Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Agnes Cantwell, 1864-?

By Jen Mikkelson and Irene Thamke, student researchers, Montana State University, Bozeman

Educator, suffragist, storekeeper

Mary Agnes Cantwell was born in September of 1864, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the eldest daughter of two Irish-immigrant parents. She had two older brothers and would eventually have four younger siblings, two of whom were girls. Catherine, or Kate, was born two years later, and her sister, Annie, came six years after Kate. By 1870, the family had moved to Iowa, where Mary would grow up. Mary attended high school in Ackley, Iowa, and received her bachelor's degree at the normal school in Columbus, Iowa.

After graduation Mary Agnes Cantwell became a teacher, eventually landing in Bozeman, Montana. She started working as the head of the Preparatory Department and assistant English professor for Montana Agriculture College (which would eventually become Montana State University) in 1895. She lived in Bozeman with her widowed sister, Kate, and her niece, Barbara. She remained at Montana Agricultural College until 1914, after which she moved to North Dakota to become the preceptress at the Minot Normal School (this school would eventually become Minot State University) until 1921.

Mary's reasons for joining the suffrage movement are unknown. Perhaps she was spurred by her brother-in-law's death less than five years into her sister's marriage, leaving a wife behind to support a daughter. Maybe she was inspired by her experiences teaching in Iowa and North Dakota, before settling in Montana. Regardless, Mary was elected as the chairman of literature for the State Central Committee for woman suffrage in 1913, the year before she left Montana Agricultural College.

Mary's involvement in Montana's suffrage movement ended in 1915 when she moved to North Dakota, but she stayed active in the North Dakota women's movement. On August 24th, 1921 the Grand Fork Herald, a North Dakota newspaper, announced her resignation from her position as manager from Minot Normal Hall. After her resignation from Minot Normal Hall she operated a store, Ye Novelty Shop, with her sister Annie. She became president of the Minot Business and Professional Women's Club. She was involved with the North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs as the Chairman of the Food Committee in Minot, North Dakota. There is no record of Mary Agnes Cantwell after 1922, when she was listed in a city directory for Minot, North Dakota.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al., "Montana." History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922), p. 363. LINK

Montana Agriculture College. Montanan, 1907. Bozeman: Republican-Courier Print, 1907. Archives, Montana State University Library, Bozeman, Montana.

Polk's Minot City and Ward County Directory, St. Paul: R. L. Polk and Co., 1922-1923, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,

"Resigns as Manager of Minot Normal Hall." Grand Forks Herald, 24 Aug. 1921.

U.S. Census, 1880, 1890, 1900, Ancestry


Miss Mary Agnes Cantwell, Montana Agriculture College. Montanan, 1907 . Bozeman: Republican-Courier Print, 1907. Print. Archives, Montana State University Library.

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