Biographical Sketch of Martha G. Thomas

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Martha G. Thomas, 1869-1942

By Christina Larocco, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Thomas, Martha G. (1869–1942) was born in West Whiteland (sometimes given as Whitford), PA, the daughter of J. Preston Thomas (sometimes given as Preston J.), president of the National Bank of Chester County, and Hannah J. Thomas (nee Gibbons). She lived and worked on her family's 200-acre farm, which had originally been purchased from William Penn and which she and her sister inherited after their parents' deaths. Observant Quakers, Preston, Hannah, and their children belonged to the Uwchlan Monthly Meeting and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Martha Thomas received an associate's degree from Bryn Mawr College In 1889. By the second decade of the twentieth century, she was active in local reformist and civic associations, including those devoted to the war effort. She served on the Chester County Defense Council and, as a member of the Bryn Mawr board of managers, brought several aspiring "farmerettes" to West Chester. Thomas was also a treasurer in the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association. She is best known, however, for her work in the 1920s, when she became one of the first women elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1923–26). A Republican, she was elected in the first state election that allowed women candidates. She was also active in the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, serving as its vice president and helping to bring its legislative agenda to Harrisburg both as a state representative and, after leaving the state legislature, as chair of the legislative committee. In 1927, Thomas became the center of a controversy in the league when she accused president Lucy K. Miller of being controlled by W. L. Mellon, the powerful chair of the Republican State Committee. She resigned her post as vice president and called on president Lucy K. Miller, whom she accused of "boss rule," to do the same. Thomas's fears were compounded by plans to move the PWSA headquarters to Pittsburgh, where western residents like Miller would hold even more power. Miller refuted Thomas's claims and declined to step down, although she later declined to run for reelection for unrelated reasons. After resigning from the LWV, Thomas remained active in many civic associations, including several associated with the Republican Party, and educational institutions, including the Girls Scouts, West Chester Teachers College, and Cheyney Teachers College. At the time of her death in 1942, Thomas was still the only woman ever to have been elected to the state legislature from Chester County.

SOURCES:

Information about her can be found in the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania records (Collection 2095), Historical Society of Pennsylvania; and Jeanne H. Schmedlen, History of Women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 1923–2005 (Harrisburg, PA: The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 2005).

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