Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biographical Sketch of Mary Richardson Bancroft, 1847-1933

By Julia Sullivan, undergraduate student, Binghamton University

Mary Richardson was born on February 15, 1847 in Mill Creek House, Delaware. Her parents, Samuel S Richardson and Susanna Robinson Richardson, were Delaware natives and their daughter would also live in the state her whole life. On June 8, 1865, she married Samuel Bancroft, Jr. and took the name Mary Richardson Bancroft. The couple had two children, Joseph Bancroft and Elizabeth R. B. Bird. She and all her family members are known to be Caucasian. Samuel Bancroft Jr. died on April 22, 1915, but Mary R. Bancroft never remarried and remained a widow until her own death eighteen years later.

The Bancrofts were an affluent and philanthropic family. They were benefactors of a variety of charities and organizations in their city of Wilmington, Delaware, including the Homeopathic Hospital and the children's orchestra. Members of the family served on boards and committees whose goals were to assist and enrich the community. Samuel S. Bancroft ran for congress in 1894 and both he and the couple's son, Joseph, served on city boards. The two men also had business interests in the community, as they were the leaders of their family business, Joseph Bancroft & Sons, Co. Mary R. Bancroft's daughter, Elizabeth, was not present in the Wilmington philanthropic scene because she had moved to Paris, France with her husband.

One project that Mrs. Bancroft took a special interest in was the Delaware Industrial School for Girls, which was a prison reform school for young girls. Her husband served on its board of directors until his death. The couple made many generous donations of their money, time, and other resources that helped keep the school running. They even donated one of their buildings to the school when it was located in their city of Wilmington. The institution later moved to Claymont, Delaware and named a building on the new campus after Mary R. Bancroft to thank her for her years of support.

Mary R. Bancroft's dedication to promoting the betterment of women in her community extended into her involvement with the New Century Club. She served as the vice president of this group, which was the only women's organization in Wilmington. The club was ran entirely by women for women and focused on promoting "intellectual culture, moral development, and philanthropy" through classes, lectures, and discussions. Examples of some events they held included discussions of music over tea, readings of Shakespeare's plays, and hosting guest lecturers from renowned places such as Oxford. The New Century Club had a membership of five hundred women and a waiting list, and the popularity of the club speaks to its success in achieving its goals. Women in the area had resources to further educate and develop themselves due to the efforts of Mary R. Bancroft and the other leaders of the club.

She was also a suffragist, although her involvement with the suffrage movement is largely unknown. In March of 1920, Delaware was to vote on whether or not to ratify the 19th Amendment, which would grant women the right to vote. However, it was predicted that the legislative bodies of Delaware were going to vote to not ratify the amendment. In order to show that Delaware wanted the women's vote, many suffragists flocked to the state's capital to attend the hearings and show their support. Mary R. Bancroft was among those in attendance. The Delaware suffragists were defeated when their state voted against ratification, but enough states ratified the amendment that it was added to the Constitution anyway in 1920.

Mrs. Bancroft was involved in many other organizations, including the Society of Friends and the Colonial Dames. She also donated to support charities and various cultural events that took place in the city.

On December 4, 1933, Mary R. Bancroft died in her home. She is remembered as a suffragist, philanthropist, and especially active member of her community. Her legacy continues at the Delaware Art Center, where the British Pre-Raphaelite exhibit is named "The Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Collection." The couple was passionate about art and culture and had acquired the paintings for their own personal collection, which was then donated to the museum after their deaths.


Articles Found on
"Bancroft for Congress." The Morning News, 29 Aug. 1894, p. 2.
"Children's Band Dance." The Morning News, 30 Jan. 1896, p. 1.
"Joseph Bancroft on City Harbor Board." The News Journal, 10 June 1919, p. 1.
"Mary R. Bancroft Dies at 'Rockford' in Her 87th Year." The Morning News, 5 Dec. 1933, pp. 1-2.
"Mrs. Mary R. Bancroft." The News Journal, 5 Dec. 1933, p. 6.
"New Art Center Will Open With Three Major Exhibits." The News Journal, 20 May 1938, p. 30.
"New Century Club." The Morning News, 6 Sept. 1895, p. 1.
"New Century Club." The Morning News, 10 June 1899, p. 19.
"Only Political Miracle Can Save Ratification as Battle Gets Warmer." The Morning News, 5 Mar. 1920, pp. 1-2.
"Samuel Bancroft, Jr." The News Journal, 23 Apr. 1915, p. 4.
"State Giving Liberally to Relief Fund," The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), pages 1 and 23, Tuesday April 26 1927

History of Woman Suffrage, volume 6, pages 93-101 [LINK]

Delaware Art Museum website

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