Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary C.C. Bradford, 1878-?

by Liam Anthony McCoy, student, Colorado State University

Mary Carrol Craig C. Bradford was most notably superintendent for Colorado's public schools from 1913-1918, and took steps to standardize the way school was taught statewide. She also had a long career of public service in the Denver school system. Born in New York in 1878, she obtained a Bachelor's degree from the University of Paris before returning to the United States and marrying lieutenant Edward Taylor Bradford.

Bradford's career as an educator began after her husband's death on Christmas day in 1901. She rose to the role of superintendent of Adams County, Colorado, in 1903. In 1907, Bradford then took a short break from education while she served as editor of Modern World. She was not out of education for long, as Bradford became the superintendent of the city and county of Denver from 1909 to 1912. This would serve as her jumping off point to become state superintendent of Public Instruction, a role she held for six terms, starting in 1913. It was in this period that she got her most notable work done standardizing the public school system in the state of Colorado.

After only being state superintendent for a year she began to implement what would be a radical change in the school system. Bradford wanted to standardize the curriculum and teaching statewide so that every child would receive the same education. It was a slow process, but it paid off in the form of national recognition for Bradford, and other states soon adopted the same model. It was in the course of her first term as state superintendent that she continued the work of the prior Superintendent and continued a plan to make rural schools better by giving them the resources they needed to teach the children. Rural school houses often lacked adequate infrastructure. She made working conditions for teachers and students much better allowing for greater education, and also making it easier to begin the next phase of her own plan.

Bradford's plan consisted of scoring the schools and getting the county superintendents on board with this would prove to be easy because she was praised across the state and nationwide. A grading scale for the schools was established and they were given a ranking. This system made it so the state could see which schools needed the most help financially or and they could be given the best resources. By implementing this system Bradford set a precedent for how schools should be ranked and how school systems should run more efficiently.

Aside from her work in education, she was a prominent women's rights activist. Bradford helped lead the charge for Colorado women's suffrage. During the successful referendum campaign in 1893, Bradford served as president of the local suffrage organization in Colorado Springs. After women in Colorado gained the vote, she worked so closely with the Democratic party that she was nominated to run for office but never did. Without her work for Colorado suffrage other western states would not have been so quick to get on board with giving women the right to vote. Bradford was quick to write about and share her experience with the national suffrage movement, publishing in The Outlook in 1893; states like Wyoming waited to see how things turned out in Colorado before later legalizing it themselves. As an activist from a state that adopted suffrage early, Bradford worked as a national spe3aker and organizer for NAWSA. In 1903, Bradford toured Texas, in 1905, she spoke in Arizona and Nebraska, and 1906 found her in Oklahoma—activity all reported in state reports in the History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6. Thus, we see that Bradford's work was instrumental in securing voting rights not only for Colorado women, but also for women throughout the western United States.

Bradford left the office of state superintendent in 1927 and died in 1938.


Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922), multiple citations. [LINK]

Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4 (1902). [LINK]

Caldwell, Heather K. "Mary Carroll Craig Bradford: Providing Opportunities to Colorado's Women and Children Through Suffrage and Education." PhD diss., Texas A&M University, 2009. OAKTrust (

Ohles, John F. Biographical Dictionary of Educators. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978, p. 163.

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