Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Margaret L. Phelps, 1886-1953

By: Runtian Jia, undergraduate, University of California, Berkeley

Margaret L. Phelps, also known as Mrs. M.T. Phelps, was born in 1886 in Virginia. She married Mr. Marlin T. Phelps, a Supreme Court judge from Tennessee, and moved to Phoenix, Arizona before 1913. The Phelpses had a son William. Margaret's occupation was recorded as library assistant in the 1940 federal census, but she took on several other roles in Arizona's Maricopa County; she served as the president of the League of Women Voters and as chairman of County Child Welfare Board.

Margaret consolidated the effort that a number of women suffragists had made after the ratification of women's suffrage within the state of Arizona. In 1900, according to HISTORY OF WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE Trilogy--Part 2: The Trailblazing Documentation on Women's Enfranchisement in USA, Great Britain & Other Parts of the World, Carrie Chapman Catt, the chairman of the National American Women Suffrage Association's organization committee, came to what is present-day Arizona (Arizona would not become a state until 1912), to organize campaigns for women's suffrage. Although the association did not start to gain support across the region until 1910, they managed to successfully petition the legislature to answer their request for the right of vote. On November 5, 1912, the suffrage amendment passed, bringing a decade of touring and campaigning to a phenomenal result. However, the effort of extending women's political influence never ceased.

To truly empower women, Margaret established the League of Women Voters, and was elected chairman in 1913. Her leadership was mentioned in Doris Weatherford's Women in American Politics: History and Milestones. The League's first meeting took place in Little Rock, Arizona in October, 1915. At the meeting, they discussed plans for legislative work to come. Their second meeting in 1916 welcomed Catt to raise money for the organization. Margaret stayed active on the presidential campaign of 1920 and supported James M. Cox, according to an article in the Arizona Republican, titled "Democratic Women Endorse Nominees". Margaret was also the vice president of the Cox-Roosevelt Club of Phoenix.

In the 1920s, Mrs. M.T. Phelps carried on her charismatic role from women rights to children welfare. Even after women were granted the right to vote, Margaret remained an active participant in politics. An issue published on July 29, 1921 in the Arizona Republican, titled "County Child Welfare Board Begins this Week," announced Margaret as the chairman of the child welfare board, which advocated protection and education for orphans and dependent children under the age of sixteen. In the same year, the Arizona Educational Directory shows that Margaret was the president of Arizona Branch Congress of Mothers and Parents-Teacher Association.

As a library assistant, Margaret advocated for literacy, education and safety for children and immigrants. On April 24, 1923, PTA Magazine recorded that she participated in the "Preliminary Program of the Twenty-seventh Annual Conference of the National Congress of Mother and Parent-teacher Associations" called "Round Table Conference on Public Affairs" as

the vice president and director on the board of Public Welfare. She spoke on the topics of immigration, juvenile protection and legislation. In 1926 and 1927, she was a member of the Department of Home and Education in the Women's Club of Phoenix. The club was a large women's organization that held local as well as national events. Margaret was one of the organizers of two events for the National Education Week in 1926 and 1927.

On September 18, 1953, Margaret died in Phoenix, Arizona.


"1940 United States Federal Census" Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls. April 15, 2017.

Anthony, Susan B., and Ida H. Harper. HISTORY OF WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE Trilogy -- Part 2: The Trailblazing Documentation on Women's Enfranchisement in USA, Great Britain & Other Parts of the World. e-artnow, 2017.

Arizona Educational Directory.: 1921. April 19th, 2017.

Editorial. "Arizona republican. : (Phoenix, Ariz.) 1890-1930." Republican Pub. Co., July 29, 1921, April 15, 2017.

Editorial. "Arizona republican. : (Phoenix, Ariz.) 1890-1930." Republican Pub. Co., October 3, 1920, April 15, 2017.

The PTA Magazine, Volumes 16-17.: PTA Magazine, 1921, 1921. April 19th, 2017.

The Women's Club of Phoenix Yearbook of 1926-27, Phoenix, AZ. April 19th, 2017.

Weatherford, Doris. Women in American Politics: History and Milestones. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2012.

Source Description:

The three main databases that I used for this research are Ancestry Library, Chronicling America and Google Books. Ancestry Library provides basic logistics of the people since 1740 to 1940, including full names, birth and death date, birthplaces and death places, home addresses, occupation, immigration and citizenship details, marriage information, military service and more. Secondly, Chronicling America is a collection of historic newspaper from 1789-1924. It is sponsored by National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. The three paper I found are all from "Arizona Republican". "Arizona Republican" was published by Republican Pub. Co.. It was run from 1890 to 1930 and was issued daily focusing on Maricopa County and Phoenix city, where Mr. and Mrs. M.T. Phelps were living. Lastly, Google Books is a wide research base. Google Books is as old as Google search, and it is established to ease the online research process by digitizing books and matching the key words to in which books they appear. Google Books allows me to look into the books and read the pages that are relevant my key term, in this case. "Mrs. M.T. Phelps".

Process Description:

My research started with the name "Mrs. M.T. Phelps", so I know that this is a married lady. In Ancestry Library, I searched for her husband's name first, Mr. M.T. Phelps, which showed up in the 1930 United States Federal Census. Then, I found out that his wife was Margaret L. Phelps, who was recorded in 1940 United States Federal Census. I made sure that she was the Mrs. M. T. Phelps that I was looking for by corresponding her home address to the one provided in the Arizona Educational Directory. "Mrs. M.T. Phelps" was the title and name that she was most referred to in all the documents that I found about her. Even in Doris Weatherford's book published in 2012, Margaret was addressed as Mrs. M.T. Phelps. Margaret's most renowned accomplishment was the first chairman of the League of Women voters in 1913, which was mentioned in Susan B. Anthony and Ida H. Harper's HISTORY OF WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE Trilogy--Part 2: The Trailblazing Documentation on Women's Enfranchisement in USA, Great Britain & Other Parts of the World. The second source that mentioned Margaret's activities for suffrage was a local newspaper, Arizona Republican, noting that Margaret supported James Cox during the 1920 presidential campaign. All other sources that I found about her contribution to women suffrage were limited to the fact that she was this leader of the League of Women Voters.

What was more appealing to her biography was her social welfare career after the 1920s for child protection and education. The Arizona Educational Directory showed that Margaret became the vice-president of Mothers and Parent-Teacher association in 1921. In the same year, the newspaper Arizona Republican recorded Margaret's participation in the article called "County Child Welfare Board Begins this Week." In 1923, PTA magazine mentioned Margaret as an important organizer for the Round Table Conference on Public Affair, which was set to discuss the issues of orphans and children. In the yearbook of 1926-27 of the Women's Club of Phoenix, Margaret worked for National Education Week. Throughout the years, her works were related to child welfare, which all connected to each other. Though few details were found for each event, the sources reveal the wide range of activities through which she worked to bring equality to orphans, children and immigrants in society.

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