Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mrs. Martha Y. Salyer, 1851 –1926
Alexis L. Pavenick, PhD, MLIS
Research and Instruction Librarian
California State University, Long Beach
Martha Salyer, born Martha Young in Killymallaugh, Ulster, Ireland, immigrated to the midwest of the United States and then moved to Los Angeles, California. In LA, she married and had five children with her husband, Alfred M. Salyer. The Salyers developed Salyer-Baumeister, the largest piano manufacturing company on the west coast during the early 1900s. Considered a "wealthy" family ("De Lara"), the Salyers were the first owners of some historic homes in the Adams-Normandie district of Los Angeles. Martha Salyer is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Glendale, California.
Throughout their lives, the Salyers were dedicated, well-known and active members of the Socialist Party in Southern California. In tandem, between 1902 and 1911, Martha Salyer held various committee positions, from Secretary to President, in local organizations such as the Women's Socialist Union of California, the Los Angeles County Woman Suffrage League, the Women's Socialist League, the Votes for Women Club, and the Equality Club. The Los Angeles Herald newspaper records Salyer multiple times as participating in all of these organizations, though her specific activities are not well-documented. However, one of her more notable moments was recorded in the Herald in 1902, when she presented a paper at a meeting of the Women's Socialist League. In the paper she declared, "Woman must be economically free before she can be mistress of her own person, which is absolutely necessary for perfect motherhood." Later, in 1903, Salyer became the Secretary of the Suffrage League, and in 1909 presented a similarly-themed paper for that organization, entitled, "Women as National and Municipal Housekeepers." Salyer seems to have seamlessly combined her socialist politics with her support of women's right to vote. She also appears to stay within the higher levels of committee participation throughout California's fight for women's suffrage. On November 11, 1910, Salyer even moved temporarily from Vice President to Chair of the Votes for Women Club when Clara Shortridge Foltz, California's first female lawyer, stepped-down because of too many other commitments.
In her supportive roles to promote women's suffrage, Salyer was often thanked in newspaper announcements that noted her pamphlet distribution and meeting preparations. Her name is listed more than once among several "prominent suffragists" in the early 1900s in LA (Los Angeles Herald, April 16, 1911).
Salyer's socialist and political values appear consistently to have been an active part of her and her family's life. One of her projects not mentioned in the newspaper records of her activism was her authoring and personal publication of a book still available today from rare booksellers. Oft Told Tales Retold (1920) is a socialist, plain-English retelling of stories from the Bible. Salyer skeptically contemplates the plot of Biblical tales in relation to what lessons they are meant to offer. Her narrator requests readers look closely at the Bible as text and apply critical thinking to it. Her book appeals to concepts of logic and practical living in ways similar to her other work.
Works Cited and Consulted
"Bi-Monthly Meeting of Female Socialists. Mrs. Martha Salyer Addresses the Session on Questions of Co-operation." Los Angeles Herald, 20 Feb, 1902, California Digital Newspaper Collection. cdnc.ucr.edu.
"De Lara is Still Held in Prison." Oakland Tribune. 26, Oct. 1909, access.newspaperarchive.com/us/california/oakland/oakland-tribune/1909/10-26/page-5/?pci=7&ndt=by&py=1851&pey=1926&pf=m&pl=salyer&psb=relevance
Harper, Ida Husted. "Chapter IV: California." History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920, edited by Ida Husted Harper. NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. pp. 27-58. [LINK]
Los Angeles Herald. California Digital Newspaper Collection. cdnc.ucr.edu.
Jan. 29, 1902.
Sep. 11, 1902.
June 14, 1903.
Nov. 20, 1903.
Nov. 28, 1909.
Feb 25, 1910.
June 26, 1910.
July 6, 1910.
Nov. 11, 1910.
Feb. 21, 1911.
April 16, 1911.
Aug 24, 1911.
Oct 15, 1911.
Jan 19, 1912.
Salyer, Martha Y. Oft Told Tales Retold. 1920.
Photo of Martha and Alfred Salyer supporting Socialist Mayor J. Stitt Wilson.
Barton, Stephen E. "‘This Social Mother in Whose Household We All Live': Berkeley Mayor J. Stitt Wilson's Early Twentieth-Century Socialist Feminism." The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, vol. 13, no. 4, Oct. 2014, doi.org/10.1017/S1537781414000401
Note: Much research on the Salyer family has been done by their descendants, and can be found via subscription services like Ancestry.com.