Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of May Martin Van Wye, 1878-1968
By: Ashley Cable, Katie Leja, Gigi Relic, Ruthie Stout, Mikaela Dougherty, Emily Kim, Emma Middleton, Julia Schwarzmeier, Kayla Young, undergraduates; and Christine Anderson, faculty sponsor, associate professor, Xavier University, Dayton, Ohio
Participant, Cincinnati woman suffrage movement; Ohio House of Representatives; Ohio Senate
May Martin was born on December 31, 1878, in Brooklyn, New York. She was well-educated, graduating from Adelphia College and attending summer classes at Harvard University. After graduation, she became a kindergarten teacher in the New York public schools. While touring Scotland in 1910, she met Benjamin Van Wye, a speech professor at the University of Cincinnati. The couple married two years later and moved to his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.
In Cincinnati, May Martin Van Wye was an active citizen. During the First World War, Van Wye was involved in a number of local clubs, including the Cincinnati Council of National Defense, the Republican Club, and the Cincinnati Women's Club. Van Wye participated in the suffrage movement, and after women won the vote, she was active in the League of Women Voters. Van Wye not only met her husband abroad but also travelled frequently. In 1921, the year after the passage of the 19th Amendment, the couple returned abroad, perhaps a celebratory trip in response to the suffrage victory.
Van Wye was one of the first two women from Hamilton County nominated by the Republican Party to run for the Ohio General Assembly. She was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1922 and was re-elected in 1924 and 1926. She introduced successful bills relating to university fees and funding construction of public libraries. In 1926, she led the effort to separate prisoners with mental health issues in state prisons based on scientific diagnosis. She indicated that "adequate vocational training would be provided [at some institutions] so that the prisoners could re-enter normal life equipped for honest living." Following her six years of service in the Ohio House, Van Wye was elected into the Ohio Senate in 1928. Her career as a state politician officially came to an end in 1930, as Democrats won the majority. She later recalled, "when Mr. Hoover went down to defeat, I went out of office too."
Van Wye became a published novelist in 1962 with Eve's Tower. The plot follows the career of a divorced woman elected to the state legislature in the early 1920s. It describes the struggle of a professional woman balancing private life and the restrictions of living under public scrutiny. Although not written as a memoir, the fictional main character's career in state government during the 1920s strongly paralleled Van Wye's, suggesting that both character and author identified as a "New Woman."
May Martin Van Wye passed away on August 26, 1968 in Clifton, Ohio.
U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Ancestry.com.
Ohio Statehouse (website). "Ladies Gallery—Legislators, May Martin Van Wye." Accessed April 18, 2018. http://www.ohiostatehouse.org/museum/ladies-gallery/may-martin-van-wye.
"Applying Science to Segregated Classes." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune. December 23, 1926.
Bettman, Iphigene. "County's First Woman in Legislature Writes First Novel." Cincinnati Enquirer, July 01, 1962, p. 4F. Newspapers.com.
"Mrs. May Van Wye, Former Legislator." The Cincinnati Enquirer. August 27, 1968, p.12. Newspapers.com.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906-March 31, 1925; Roll#:1647; Certificates: 49126-49499, 08 Jun 1921-08 Jun 1921. Ancestry.com.
Van Wye, May Martin. Eve's Tower. Pittsburgh: Dorrance and Co, 1961.