Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Lavinia Van Beuren, 1871-1951
By Donna Greene, independent historian
Corresponding Secretary to the NYS Woman Suffrage Party December 1915 to June 1916
Mary Lavinia (née Archbold) van Beuren was born in 1871 in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a self-made man who through his association with John D. Rockefeller rose to become the top executive at Standard Oil of New Jersey. Her first activityas a suffragist was limited to just several months in 1915-1916,when she served as corresponding secretary to the New York State Woman Suffrage Party. Then in 1923, a Treasurer's Report for the National Woman's Party records her donation of $1000. to the NWP.
Indeed, told that she is listed in records of the party as an officer in 1915, her great-grandson, the family historian, expressed great surprise.
"She wouldn't have had time for it," said Michael M. van Beuren, who is the namesake of his great-grandfather, Mary Lavinia's husband. "She was always in Europe. She brought her dogs to London to be photographed... She hated FDR, was against the income tax."
Nonetheless, party records including letterheads in the possession of Columbia University were examined at the request of this writer by Mary Freeman, a Ph.D. candidate. They show her listed as the party's corresponding secretary from December 1915 until June 1916, when her resignation is recorded (without explanation) in the executive board's minutes. Party records in the possession of the New York Public Library were also examined by this writer, but they had no reference to Mary Lavinia van Beuren.
Other things, however, are known about her. The daughter of John D. Archbold and Annie (Mills) Archbold, she grew up in the rural area of Titusville, PA. Her grandfather was an itinerant Methodist priest who rode his horse around Ohio. At age 17, her father was working in the oil fields, which ultimately led to his business connections with Rockefeller. Rockefeller was exclusively an oil refiner in those days, while Archbold represented the rival producers in western Pennsylvania, said Mary Lavinia's great-grandson Michael.
"The producers were afraid of the consolidation of refiners under Rockefeller and associates and tried to limit Rockefeller's growing monopoly and bargaining power over the producers. Rockefeller convinced Archbold to effectively switch sides....but Archbold was a drinker, and he had to make a temperance pledge to John D. Rockefeller before he was promoted to run Standard Oil, NJ."
Mary Lavinia thus grew up in a wealthy family, and then married into another one. Her wedding to Michael Murray van Beuren, from an established New York family, (no relationship to the Martin van Buren family) took place on Sept. 25, 1895 in Tarrytown, NY. The wedding was duly recorded in the next day's edition of local newspapers.
"Miss Mary Lavinia Archbold, eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Archbold, was married, on Wednesday afternoon, at half-past 3 o'clock, to Michael Murray van Beuren, son of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick T. van Beuren of New York City. The ceremony took place in St. Mark's Episcopal Church, on Broadway, in Tarrytown." – Yonkers Statesman, Sept. 26, 1895.
"The guests from this city and neighborhood went up the river on a special train, which left Grand Central Station at 2 o'clock and returned shortly before 7:30 o'clock. Half a hundred carriages were at the station at Tarrytown to meet the guests and carry them up the hill to St. Mark's Church, in Broadway.... Mr. and Mrs. van Beuren will go abroad on Saturday for an extended tour through Great Britain and the Continent." -- New York Tribune, Sept. 26, 1895.
Among the guests were members of the Jay Gould and Rockefeller families, as well as others prominent in New York City society.
Mary Lavinia and Michael van Beuren had one son, Archbold Van Beuren.
In a telephone interview, great-grandson Michael said she loved nature and gardens and dogs, particularly Pekinese. She was president of the Pekinese Association and took her dogs to London for shows and to be photographed.
She died Feb. 25, 1951 in Fort Myers, Florida. She is buried in Berkeley Memorial Cemetery, Middletown, Rhode Island.
Different sources give a different birth date for Mary Lavinia; it was either Sept. 7 or Nov. 7, 1871.
Michael M. van Beuren provided information about his great-grandmother in a telephone interview with this writer.
Records of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party in the possession of the New York Public Library were examined by this writer. Other records of the party, in the possession of Columbia University, were examined at the request of this writer by a graduate student.
New York Tribune, Sept. 26, 1895
Yonkers Statesman, Sept. 26, 1895.
National Woman's Party Treasurer's Report, in Equal Rights, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Feb. 17, 1923), p. 6.