Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Martha Churchman Cranston, 1846-1927

By Jennifer Schneider, independent historian

Edited and Updated, May 2021 by Anne M. Boylan

President of the Wilmington Suffrage Alliance, President of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, President of the Delaware League of Women Voters, Speaker, Advocate

Martha Churchman Cranston was born in New Castle County, Delaware, on September 14, 1846, the second of nine children (and eldest daughter) born to Henry Lawrence Churchman, a farmer, and Sarah (Reed) Churchman. In 1868, she married John Alexander Cranston at a Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Thereafter, the couple were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). During their marriage, they lived in Newport, a town about five miles west of Wilmington, where John Cranston was, variously vice-president of the Newport National Bank, president of the Newport Building and Loan Association, a land developer, and a wholesale lumber dealer. In 1891, John Cranston served a term as a Republican member of the State Legislature. They had seven children, four daughters (Clara, 1869-1875; Augustine, 1870-1897, Bertha Phillips, 1876-1961; and Helen, 1877-1962), and three sons (James, 1872-1967; William, 1873-1875; and J. Paul 1881-1971). Tragically, two of the children, Clara and William, died of scarlet fever within four days of each other in 1875. After Martha's death in 1927, John Cranston moved with his daughter Helen to the Alhambra Apartments in Wilmington, where he died 1935 at the age of 92 following a stroke.

In her lifetime, Martha Churchman Cranston received many accolades for her expansive work and honorable character. Upon her retirement as president of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, her colleagues lauded her as "our first and only president," and "the Susan B. Anthony of Delaware"; they voted unanimously to make her honorary president and awarded her a seat on the DESA executive committee. A posthumous tribute prepared by the Delaware League of Women Voters, which had also made her the group's honorary president, acknowledged Martha Churchman Cranston's "deep convictions of duty" and her beliefs that "right and justice were the fundamental principles of life and that equality before the law should be extended to all God's human family." She was noted as having "many lovable traits" and having been very active in public matters, advocating especially for equal suffrage, both "[i]n and out of season" and "undismayed when the outlook was dark."

As an advocate for both the Temperance cause and the Woman's Suffrage Movement, Martha Churchman Cranston worked actively and gave regular public speeches on both subjects. Beginning in 1889, a year after the Delaware Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) endorsed woman suffrage, she became head of the group's Franchise Department. Her annual reports at the state WCTU conventions included resolutions in support of suffrage; the 1904 resolution was typical: "As a matter of simple justice, we believe that all women of the United States should vote on equal terms with men." For several years, she was president of the New Castle County WCTU.

In addition to her public activity, Mrs. Cranston was a writer. For example, she wrote the report on Delaware that appeared in Volume 4 of the History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper.

Mrs. Cranston was active in multiple arenas and also served as President of the Newport branch of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. A newspaper article tells of her presiding over the ninth annual convention of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of New Castle county that convened in Mt. Salem Church. The article references Mrs. Cranston's annual report, which detailed a successful year for the WCTU with increased memberships and sustained activity throughout the year. Other newspaper articles reported that Mrs. Cranston was a member of the Women's Club of Newport and belonged to the Wilmington Friends Monthly Meeting.

In her capacity as President of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association (DESA) from 1895 to 1915, Martha Cranston frequently worked with the leadership of the group's parent organization, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In January, 1897, she led a delegation that included NAWSA's Carrie Chapman Catt to lobby the state's constitutional convention members, presenting a 3,000-signature petition requesting that the new state constitution drop the requirement that voters be male. In addition, she regularly hosted the national association's leaders when they visited Delaware, and spearheaded the WCTU's participation in NAWSA's 1909 National Woman Suffrage Petition Committee. In 1913, along with NAWSA president Anna Howard Shaw, she headed a group of two hundred Delaware suffragists travelling to Dover in order to lobby and testify for a state constitutional amendment enfranchising women. In 1915, she testified again before the Delaware General Assembly, asking the men to reconsider their negative vote two years earlier. In 1913, too, she represented Delaware in the Congressional Union's (CU) April march to Congress in Washington, planned as a follow-up to the March 3, 1913 parade that had resulted in spectators attacking marchers.

Although initially she and the DESA's membership worked with the Delaware branch of the Congressional Union (CU), headed by Florence Bayard Hilles, she soon became disillusioned with the CU's increasingly militant approach to pressing for state and federal constitutional amendments. It troubled her, too, that the Delaware CU seemed eager to compete, rather than cooperate, with the organization she led. Delaware, she believed, "is too small a state to support two entirely independent suffrage organizations." At its November, 1915, annual convention, the DESA "severed ties" entirely with the CU; Cranston then retired from the presidency that she had held for twenty years.

Martha Cranston lived long enough to realize her dream of witnessing Delaware women exercising the right to vote. Not only did she vote in 1920, but she ran on the Prohibition Party ticket as an elector for the party's presidential nominee, receiving 986 votes. Mrs. Cranston passed away in Newport, New Castle County, Delaware on June 23, 1927. She was 80 years of age. At the time of her passing she had five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She is buried in the Cranston family plot at the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.

Sources: accessed November 17, 2017 accessed November 17, 2017 accessed November 17, 2017; picture of her grave and lists other family members. Accessed November 17, 2017

Multiple Newspaper clippings:

"Martha Cranston Obituary," The Delmarva Star, 6-26-1927

"Mrs. John A. Cranston Expires at the Age of 80; Pioneer in Women's Suffrage Cause Had Been Married 59 Years," Wilmington Every Evening, 6-24-1927, p. 13

"By Two-Thirds Vote," Wilmington Morning News, 12-10-1896

"John A. Cranston Dies at Age 92," Wilmington Morning News, 10-22-1935, pp. 1-2

"Leaders Talk of Suffrage," Wilmington Morning News, 5-2-1914

"W.C.T.U. Convention—Interesting Addresses Were Made," Wilmington Morning News, 4-25-1896

"Pays Tribute to Mrs. M.S. Cranston,"  Wilmington Evening Journal, 7-2-1927, page 3

"May Call Special Session to Ratify Suffrage Bill," Wilmington Morning News, 6-27-1919, page 7

Martha S. Cranston, "California, the Sixth State," letter to the editor of the Wilmington (DE) Morning News, 16 October 1911, p. 4.

Delaware Historical Society's online archives catalog at

Photo of article ("Letters to the Editor") by Martha Cranston
courtesy of Cranston Morning News, 10-16-1911, page 4

The Twenty-Fifth Annual Convention Report of the Delaware Woman's Christian Temperance Union at New Castle Del. Oct. 26, 27, 28, 1904 (Federalsburg, MD: np, 1904)

Woman's Christian Temperance Union, New Castle County Branch Minutes, 1883-1970s, Delaware Historical Society

Debates and Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Delaware ... Commencing December 1, 1896, 5 vols. (Milford: Milford Chronicle Publishing Company, 1958), I: 417-40

Delaware Equal Suffrage Association Executive Committee Minutes, 1915-1919, Ridgely Collection, Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware

Mary R. de Vou, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Delaware," in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marion Björnsen Reed (New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1947), I: 349-372.

Anne M. Boylan, Votes for Delaware Women (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2021).


July 1914 photo of Martha Cranston, taken at the joint DESA-CU headquarters in Wilmington. Credit: Detail of Photo #1914.001.047, National Woman's Party Photo Collection.


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