Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary E. Craigie, 1850-1928
By Thomas Wirth (lecturer), Chase O'Mahony (student) and Landon Finkel (student), State University of New York at Cortland
Chair, Legislative Committee, New York State Woman Suffrage Association; Chair, Committee on Church Work, National American Woman Suffrage Association; President, Brooklyn Public Library Association
Mary Elizabeth Craigie was born in Arcadia, New York on September 6, 1850, the fourth of eleven children, to reverend John Whitbeck and Margaret Strong (Cook) Whitbeck. Craigie traced her family origins in America to Selah Strong, a veteran of the American Revolution and the first judge at the court of common pleas in Suffolk County, Long Island. Strong commanded a company of soldiers at the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Craigie's father was a pastor in the Dutch Reformed church in various locations throughout upstate New York and Michigan. The Craigie family moved frequently to accommodate her father's ministry, and Mary attended multiple schools, including Detroit High School and Ithaca Academy in Ithaca, New York. She married Charles O'Hara Craigie in Ithaca in 1879. Shortly after marrying, the couple relocated to a colonial-era estate in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and Craigie found work as a teacher at Old Erasmus College.
Craigie's talent for writing and love of books led to a promising career as an author and librarian. She edited a collection of children's stories, entitled Once Upon a Time: Stories for Children, Taken from the Ancient Gods and Heroes (1876), and published a novel, John Anderson and I (1888). In 1896, Craigie shifted her focus from writing toward the establishment of a public library in Brooklyn. Prior to her efforts, Brooklyn maintained a subscription-based library on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. Craigie's first step in organizing a new public library was to form the Brooklyn Public Library Association. As president of the association, she attempted to secure book donations and arouse public support for the library. She took a broad view of the public library's role in the community, viewing it as an institution that would spread culture and promote literacy: "The province of the public library is not only to provide proper reading for old and young, but to aim through every subtle form of enticement to awaken and cultivate a love of reading among those who have not yet learned its delights." By 1898, Craigie had secured a state charter for the association from the New York State Board of Regents and an appropriation of $10,000 from the state legislature. She was named the library's first director, though on a temporary basis, when the Brooklyn Public Library officially opened in December 1897. After the library came under municipal control in 1899, Craigie was relieved of her duties as head librarian, but she agreed to stay on as an assistant librarian with primary responsibility for the traveling library system. She endured a rocky tenure in the traveling library department, facing charges of insubordination from two different library directors that culminated with her suspension and eventual dismissal from the library in November 1902. Craigie never regained her position at the library, but she successfully sued the City of New York in 1906 for wrongful termination and financial loss suffered from her unlawful discharge.
While Craigie fought removal from the library system she helped create, she emerged as a key figure in the women's suffrage movement at the state and national level. Her work as a suffrage activist began in earnest during the early 1890s, when she assumed the presidency of her local suffrage chapter in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. She went on to chair the Legislative Committee of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association from 1906 to 1908. At the national level, Craigie served on a variety of standing committees for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In 1905, she garnered appointment as chair of the NAWSA finance committee, and in 1909, she was elected chairman of church work. In this capacity, Craigie traveled the country and delivered numerous speeches designed to counteract anti-suffragist rhetoric circulating among American churchwomen. Craigie emphasized the challenges Christian women faced as agents of social and moral reform in a nation that precluded them from direct participation in the political process. She captured the struggle facing American churchwomen in a speech before NAWSA suffragists in 1910:
Shall we go on with the farce of attacking the constantly growing evils of intemperance, immorality and crime which menace our homes, our children, and society at large, knowing that our efforts are useless and futile, or shall we take a stand which will show that we are in earnest and demand the weapon of the ballot which is necessary before we can do our part as Christian citizens in advancing the kingdom of God on earth?
Craigie linked women's suffrage to Christian values, leveling her criticism at clergyman and politicians who supported the morally untenable position of denying women the right to vote. In 1912, Craigie published "Christian Citizenship," a pamphlet clearly influenced by the American social gospel movement, in which she called upon American churches "to hold sacred the aspirations and the needs of both men and women" in recognizing the suffrage question as an urgent question of "human justice" for all Christians to consider.
In addition to her suffrage activities, Craigie was a founder of the National Shakespeare Federation and an involved member of the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial and Vocational Education. Mary E. Craigie died on December 26, 1928 in Washington, D.C.
John W. Leonard, Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women in the United States and Canada, 1914-1915 (New York: American Commonwealth Co., 1914), 213. [LINK]
"Mrs. Mary E. Craigie," New York Times December 28, 1928, 16.
Benjamin W. Dwight, The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong of Northampton, Mass. (Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1871), 676.
Men and Women of Contemporary America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries (New York City: L. R. Hamersly & Co., 1910), 415-16. Accessible online at https://books.google.com/books?id=KOgUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA415&dq=charles+o%27hara+craigie&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjqaqV0J7bAhXvs1kKHQ3tD3oQ6AEITTAH#v=onepage&q=charles%20o'hara%20craigie&f=false
Lineage Book – National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Vol. 17 (Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1904), 130.
Mary E. Craigie, "The Public Library as a Factor in the Education of the Young," Public Library Bulletin 1 (4) (October, 1901), 168.
"Mrs. Craigie's Suspension," New York Times, October 26, 1902, 24.
Craigie v. City of New York (July 24, 1906), New York Supplement, Containing the Decisions of the Supreme and Lower Courts of Record of New York State, Vol. 100, August 27-December 17, 1906, 197-199.
Constitutional-Amendment Campaign Year, 1894: Report of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (Rochester, NY: Charles Mann, 1895). https://books.google.com/books?id=gRs5AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=mary+e.+craigie+new+york+state+woman+suffrage+association&source=bl&ots=nGbB2Cgnp0&sig=Hx3qqwAr2vkVgyBfGB0nwbAbzAI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjOpdOA257bAhUNxVkKHQ8QDeo4FBDoAQhAMAU#v=onepage&q=mary%20e.%20craigie&f=false
Ida Husted Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, 1900-1920, Vol. 5 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives, 1922). [LINK]
"Mrs. Craigie on Woman Suffrage," February 14, 1907. Manuscript/Mixed Material, Library of Congress, Washington, DC; accessible online at https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller001807/.
Legislative Committee, New York State Woman Suffrage Association to Political Equality Club Presidents. Albany, New York, January 20, 1907. Manuscript/Mixed Material, LC; accessible online at https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller001782/.
Mary E. Craigie, "Christian Citizenship." New York City: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1912(?), 15 pp. at https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011823705
Mary E. Craigie, Once Upon a Time: Stories for Children, Taken from the Ancient Gods and Heroes, New York: Putnam, 1876. Online at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uva.x002078674;view=1up;seq=5
Mary E. Craigie, John Anderson and I (Buffalo: Moulton, Wenborne, and Co., 1888).
"Realty Sale Allowed to Pay Will Bequests," Nassau Daily Review-Star, March 28, 1939, 4.
Mary E. Craigie, n.d.
Citation: Enclosure: Mrs. Mary E. Craigie of Brooklyn, speaker, New York State Woman Suffrage Association Convention, N. D. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller002762