 1812, the Ladies Hermitage Association, and was president of the PTA at the Calvert School.
Catt, Carrie C., Joseph H. Acklen, Anne D. Dudley, Margaret E. Ford, Ida H. Harper, et. al., Papers, 1916-1921
Archival Material, Tennessee State Library and Archives
Chattanooga City Directories, 1894-1935
Chattanooga News, June 7, 1918, page 6
The Chattanooga Times, May 1, 1910, July 30, 1957
Hamilton County Tennessee Genealogy Society
Anthony, Susan B., Matilda J. Gage, Ida Husted Harper, Elizabeth C. Stanton, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 6, 1900-1920 (1922) [LINK to TN report]
"In All Candor, Gentlemen: What the Tennessee Bar Association Did By a Woman Member", The Woman Citizen, August 31, 1918,pp. 268 - 69
Milton, Abby Crawford, Report of the Tennessee League of Women Votes: Containing a Full Account of the Suffrage Ratification Campaign. Tennessee League of Women Voters, 1921
"Proceedings of the Thirty-Seventh Annual Meeting of the Bar Association of Tennessee", Volume 37 by Bar Association of Tennessee
Bucy, Carole Stanford, "'The Thrill of History Making': Suffrage Memories of Abby Crawford Milton," Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Fall 1996), pp. 224 - 39
Tennessee, Marriage Records, Tennessee State Library Archives
University of Chattanooga, University Echo, April 15, 1910, p. 14
University of Chattanooga, Bulletin, 1914-1915.