Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biographical Sketch of Mary E. (Mrs. Joseph R.) Milligan, 1851-1914
By Sarah Voegler, undergraduate student, Binghamton University
Edited and updated May 2021 by Anne M. Boylan
Engrained deeply in the prominent Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mrs. J.R. Milligan broke from the bondage imposed by Victorian society and drew on her involvement in the W.C.T.U to advocate for women's suffrage.
Mary E. Marchand was born in May 1851 in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, to Dr. John I. Marchand and his second wife, Rebecca Anne Conner Marchand. Although Mary Marchand Milligan's activism was commonly featured in Wilmington, Delaware newspapers, she resided both there and in St. Georges, a small town on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal about seventeen miles south of the city. She and her husband, Reverend Joseph R. Milligan, whom she married in 1874, lived in St. Georges while he served as pastor of the local Presbyterian Church. During their marriage, the couple had five children: John I. (1876-1962); Rebecca (later Foreman, 1877-1930), Mary Josephine (later Rommel, 1879-1954), Sara (1881-1909), and Howard (1887-1958). Later in life, in 1914, Mrs. Milligan experienced kidney trouble which resulted in her travel to Maryland for treatment. She died on November 4, 1914 in a Baltimore hospital and was buried in the St. Georges Cemetery, alongside her daughter Sara, a student at the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia, who had predeceased her in 1909,
As a pastor's wife, Mary Milligan immersed herself in the religious community of the churches he served. The couple arrived in Wilmington in 1892, when Joseph Milligan was called to serve the city's First Presbyterian Church. There, Mrs. Milligan was extremely involved in church activities and programs, including the Presbyterian Woman's Home Missionary Society, the church's festival committee, and the Ladies Aid Department. Expanding her reach even further in 1895, she became the founding President of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Wilmington, and served on the Board of Directors from 1895 to 1898, when the family moved to St. Georges. In her role at the YWCA, she oversaw the group's programming in a rented building, including the sale of woman-made handicrafts, and the creation of classes in "dressmaking, embroidery, elocution, china painting, physical culture and millinery"—all designed to provide opportunities for young women to be self-supporting. The group also began making plans to provide housing for deserving (white) working women. Involvement in the Presbyterian Church and the local community eventually led Mrs. Milligan to take an active role in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, beginning in 1888, when she became president of the Cecil County, Maryland, WCTU, while her husband was pastor of a church there. After moving to Delaware, Mrs. Milligan participated in state conventions at which the WCTU advocated for equal suffrage as well as temperance and "social purity." (The Delaware WCTU had endorsed woman suffrage in 1888.) At the first annual convention of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association in 1896, she spoke on the need for a clause in the planned new Delaware state constitution permitting equal suffrage. At this event, she demonstrated her aptitude for activism as she illustrated the importance of petitioning to lobby the delegates who were writing the new constitution. Ascending to the upper levels of the WCTU, Mrs. Milligan became Delaware's superintendent for temperance instruction, and traveled to Georgetown, Delaware, to deliver addresses on the subject at the organization's 1897 state convention. Addressing the 1910 convention, Mrs. Milligan revealed a sense of pride while indicating to her audience that several saloons had been closed in neighboring counties. Throughout the years 1895-1914, Mrs. Milligan and her WCTU colleagues involved themselves in the education and public school system by offering prizes to promising scholars in public schools, thereby spreading the message of temperance to young people. In 1911, she and two co-workers volunteered to meet with members of the Delaware General Assembly to lobby for both a juvenile court and a (white) women's college for the state. Delaware Women's College opened in 1914. Her commitment to the WCTU's educational and justice-reform policies enhanced her legacy.
Mrs. Milligan's commitment to woman suffrage was revealed in her participation, not only in petitioning but also in marching for the cause. In 1912, the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association appointed her to represent Delaware at the May 4 New York City Suffrage Parade. She reported back that she had "marched the entire route carrying a 'Votes for Women' pennant, a Delaware banner and wearing a yellow badge." In 1913, she joined her fellow Delaware suffragists on March 3 in Washington, D.C for the first major national demonstration for equal suffrage. And in May, 1914, she marched in both Wilmington's parade (May 2) and a week later in a second Washington, D.C. parade - both focused on the demand for a federal constitutional suffrage amendment.
1914 is the last year of Mrs. Milligan's participation in the W.C.T.U and the equal suffrage cause. Soon after her final march, Mrs. Milligan fell ill with a kidney ailment. Nonetheless, Mrs. Milligan's constant involvement in local politics inspired her colleagues and emphasized the need for strong education for both sexes. Without the community engagement facilitated by Mrs. Milligan, Delaware suffragists surely would have fought significantly longer to sway public opinion towards equality.
"United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M31G-C4P: accessed 2 October 2017), household of Joseph R Milligan, Wilmington Hundred, Precincts 55 & 31 Wilmington city Ward 5, New Castle, Delaware, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 22, sheet 6B, family 121, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,154.
Accessed via newspapers.com:
"Females Want to Vote," Wilmington Daily Republican, November 28, 1896, p. 2
"The W.C.T.U State Work," Evening Journal (Wilmington, DE), Oct. 9, 1897
"Delegates Named to National Convention and Superintendents Picked," Evening Journal (Wilmington, DE), Oct. 10, 1914
"Thirteenth Annual Convention Held in Newport Yesterday," Evening Journal (Wilmington, DE), April 19, 1900
"The W. C. T. U," News Journal (Wilmington, DE), April 7, 1905
"Juvenile Court Plan Endorsed," Morning News (Wilmington, DE), January 20, 1911, p. 5
"Work of the County W.C.T.U." Every Evening (Wilmington, DE), May 24, 1912, p. 11
"Fiftieth Jubilee of the Y.W.C.A is Observed," News Journal (Wilmington, DE), Feb. 8, 1916
"A Gala Temperance Day," News Journal (Wilmington, DE), May 18, 1895
"Y.W.C.A's New House," Morning News (Wilmington, DE), April 10, 1895
"Mrs. J.R Milligan Ill," Every Evening (Wilmington, DE), Oct 29, 1914
"Mrs. M. E. Milligan Dead," Baltimore Evening Sun, November 6, 1914
"Mrs. Mary E. Marchand Milligan," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 6, 1914, p. 6
"Funeral of Miss Milligan," Morning News (Wilmington, DE), April 19, 1909, p. 8
"Mrs. Rebecca Milligan Foreman," Morning News (Wilmington, DE), October 20, 1930, p. 2
"Rommel, M. Josephine," Baltimore Sun, April 23, 1954, p. 33
"Milligan, Howard," Miami Herald, June 22, 1959
Harper, Ida Husted, ed., The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (New York: J.J Little and Ives, 1922), 101.
Laura M. Pierson, The Young Women's Christian Association of Wilmington, Delaware ... History, 1895-1945 (Wilmington, DE: YWCA, 1945)
Anne M. Boylan, Votes for Delaware Women (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2021)