Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Bartlett Dixon Cullen, 1873-1957
By Margaux Jacobs, undergraduate, University of Maryland, College Park
Mary Bartlett Dixon was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1873. Her father, William T. Dixon, was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital before becoming President of the hospital, a role that he served for eleven years. Mary Bartlett Dixon was admitted to the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing under unusual circumstances. The principal of the School of Nursing, Adelaide Nutting, wanted to reduce the number of hours student nurses worked a week. Nutting thought that by admitting the Hospital's President's daughter, Mary Bartlett Dixon, the President, Mr. Dixon, would be persuaded to change the hours after seeing how overworked his daughter was. Nutting did not think Mary Dixon would last in the program because she would have to work longer and harder than other students because of her father's position. Nutting's strategy worked, however: President Dixon reduced the hours for student nurses and his daughter exceeded the expectations of her superiors and graduated with the Class of 1903. Mary Bartlett Dixon was a woman with many interests, including women's suffrage, which she believed could be not be separated from the nursing profession.
In June 1906, Mary Bartlett Dixon wrote a letter to the editor of the American Journal of Nurses criticizing the journal's neutral stance on women's suffrage. She described a visit to her county almshouse as a representative of the Maryland State Nurses' Association and "pointed out that in the state of Maryland, women were politically placed on the same level as the inmates she had just seen." In October 1908, Dixon published an essay titled "Votes for Women" in the Nurses' Journal of the Pacific Coast. She argued that nurses could not be excluded from politics because every action they take is inherently political. Dixon asserted, "no other issue or matter could be attended to until nurses were politically oriented." To justify her claim, she wrote how "the health, wealth, and happiness of society and of the nursing profession relied on nursing's increasing political involvement in social reforms," and she concluded that "nurses' concerns with injustice in the world rendered their political involvement unavoidable." Dixon urged her fellow nurses to find out the voting laws in their states, and she was outraged to find that in Maryland "anyone over the age of twenty-one and who lived in a community for one year was eligible to vote ‘except women, children, idiots, and criminals.'" Dixon knew that women deserved to be treated equally to men, rather than like criminals and children. The lack of respect for women on the state level is what drew Dixon, along with other suffragists, to fight for the national amendment.
In October 1909, Mary Bartlett Dixon was the chairman of the Woman's Suffrage Association of Maryland, and they compiled a pamphlet titled "Opinions of Representative Men and Women on the Franchise for Women." This pamphlet was full of essays by distinguished scholars in favor of women's suffrage, and it is just one example of the various tactics suffragists used to gain attention for their cause.
A respected nurse with varied interests, Mary Bartlett Dixon worked very hard during World War I, fighting for nurses to receive officer rank. Dixon was still very concerned with women gaining the right to vote, as she believed political issues were at the core of every issue, and without a vote, women had no voice. In March 1913, Woodrow Wilson received the first suffragists in the White House—led by Alice Paul, and including Mary Bartlett Dixon and three others. Because state level suffrage was met with great resistance, suffragists like Dixon knew that a constitutional amendment was the only way to gain equality everywhere. On November 10, 1917, Dixon posed with a group of women protestors for a photograph including the suffrage banner and a critique of President Wilson. That day, Dixon was arrested for picketing the White House. She was sent to the Occoquan Workhouse along with Lucy Burns and many other suffragists.
On April 6, 1920, in Princeton, New Jersey, Mary Bartlett Dixon married Dr. Thomas S. Cullen, a gynecologist at Johns Hopkins, in a small ceremony surrounded by family. They honeymooned in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As Mrs. Cullen, she is remembered as the editor of the Johns Hopkins Nursing Alumnae Magazine and was consistently active on the Alumnae Board. A woman with a true activist spirit, Dixon founded the Talbot County League of Women Voters after the battle for suffrage was won. She helped to establish the Easton Memorial Hospital, the Talbot County chapter of the Children's Aid Society, and, as her hearing began to deteriorate in her older age, she became a "leading spirit" for the Baltimore League for the Hard of Hearing. After her husband died in 1953, she donated her Baltimore home to the American Cancer Society.
A Quaker, she was a member of the Friends Meeting in Easton, Maryland. Mary Bartlett Dixon Cullen died on September 6, 1957, at her home, Moreling Chance, near Easton. She was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, in Easton, Talbot County, Maryland.
Caption: "Some of the picket line of Nov. 10, 1917." Left to right: Mrs. Catherine Martinette, Eagle Grove, Iowa. Mrs. William Kent, Kentfield, California. Miss Mary Bartlett Dixon, Easton, Md. Mrs. C.T. Robertson, Salt Lake City, Utah. Miss Cora Week, New York City. Miss Amy Ju[e]ngling, Buffalo, N.Y. Miss Hattie Kruger, Buffalo, N.Y. Miss Belle Sheinberg, N.Y.C. Miss Julia Emory, Baltimore, Md.
Credit: Photograph by Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C., November 10, 1917. Cropped version of the photograph published in The Suffragist 5, no. 95 (Nov. 17, 1917). Available from the Library of Congress, National Woman's Party Records, Group II, Container II:276, Folder: Group Photographs Nos. 77-87, and online at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mnwp.276023. Accessed February 22, 2018.
Report of the President of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, 1904 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1904), 3-4 (733-734), GoogleBooks.
Mary Bartlett Dixon, letter to the editor, American Journal of Nursing 6, no. 9 (June 1906): 638.
Mary Bartlett Dixon, "Disinfecting Excreta in Typhoid," American Journal of Nursing 9, no. 1 (October 1908): 49.
Woman's Suffrage Association of Maryland, Opinions of Representative Men and Women on the Franchise for Women, October 1909, quoted in "Some Eminent Opinions," Woman's Journal (Boston), no. 42, October 16, 1909, 8.
"Miss Dixon is Bride of Dr. Thomas H. Cullen," The Daily Banner (Cambridge, MD), April 7, 1920, image 3, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065731/1920-04-07/ed-1/seq-3/.
Ida Husted Harper, ed. "Maryland," Chapter XIX in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922). [LINK]
"Mary Bartlett Dixon Cullen," obituary, Washington Post Times Herald, September 7, 1957, Proquest.
Mary Bartlett Dixon, "Votes for Women," Nurses' Journal of the Pacific Coast (October 1908), quoted in Sandra Lewenson, Taking Charge: Nursing, Suffrage, and Feminism in America, 1873-1920 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), 179-183.
Glenn Uminowicz, "The Justice of Woman Suffrage," Tidewater Times, May 2007, http://tidewatertimes.com/GlennUminowicz-May2007.htm.
Betty Borenstein Scher, "Who Is This Alumna?" Johns Hopkins Nursing Magazine, Fall/Winter 2013, http://magazine.nursing.jhu.edu/2013/12/who-is-this-alumna-3/.
Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Civil Disobedience: An Encyclopedic History of Dissidence in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2015), 475, GoogleBooks.
Find a Grave, Mary Bartlett Dixon Cullen, accessed February 22, 2018, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/73567235.
"Mary Adelaide Nutting (1858-1948): 1976 ANA Hall of Fame Inductee," American Nursing Association, accessed February 22, 2018, http://www.nursingworld.org/MaryAdelaideNutting.
Reflection on the Biography of Mary Bartlett Dixon:
How a Politically Active Woman Goes Down in History
by Margaux Jacobs
From the first Google search, it became clear that Mary Bartlett Dixon was an important lady in history. I found a short biography from Johns Hopkins Nursing School Magazine, a book she was featured in, articles she had published, a gravestone, and even pictures of her. I knew I had hit the jackpot for this project, and I was excited to see just how detailed of a biography I could write. The more I researched, the more I realized that writing a biography on her could easily turn into an entire book. I found a book called Nursing, Suffrage, and Feminism on Google Books that mentioned articles Dixon had written, but the pages I needed to read were unavailable. Luckily, I was able to find the book in the stacks at McKeldin, and I read the section on Mary Bartlett Dixon in its entirety. I was worried that this important information would be lost to me, but our library catalog and library staff helped me locate the printed book. The author, Lewenson, summarizes and quotes Dixon's letters to multiple nursing journals as an example of a nurse fighting for suffrage. I found this book very helpful because it showed me the tenacity and persistent, fighting spirit Mary Bartlett Dixon possessed as she encouraged other nurses to be more involved in suffrage.
Solberg discusses how Google Books and the Library of Congress databases have changed the work of historians, and both of those sources were very helpful for me as well (54). Google Books allowed me to see that my suffragist existed in a real book, and fortunately I was able to find the book in print just a few minutes later. The Library of Congress had the newspaper featuring Mary Bartlett Dixon's wedding announcement, which helped me find many details of her personal life. It also helped me to search for her with her changed name, which is how she was remembered for the majority of her life. Mary Bartlett Dixon Cullen had many great accomplishments, and knowing her new last name made it easier to track down that information. The only image of Mary Bartlett Dixon that I was able to find also came from the Library of Congress database, and it's hard to imagine people doing this research without these databases at hand. To actually see Mary Bartlett Dixon mentioned in a book felt amazing. I know my classmates were struggling to even find the full names of their suffragists, let alone information on them, and here was Mary Bartlett Dixon, permanently remembered in a book for her nursing and activism. It became clear that she worked incredibly hard to make a difference in the world, and these memorializations of her are evidence that her work mattered and will go down in history. Even if her name is not widely known, there is much evidence of her lifelong contributions to society. Dixon's obituary in the Washington Post Times Herald also gave a very good overview of her whole life's work, showing that she was involved in many causes besides suffrage.
As a nurse, Dixon was committed to social reform. How could a nurse care about helping women with physical problems and not care about their social inequality? Dixon argued that they couldn't, nursing is an inherently political position due to the want of improving lives. I have been inspired throughout this process by how adamant Dixon was in making sure women were treated equally at home, at work, and in the government. Dixon rallied her fellow nurses to fight for suffrage with her, and she knew they had to fight for a national amendment. The more I read about Mary Bartlett Dixon, the more I grew to respect her as one of the most powerful figures for the suffrage campaign. Though I had never heard her name before, it quickly became clear that she was an activist on all sorts of missions, and she constantly kept trying to make the world a better place. I was so proud of her for fighting for women everywhere, and when I read that she donated her house to the American Cancer Society I was just awestruck at her generosity and kindheartedness. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of information that I found on Mary rather than her husband or her father. I believe this is due to the amount of work Mary Bartlett Dixon Cullen did without the help of men: she was active in her career, she published many articles and letters to journals and newspapers, and she was arrested for picketing the White House. Because she did not involve her husband or father in these pursuits, she is instead recognized for her own achievements, which is a powerful example of a strong, independent woman.
One of the most informative pieces I found on her was a short biography for a "Who Is This Alumna" blog by Johns Hopkins Nursing School. It was focused on her nursing career as well as the many other pursuits in her active life. I'm still working on finding information about these other pursuits of hers, but it is clear that she was a very involved woman who didn't care about getting arrested if it meant equality for women. One of the best sources I found came from a webpage by the Executive Director of the Talbot County Historical Society, who found the quote that I use at the top of my paper. Uminowicz examines the work of Alice Paul and how Mary Bartlett Dixon and others worked beside her without receiving the proper credit for their work. He writes that "Dixon assumed a leading role in the Just Government League in Talbot County and fought for women's right to vote until it was granted in 1920. She was active at the state level in the organization, often reporting on the activities of women's rights advocates in the pages of the Maryland Suffrage News." This article made me contemplate just how many women worked so hard to achieve suffrage and how none of them have been properly memorialized for their contributions.
My biggest struggle with this assignment is that many articles came up on Newspapers.com but I was unable to access them without a subscription. I tried searching for the articles on other databases, but even the Library of Congress couldn't help me anymore. Because I had abundant information from my other sources, I chose not to provide my credit card number to see the articles, which I'm still conflicted about because now I don't know what other information they contain. I think that because newspapers are public documents, there should be a public archive available that isn't out for profit. If I can access the Washington Post archives, I should be able to access the Easton Sun archives, because without public access this information is pretty much useless. There's always a possibility that more information is out there, but I am very satisfied with the amount of information that I collected. Because the other sources I found were very credible and helpful, I had to resist the urge to keep looking for what might be an endless amount of information. Solberg also discusses how we as researchers have to shape the technology we use, instead of letting it shape us (56), and I kept that in mind with this project. The sources I used are all easily accessible by other scholars, and even if I had used the newspaper articles other people would not be able to access them for themselves, so I think I made the right decision.
Throughout my research, it became obvious that Mary Bartlett Dixon was a very involved, caring woman, and there were so many layers to her interests. By only looking at what she did for suffrage, one would lose so much of who she really is. Examining how Mary Bartlett Dixon the nurse is remembered is entirely different, and it adds so much more to her story. It makes so much more sense when you realize that her father was the President of Johns Hopkins Hospital, she married a gynecologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and most of her writing was aimed at inspiring fellow nurses to involve themselves with suffrage. In the chapter "Social Circulation," Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch discuss how "these ever-vibrant, interlinking social circles connect women not just across sociopolitical and cultural contexts, settings, and communities—locally and globally—but also across generations, across time, and across space" (Royster & Kirsch 101). I could not agree more after this research. Mary Bartlett Dixon was the editor of the Alumnae Magazine at Johns Hopkins, which helped her to constantly connect with other women across the country and even in different generations. The Johns Hopkins biography that I read on Dixon was written by a younger alumna, who was actively memorializing such an important figure at the Hospital, and for women everywhere. By continuing to remember Mary Bartlett Dixon, we can make sure that her efforts are always preserved and appreciated, generation after generation.
This project taught me a lot about how to collect historical evidence, but it taught me even more about how much women can achieve, even against the toughest odds. It is clear that Mary Bartlett Dixon Cullen lived a very full, active life, and her contributions will not be forgotten. She was a nurse, she was a suffragist, a picketer, a wife, a philanthropist, a volunteer, and a believer in all that women can achieve, and I can only hope that others are as inspired by her story as I am.
Essay Works Cited
Royster, Jacqueline Jones & Kirsch, Gesa E. "Social Circulation." Chapter 7 in Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literary Studies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012, 98-109.
Solberg, Janine. "Googling the Archive: Digital Tools and the Practice of History." Advances in the History of Rhetoric 15, no. 1 (2012): 53-76.
Uminowicz, Glenn. The Justice of Woman Suffrage. Tidewater Times. May 2007. http://tidewatertimes.com/GlennUminowicz-May2007.htm.