Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Margaret B. Bradbury Platt, 1854-1936
By Kristy Conrad, independent researcher
Margaret "Maggie" Bross Bradbury Platt was born on January 15, 1854, in Pike County, Pennsylvania, to parents John Bradbury and Nellie "Olive" Ostrander Terwilliger. Her father John was a Baptist clergyman, and he and his wife Olive together bore five children: Josephine (born 1838), Sanford (born 1840), Amanda (born 1841), Charles Henry (1846), and baby Margaret. The family moved frequently—the first four children were born in New Jersey, then Margaret in Pennsylvania; then the family spent some years in Tompkins, New York, where Margaret grew up. In 1874, when Margaret was 20 years old, her father died. The family was then living in Evanston, Ohio.
Three years later, on November 2, 1877, in the District of Columbia, Margaret married William Platt (born 1847), an Irish immigrant and a printer by trade. Together they had four children: Mary Olive (born 1878), Margaret Anna (born 1879), William Bradbury (born 1883), and Thomas Hamilton (born 1886). In the District of Columbia, Margaret and her family planted roots for more than 20 years. It was here that Margaret's firstborn, Mary Olive, died little more than a month old in 1878; here that her youngest child, Thomas Hamilton, died only three days old in 1886; here that her mother, Olive, died in 1894 at the age of 79. And it was here that Margaret entered the political sphere.
Details are scarce about how and when Margaret first became involved with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), but it is likely that her religious upbringing predisposed her to its faith-based teachings. Founded in 1874, the WCTU was originally concerned with the destructive power of alcohol and the problems it was causing American families and society. But under the watchwords "Agitate - Educate - Legislate," the movement soon became the largest women's organization in the United States and began to address the broader issues of women's rights. By 1894, the WCTU had fully endorsed the cause of women's suffrage, and Margaret joined the campaign wholeheartedly. In 1895, serving as president of the WCTU's District of Columbia chapter, she spoke in numerous hearings before the (naturally) all-male House Judiciary Committee, alongside her colleague Margaret Dye Ellis, and successfully persuaded them to legally change the age of sexual consent in the District of Columbia from 10 to 16.
In 1899, with their two surviving children in tow, the Platts moved from the District of Columbia to Seattle, Washington. William senior found work as a printer and typesetter in Columbia City, a southeastern borough of Seattle; daughter Margaret Anna became a schoolteacher; and William junior worked as a clerk at a local grocer. Margaret, meanwhile, lost no time in joining the West Washington chapter of the WCTU, serving as corresponding secretary in her first year as a state resident. The following year, Mary L. Page resigned as chapter president, and colleagues, noting Margaret's "wide experience…and her thorough knowledge of the work," appointed her Page's successor. Thus in 1900 Margaret became the sixth president of the WCTU of West Washington, a position she would hold for the next 15 years.
From this position of power, she worked to advance temperance and women's rights in the state of Washington. In one speech given in 1902, she pointed out the double standard of morality for women versus men:
"We expect our girls to grow up in purity and honor.... Why not expect and demand honor and purity of our boys as well. Why not teach our boys that vice is as black and abhorrent in man as in woman; why not teach them that dishonor is of sexless cast; why not teach them that sin stains one soul as black as another; there is no favoritism with God; sex nor wealth, nor social position.... We condemn in unmeasured terms the moral fall of a woman—why do we condone the errors of her brothers and pass them over lightly as sowing of ‘wild oats.'"
In 1903, Margaret's husband William died. Margaret Anna had already departed the family home for marriage, and Margaret's son William remained with her at their home in Columbia City for a few years after the death of his father before venturing out on his own. Once alone, Margaret threw herself into her work for the WCTU. There was plenty of work to be done. Washington, which had granted women the right to vote as a territory in 1883 but revoked it six years later, was a hotbed of political activism in the late nineteen-aughts. Women had been granted the right to vote in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. Organizations like the WCTU of West Washington and the Washington Equal Suffrage Association were determined that Washington would be next.
National advocates descended upon the state to aid in the fight. In 1909, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convened in Seattle, and to welcome them, a reception was held on June 30 in Seattle's Hotel Lincoln. The guest list included such high-profile visitors as NAWSA's national president Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, suffragist Alice Stone Blackwell, and Lucy Anthony, niece of Susan B. Anthony. Margaret herself spoke at the reception, representing the local chapter of the WCTU, and declaring that "there are wrongs which can never be righted until woman holds in her hand the ballot, symbol of the power to right them."
A year later, at the 27th annual meeting of the WCTU of West Washington, held September 30 through October 4, 1910, in Olympia, Margaret used her presidential address to further denounce the injustice of withholding the vote from Washington women:
"Sisters, we are as patriotic as men. The average woman is as intelligent as the average man. We are, as a class, industrious, sober, economical, God-fearing, home-loving, ready to sacrifice, willing to do and die if need be for home and country, but we do not belong to the Union—we are not citizens—we are aliens; we pay taxes but we may not say aught concerning details affecting the economic processes of government. We are amenable to law but may not help formulate the law and we have no voice in saying who shall execute it or how it shall be enforced. We furnish citizens for our country without which the government could not exist but we ourselves are deprived of the highest privilege of citizenship."
A mere month after this address, on November 8, 1910, the Washington Women's Right to Vote Amendment was overwhelmingly passed on a statewide ballot, and Washington officially became the fifth state to grant women the right to vote.
Margaret continued as president of the WCTU of West Washington for another five years after women won the right to vote, but as the fight for women's suffrage intensified nationwide, with suffragists calling for a national amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing women the right to vote, in 1915 Margaret decided that her work in Washington was done. Together with Margaret C. Munns, who had served with her for years as secretary of the WCTU of West Washington, Margaret moved to Evanston, Illinois, headquarters of the national WCTU. By 1918, she was serving as the WCTU's National Press Superintendent, representing the National WCTU Publishing House (alongside Margaret C. Munns as National Treasurer) and writing prolifically in the WCTU's periodical The Union Signal. Even after American women won the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Margaret continued her work with the WCTU. According to the 1930 census, Margaret lived out the latter years of her life in a rented home in Evanston with Margaret C. Munns and another lodger. She died in 1936 at the age of 82.
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1900 United States Federal Census, Columbia, King, Washington; Roll: 1743; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0062; FHL microfilm: 1241743. Ancestry.com. Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2009.
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