Biographical Sketch of Mary Otis Gay Willcox

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Otis Gay Willcox (or Wilcox), 1862 – 1933

By Ashley Tatum, SUNY Old Westbury. Faculty Sponsor: Carol Quirke

Chair, Borough of Richmond (Staten Island) Woman Suffrage Party, 1914-1919

Mary Otis Gay was born on December 20, 1862 in Castleton, NY and passed away in 1933. Willcox was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and her grandfather, Daniel Neall, was an abolitionist. Her mother, Elizabeth Howard Gay, was a Quaker and women's rights advocate who, according to a July 1914 New York Times article, accompanied Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott to the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London that inspired the U.S. women's movement when the Convention refused to seat the women delegates. Mary's father, Sidney Howard Gay, was an active abolitionist, who edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard before moving to the New York Tribune. He supported the Underground Railroad, hiding slaves in local homes until they could be moved to safety. During the Draft Riots of 1863, the mob kept Gay stranded in his office at the Tribune while the Gay family and other abolitionists confronted white mobs in Staten Island. Mary Otis Gay married William Goodenow Willcox (b. 1859, Reading, Massachusetts) on May 28, 1889. According to Legends, Stories and Folklore of Old Staten Island, the Willcox family was also strongly connected to Garrisonian abolitionism and women's rights. The Willcoxes lived on 115 Davis Avenue, West New Brighton, Staten Island. William Willcox passed away in Staten Island on September 19, 1923. The Willcoxes had five children: Elizabeth, Anne, Daniel, Henry, and Sidney. The Willcoxes shared their civic, reform and philanthropic interests. William Willcox was the President of New York City's Board of Education from 1916-1918, responsible for establishing pensions for teachers, and a Board Member of the Tuskegee Institute among other philanthropic endeavors.

According to the History of Woman Suffrage, Mary Otis Gay Willcox was Borough Chairman for Staten Island (then referred to as Richmond) of the City Party led by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1915, when the suffrage amendment appeared on the New York State ballot. As part of that campaign, according to a 1915 New York Tribune article, she and Mrs. James Lees Laidlaw led a "feminine column" of representatives from New York City, through Binghamton, to Rochester for the final Suffrage Party convention before the 1915 ballot initiative. The City Party organized mass meetings, canvassed homes and businesses, and attempted to reach nearly 600,000 voters, ultimately enrolling 60,000 new members to the Party. Willcox lectured on women's suffrage, for example, the New York Age reports, to an African Methodist Episcopal congregation in Bayonne, NJ. By 1919 Willcox became active in the League of Women Voters, the independent, non-partisan group aimed at enhancing women's political power, educating voters, and constraining partisan corruption. She chaired the League's Richmond chapter.

Willcox was a recognized philanthropic figure on Staten Island, whose organizing and fundraising skills had national influence. She donated her father's library to the New York Public Library. She also founded the Staten Island Red Cross chapter, recruiting 18,000 members during World War I. Willcox was appointed Chairman of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for Richmond. She had charge of the work of women in that borough in raising money towards the $1,000.000 fellowship in public service. She also served as trustee for the Staten Island Hospital, the Staten Island Academy, and the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences. She fundraised for the Association for the Aid of Crippled Children and was involved in civic, philanthropic, and political activities for the remainder of her life, from work on New York City parks and support of progressive education, to rejecting the Smoot-Hawley tariff in 1930.

"All Street Fair Expenses Donated to Aid the Event," New York Herald, 10 May 1922, newspapers.com.

Bromwell, Henrietta Elizabeth. The Bromwell Genealogy: Including Descendants of William Bromwell and Beulah Hall, 1910 Denver Colo, https://books.google.com/books?id=4wE3AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA126&dq=%22mary+otis+gay%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiuv5_Xv-DcAhWvo1kKHRfQBYEQ6AEIVjAI#v=onepage&q=%22mary%20otis%20gay%22&f=false

Bulletin of the New York Public Library, Volume 19, Part 1, 7.

"Mrs. Catt Pleads for Independence in Women Voters," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 14, 1919, at newspapers.com

Harper, Ida. History of Woman Suffrage, National American Women Suffrage Association, 1922. 460-2.

Hine, Charles Gilbert and William T. Davis, Legends, Stories and Folklore of Old Staten Island, (Staten Island Historical Society, 1925). https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/010687153.

Hine, Charles Gilbert and William T. Davis Staten Island and Its People: 1609-1929. Lewis Historical Publishing, 1930,) at https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/010687154.

"International Division in Suffrage Parade," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 09 Sep 1915, newspapers.com

"Labor Renews its Attack on Flexner," New York Times February 6, 1916.

The Life and Ancestry of Warner Mifflin, compiled by Hilda Justice, (Philadelphia: Ferris and Leach, 1905)

Matteo, Thomas. "Staten Island's Role in the Civil War," Staten Island Advance, September 25, 2011. http://blog.silive.com/memories_column/2011/09/staten_islands_role_in_the_civil_war.html.

The New York Age, Oct 21, 1915 at newspapers.com

"Suffrage Armies Ready to March," New York Tribune, October 4, 1914 at newspapers.com

"Whirl for Suffrage at Garden Cabaret: Votes-for-Women Dances," New York Times, Jul 12, 1914, at ProQuest

"Woman to Aid Wilson Foundation," New York Times, January 12, 1922, 17.

 

Identifier: NYSA_A0412-78_B13_F05_Wilcox_Mary New York State Archives, copyright holder unclear. http://digitalcollections.archives.nysed.gov/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/10286

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