Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Wood Swift (1841-1927)

Written by Victoria Jordan, 11th grade student at Sacred Heart Preparatory High School

President of National Council of Women, and the California Woman Suffrage Association

Mary Wood was born on September 12, 1841, in New York, to William Graham Wood and Emily Morrell Wood. Growing up in a family of six, Swift was the youngest of four children. Swift had a brother, Joseph Morrell Wood, as well as two half-siblings, William Graham Wood and Emily M. Wood. Mary Wood Swift was married to John Franklin Swift until his death in 1891. John Franklin Swift served as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan for two years.

In 1902 Swift participated in a suffrage committee hearing of a select committee in the U.S. Senate. During her testimony she gave the following speech:

"Women can not stand still while the world goes on. To hold that the world is not moving ahead were absurd; hence we have the admitted fact that women must progress. Department stores have crowded out small stores in many cities and towns. The small store keepers have vainly protested against this form of competition. You know as well as 1 know that these protests have not even made a dent in economic conditions. In no single instance have they checked the department-store combination. The department store, whatever the equities may be, has come to stay. It is one form of modern mercantile progress. The same progress in a large degree is seen in the vast aggregations of capital that control American manufacturing and transportation interests, that are reaching out in all directions, that aim to dominate the trade and commerce of the world. I am not discussing the equities of this material progress, gentlemen; I simply call your attention to vital facts. It is true that the material progress of the nation is one source of our national pride. The complement of this material progress should be moral or political progress, involving proper privileges to women. There cannot be even and symmetrical progress unless these privileges be granted. The law should recognize woman as a factor in the great progress problem. The law should recognize the fact that the woman of today is liberally educated, is abreast of the world on current topics, is honestly patriotic, and, given a fair chance, can assist in making a greater United States. Does any thinking person doubt for a single moment that the thousands and thousands of women educated in our universities, colleges, and similar institutions are unequal to the great responsibilities of active and representative citizenship? And does it not strike you, gentlemen, that the cohesive intellectual strength of these intelligent women should be at least measurably utilized in shaping the progress of the country? You see and note and are influenced by progress in other directions. Why not see and note and be influenced by the progress of woman toward suffrage? Why not work for amendments to the law that will protect women in their property rights? Money quarrels are the basis of family discord. Most of these quarrels would not occur if the wife had the property rights to which she is justly entitled."

In 1905, Swift began her term as the president of the National Council of Women. Swift announced that the fifth triennial session for the National Council of Women would be from April 9th to April 15th, 1905 at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Other notable attendees at the event included Kate Waller Barrett, Flo Jamison Miller, Frances E Burns, Isabelle Quinlan, and Lillian M. Hollister. Many politically influential organizations such as the National Women's Suffrage Association, National Women's Relief Society, and National Association of Colored Women were affiliated with the National Council of Women. Because the council was linked to so many different organizations, it demonstrates how the National Council of Women was created to fit the needs of all American women, regardless of race or class. The National Council of Women contained local councils in eight cities across the United States.

Swift ran for vice president of the continental congress of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and was defeated on April 19, 1907 by only one vote by Mrs. Charlotte Emerson Main of Washington, D.C. With 511 votes, Mrs. Donald Lean won the election for president of the organization.

Deeply influenced by economic inequality, Swift worked as a suffragist from 1907 to her death in 1927. She often focused on raising awareness of how women were denied employment from department stores. Although many protests were held to bring awareness to women's unemployment, they barely changed the presence of women in the workforce. At age 85, Swift died on April 8, 1927 in Berkeley, California and is buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.


1."Daughter of Revolution Gains Another Victory." San Francisco Call. April 20, 1907.

2."Mary Angeline Wood Swift." Find a Grave

3."Mary Wood Swift Death Notice." San Francisco Examiner. April 11, 1927.

4.United States Congress Select Committee on Woman Suffrage. Woman Suffrage: Hearing Before the Select Committee on Woman Suffrage. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902.

5."Women's National Council to Meet in Washington." San Francisco Call. March 17, 1905.

6."Women Plead for the Ballot." San Francisco Call. February 12, 1902.

7."Women Suffragists." Los Angeles Herald. November 9, 1899.

back to top