Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Thayer Sanford, 1853-1941

By Dillon Eggleston, undergraduate, SUNY Binghamton, Professor Leigh Ann Wheeler

Rochester suffragist and Recording Secretary for the New York State Suffrage Association.


Figure 1. From left to right: Mary Thayer Sanford Crossett, Susan B. Anthony, and Mary S. Anthony

J. H. Kent, Anthony sisters with Mary Thayer Sanford Crossett. 1897. Photograph. Rochester Public Library.

Mary Thayer Sanford was born in 1853, daughter to John M. Thayer. She was active predominantly in Western New York, beginning in the early 1890s while residing in Rochester. In 1879 she married dentist Dr. John Edward Sanford, bearing one child, Madeline, in 1882; she became a widow for the first time in 1916. Remarrying John B Crossett in 1929, the widower of her friend and founder of the Warsaw Political Equality Club, Ella Hawley Crossett (1853-1925), she changed her name to Mary Sanford Crossett. 1938 marked the second time she survived her husband. She passed away in her home on January 3, 1941 and was subsequently buried next to J. E. Sanford in Riverside Cemetery, in Rochester, New York.

Sanford lived a very public life. She held many leadership positions in clubs, such as first vice president of the Political Equality Club of Rochester, to which she was elected in 1893. Accompanying her friend Mary Stafford Anthony, the secretary of Rochester's Political Equality Club and sister to Susan B. Anthony, they attended the annual meeting of the Wyoming County Political Equality Club (WCPEC) as honored guests that year representing their club. Sanford and Anthony sat alongside other county political equality club members too. Resolved at the meeting was an alliance between the WCPEC and the Republican Party, ensuring Wyoming County women's right to vote in elections of school commissioners. This decision was foundational in the extension of full suffrage to women, rooting their authority in superior morality. By 1896 Sanford moved to the position of recording secretary for the New York State Suffrage Association, which she held for many years. She also instructed community members on scientific temperance as county superintendent for the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In addition to her political work, she acted as postmistress of the Pan-American Art Class. This club promoted the arts through performances, at one of which she presented the "Value of Handicraft in Education" in 1901.

Her other efforts to promote the suffragist cause included her extensive communication skills. At the Warsaw Political Equality Club, she addressed an audience on "A Tourist's Impressions of European Women" in 1899 and read her paper "Reminisces of Roman Ruins" in 1902. Furthermore, she was a special contributor to the first woman's edition of the daily press in March of 1896. Her work for suffrage ranged from reporting accounts of a suffragist's funeral, such as with Maude S. Humphreys in 1897, to hosting an "informal reception given in honor of Miss Mary S. Anthony," casually known as a birthday party. She dressed as, and interpreted Dr. Rev. Anna Shaw, noted suffragist leader, at a character party. Along with Crossett and S. Anthony, Sanford befriended Susan B. Anthony.

Undoubtedly, Mary Thayer Sanford Crossett devoted her life to suffrage. She lived long enough to see the fruits of her labor, unlike some of her friends. While she may not have stood directly in the spotlight, her contributions undergirded the suffrage movement in New York. However, the life of a suffragist was not initially celebrated. She received many letters urging her to drop the cause and felt the impact of rotten eggs thrown at her. Despite opposition, she ardently persevered with her fellow suffragists until they achieved success.


Buffalo Evening News. "Suffragists Reject Dr. Mary Walker." Dec. 18, 1890, Nov 1, 1901.

Gordon, Ann D. 1997. The Selected PapersoOf Elizabeth Cady Stanton And Susan B. Anthony.

New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 404, note 2.

"John B. Crossett." Find A Grave. January 29, 2008. Accessed October 17, 2017. bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Crossett&GSfn=John&GSmn=B&GSbyrel=all&GSdy=1938&GSdyrel=in&GSst=36&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=24242146&df=all&

"Mary Sanford Crossett." Find A Grave. December 31, 2010. Accessed October 17, 2017.

"Mary T Sanford." Accessed October 17, 2017.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "Annual Meeting of the Political Equality Club – Election of Officers", Oct 6, 1893. "Jail Matron. A Strong Petition That One May Be Appointed", Dec 23, 1893. "Women in Charge", Mar 13, 1896. "In Honor of a Woman's Birthday", Apr 3, 1897.

"Officers of the Pan-American Art Class", Mar 15, 1901.

"Woman's Rights Partisans Spend Pleasant Evening at Home of Mr. and Mrs. Farley-Susan B Anthony Appears as ‘Aunt Hannah.'", Nov 22, 1901.

"W. C. T. U. Meeting Called", Dec 10, 1901.

"Art Class Musical", Dec 11, 1901.

"In Memory of Miss Anthony," Feb 17, 1914.

"Death of Dr. J. E. Sanford," Dec 17, 1916.

"Woman Associated with Susan B. Anthony When Suffragist Cause Was Unpopular Casts First Vote", Nov 18, 1918.

Rochester Times-Union. 1941. "Crossett", Jan 6, 1941.

The Western New Yorker. 1901. "Tour of the Town", Nov 21, 1901.

Warsaw Political Equality Club Minutes, October 13, 1899.

Wyoming County Times. 1893. "Annual Meeting of the Political Equality Club", Jul 27, 1893.

Wyoming County Times. 1899. "Personal", Jan 5, 1899.

Wyoming County Times. 1899. "Personal", Dec 10, 1902.

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