Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of May Stocking Knaggs, 1847-1917

By Ashleigh M. Patton and Liette Gidlow, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI

Suffragist, Elected Official, Youth Rehabilitation Advocate

Mariette ‘May' Stocking was born on December 14, 1847, in Penn Yan, New York. Her parents were Dr. Charles Giles Stocking and Mary Woodhull Stocking, both of New York. They met while he was in medical school, and they married in Penn Yan on December 25, 1844. While Charles was obtaining his medical degree and establishing his medical practice, they lived in New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois and had two children, May and Dimies. In 1868, the family moved to Spring Lake, New York. May lived there until she married John Wesley Knaggs on June 9, 1869.

John Wesley Knaggs was born on August 28, 1839, to Johnson Knaggs and Sarah Louisa Woods in Raisinville, Michigan. John Knaggs was a graduate of Albion College and had enlisted in the Civil War. During the war, he lost his left arm and was taken prisoner for a month. After the war, he became an insurance agent and, eventually, a senior member of the firm Knaggs & Plum in Bay City, Michigan. May and John Knaggs had four children between 1871 and 1876: Walter Wesley, Roy Stocking, Duneis Camilla, and Mary Stocking. The federal censuses between 1870 and 1910 list her occupation as a homemaker.

May Knaggs was active in the suffrage movement from the mid-1880s to the early 1900s. She spoke at conventions, gave speeches in front of legislative committees, and presided over the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association (MESA). In June 1888, she helped lead a series of two-day suffrage meetings in Saginaw, Flint, Port Huron, Detroit, and Grand Rapids. In 1889, as chair of the association's legislative committee, she worked to secure a municipal suffrage bill by traveling and making speeches to build support for the cause, speaking at the annual convention of MESA, and working at the capital to convert legislators to the cause. In 1894, she joined Susan B. Anthony on a speaking tour, and Knaggs delivered sixty speeches in New York in support of woman suffrage.

May Knaggs served as president of MESA from 1895 to 1899. In July 1895, she attended the state Democratic Party convention in Bay City with fellow member Carrie C. Faxon. Knaggs addressed the convention. As a result of her and Faxon's work, according to chairman Thomas Barkworth, the party was ready to support political rights for women. In 1899, she headlined a NAWSA convention in Grand Rapids. Knaggs welcomed to attendees as: "representing the women of this State who are especially interested in woman's enfranchisement. We have looked forward to the day when you would bring us the inspiration of one of these great meetings; we needed it. We are told that women are indifferent. Many are so; and nothing can better arouse us than to meet those engaged in this work from so many different places."

Knaggs also worked to improve her community and her state, and she was especially interested in helping young people. In 1887, she became the first woman elected to the Bay City Board of Education. She worked to help former prisoners successfully transition back to life in their communities by serving on the board of the Home of Industry for Discharged Prisoners in Detroit. She also served as a guardian for the Michigan Industrial Home for Girls in Adrian in southwest Michigan. There, she worked to rehabilitate young women who had experienced prostitution, homelessness, and bad home environments.

Knaggs passed away on December 5, 1917, in New York. Her husband survived her by eight years. She left behind four children and a legacy as a Michigan suffragist. In recognition of her work, in 2002, she was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.


Caption: May Stockings Knaggs.
Source: "Michigan Women's Hall of Fame: May Stockings Knaggs," Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame, Aug. 23, 2018,,%20May%20Stocking.pdf.


American Correctional Association. Proceedings of the Annual Congress of Correction. Pittsburgh, PA: Shaw Brothers, 1896.

Bien, Laura. "In the Archives: Criminal Girls." Ann Arbor Chronicle. May 2, 2014. Accessed August 23, 2018,

Bloomfield, Ron. Legendary Locals of Bay City, Michigan. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2012.

Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "Michigan." Chapter XXI in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York, NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, pp. 303-16. [LINK]

Hubbard-Golden, Joni. "May Stocking Knaggs and Her Husband John W. Knaggs." Bay Journal. April 2010. Accessed October 30, 2017,

"Michigan Women's Hall of Fame: May Stockings Knaggs." Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame. 2002. Accessed August 23, 2018,,%20May%20Stocking.pdf.

"Michigan Women's Suffrage Association." Bay Journal. April 2010. Accessed August 23, 2018.

Ross, Robert B. History of the Knaggs Family of Ohio and Michigan. Detroit, MI: Clarence M. Burton, 1902.

back to top