Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary E. Haight, 1846-1925

By: Gillian Robin, undergraduate, University of California, Berkeley

Mary Ellen Setchel was born in about 1845-1846 in Cuba, New York. Mary was the youngest of five children, born to David and Sally Setchel. On September 27 1881, Mary married George W. Haight, a prominent lawyer, in Batavia, New York, and moved to San Francisco with him soon after. Less than a year after getting married, Mary gave birth to her only child Samuel Chase Haight. The family soon moved to 2433 Haste Street in Berkeley, the house Mary would live in for the rest of her life. After moving to Berkeley, Mary soon involved herself in high-class society in the East Bay. According to an 1880 newspaper article from the San Francisco Call, the largest Bay Area newspaper of the time, Mary was initiated into the Delta Sigma Literary Society in 1884, during an event hosted by M. H. De Young, one of the most prominent San Franciscan journalists and businessmen of the time. Throughout her entire life and her entire involvement in community clubs and philanthropy, Mary never let her love of literature die. She began various club meetings reciting a monologue or a beloved poem, and, according to an article in the Call, honored Charles Dickens in an event put on by an East Bay satire club.

During the 1890s, Mary began her life as an activist for women's suffrage. According to a string of articles in the Call regarding the suffrage movement, Mary was president of the Citizen's Suffrage Society and The Alameda Women's Suffrage Society, two of the most active and fervent clubs in the fight for women's suffrage in the Bay Area. She was also elected as a board member of the Laurel Hill Club, a club for prominent women in California. An article in the Call states that as president of the Citizen's Suffrage Society, Mary turned her attention to young adults, most notably students and the University of California, Berkeley, and held discussions and panels with students, urging them to educate and assist in the fight for voting equality.

While Mary's focus in the 1890s was student involvement, she shifted her focus onto a much more radical topic at the turn of the century; uniting the races in the suffrage movement. Articles in the Call state that Mary spent much time attending conventions and meetings, constantly campaigning for the women's right to vote. In February of 1902, countless California women's, literary, industrial, and political clubs joined each other at the California Federation of Women's Clubs, a convention where many types of labor groups, prominent politicians, and fervent suffragists discussed their next steps in the move toward equal voting. A 1902 article in the Call regarding a "color line" in the suffragist movement stated that Mary lead a debate on the admission of black women into the Federation, a radically progressive stance in the fairly young movement. That same article reported that Mary objected to the drawing of the color line that led to black suffragists being thrown out of meetings and conventions, and claimed that the exclusion of blacks from the cause was both dated and absurd. Many articles from the Call published throughout that year and the years following stated that she continued attending suffrage meetings and debates throughout the Bay Area. At the same time, Mary and George showed a passion for helping children. An article about at-risk youth in the San Francisco Call noted George as a foster child lawyer and Mary as the President of the Laurel Hill Society, where she would raise money for poor children in the Bay Area. She continued her fight for equality within suffrage societies, and attended meetings and conventions on the matter until about 1911, the year a California referendum gave women the vote.

In 1913, an article on the Haight family published in the San Francisco Call reported that Mary's husband George died, leaving her and her son Samuel with a large inheritance. Mary's activity in the women's suffrage movement began winding down after the death of her husband, until she died in Berkeley on May 11, 1925, almost five years after the Nineteenth Amendment gave women across the U.S. the right to vote.


Most of my sources came from California Digital Newspaper Collection and Ancestry Library. The Ancestry Library is an online database for genealogical and and historical information. The main newspaper I employed was The San Francisco Call, which was a Republican-leaning newspaper started in 1856 under the name The Daily Morning Call. The paper was the leading San Francisco newspaper, with numerous prestigious reporters, including Mark Twain. I found information about Mary Haight throughout the span of almost two decades in The Call. These primary sources provided me with most of my information on her involvement in Bay Area suffragist and literary societies.

I also found a lot of basic biographical information from the Ancestry Library. I found her and her husband at first in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, which stated that she and her husband, George, lived in Berkeley off of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street with their son Samuel. Now knowing her approximate birth year (1845), I was able to find her in the 1855 Census; she was nine years old living in New York. Through the Ancestry Library, I was also able to find her grave on, where is shows that she is buried alongside her husband in Alameda, California.

Process Description

I began my search on Ancestry Library, an online database for genealogical and historical information. would have the most basic biographical facts. I search her husband, George W Haight, in the ancestry database, and included that he was in California. I found that he was a lawyer that lived in Berkeley, California with his wife, Mary, and his son Samuel through the 1910 U.S. Federal Census. This census also provided me with an address; 2433 Haste Street. I walked to where her house would be if it was still standing. It seems as if the property lines have been redrawn since she lived there at the beginning of the 20th century, because there was an empty lot where that address would be.

Now that I knew her first name, I researched the ancestry library, this time with her name, her husband's name, her son's name, and their address. The New York State Birth, Marriage, and Death Records provided me with the date and location of her wedding with George; September 27th, 1881 in Batavia, New York. Most importantly, this record provided me with her maiden name, Setchel. I went back to the main search page with the same information that I had before, this time including her marriage date and changing her last name from "Haight" to "Setchel." I found the 1855 New York State Census, which stated that she was nine years old living in Cuba, New York with her parents David and Sally and her four siblings. She was the youngest by many years, and I thought that her parents were quite old to have such a young child. There was no other information I could find on her parents or her adolescence, so I moved back to the original search page.

I typed "Mary E [her middle name was Ellen] Haight" into the search page, and was then able to find both her death records and her husband's obituary. An obituary from an unnamed newspaper clipping stated that her husband died in September of 1913. The Ancestry Library also lead me to her grave, and I found out that Mary died on May 11, 1925 in Berkeley, California. She is buried with her husband in Alameda, California.

Since I figured I had found a pretty solid grounding and timeline of Mary's life, I decided to move on into researching her activism, education, and her actual life story. I searched "Mrs. George Haight" in the California Digital Newspaper Collection, and that is where I found virtually all of my information on her activity in the Suffrage Movement. All of the articles were from the San Francisco Call, and they all chronicled her duties as the president of the Berkeley Suffrage Society, her activity in voting registration in the East Bay, and various mentions of her love for literature and theater. Many articles, in fact, cited her solely for performing a monologue at different community events, including high society dinners and philanthropic fundraisers. I found this aspect of her personality rather charming, and, considering that it can be hard to actualize and relate to people who lived long ago in completely different societies, I felt like this made her more of a real person to me.

I sifted through articles from the Call to find actual work or lobbying that she did as a suffragist and philanthropist, and I found out that she was working to dissolve the "color line" in the suffragist movement and unite black women in the fight toward women's right to vote.

Works Cited 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006. 19 March, 2017. North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. 19 March, 2017. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. 19 March, 2017.

Editorial. Daily Alta California. 29 September, 1884. 19 March, 2017.

Editorial. San Francisco Call. 7 February, 1902. 4 April, 2017.

Editorial. San Francisco Call. 12 January, 1896. 1 April, 2017.

Editorial. San Francisco Call. 13 October, 1913. 9 April, 2017.

Editorial. San Francisco Call. 22 November, 1890.

Editorial. San Francisco Call. 23 November, 1895.

Editorial. San Francisco Call. 28 March, 1904. 9 April, 2017.

Editorial. San Francisco Call. 29 January, 1912. 19 March, 2017.

Editorial. Daily Alta California. 29 September, 1884. 19 March, 2017.

Editorial. San Francisco Call. 31 December, 1895. 19 March, 2017.

New York State Census Bureau, "1855 New York State Census". 1855. 19 March, 2017.

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