Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Margery Gibson Ross, 1877-1964
By Clare M. Sheridan, retired librarian, American Textile History Museum, Lowell, MA
Organizer for the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and the National Woman's Party in Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and Wyoming
Margery Gibson Ross was most likely born in 1877/78 (see 1880 and 1900 censuses and gravestone) in Pennsylvania, probably in Amwell Township, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Her parents were Thomas M. and Anna (Annie) E. Ross, both of whom were born in Pennsylvania. She died in 1964 and is buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery. She spent much of her life, however, in Cody, Wyoming where she originally went in 1916 as an organizer for Alice Paul's Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) and later the National Woman's Party (NWP). Miss Ross, who appears to have remained single all her life, attended four years of college and was a teacher by profession, although the 1920 and 1940 censuses indicate that she had no professional occupation at those times. Newspaper articles indicate she was teaching at the Grant Street school in Pittsburgh in 1902 and a reference in The Suffragist says that she “was for several years teacher of Latin at Fairmont Seminary,” a private school for girls in Washington, D.C. Ross was a member of the Women's Civic Club of Wilkinsburg (a borough adjacent to Pittsburgh), and spoke there on a variety of social topics including the policy of the CU to oppose all candidates of parties that were against woman suffrage. “We find the method effective and that friendly candidates in an unfriendly party work for us all the better when they have been made to feel our power.”
Ross was already a member of the CU in 1915 and was one of its most active workers in the District of Columbia and in the failed Pennsylvania suffrage referendum of 1915.She was described in a 1916 issue of The Suffragist as a former executive secretary of the CU before leaving for the west. However, this title may be inaccurate. Both the CU and the NWP were the more radical wings of the suffrage movement and focused their attention on passing a federal suffrage amendment. The movement's more conservative counterpart, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), focused on the passage of suffrage within individual states. Both the CU and the NWP used more aggressive tactics (avoided by NAWSA), such as picketing the White House, heckling politicians, parades, petitions, auto and train tours of speakers, etc. often described by the newspapers as acts of “terrorism.” Ross's suffrage activities in the Pittsburgh area were recorded in various newspaper articles throughout 1915 indicating that she either assisted in arranging open-air suffrage meetings or spoke to audiences herself or with a fellow suffragist. These meetings were held on street corners in Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg. At a meeting of the CU in February 1916, she discussed the question of precinct organization as a “method of furthering the cause” and she was among the well wishers who accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst to the Washington, D.C. train station when she left for Philadelphia in February 1916
In March 1916, the CU, from its headquarters in Washington, D.C., announced its progress in organizing the western states and establishing state suffrage conventions within them. Many of the western states (and some midwestern ones) had already given women full or partial voting rights, and the NWP saw the women voters in these states as a force to pressure Congress to pass the Susan B. Anthony [SBA] amendment. Encouraging them to vote as a bloc, these women were asked to send deputations to each state's central committees of the political parties. Miss Margery Ross of Pennsylvania, it was announced, “had left this city recently to begin work in Cheyenne, Wyo.,” a state that had already granted suffrage to women in 1869.
Indeed, Ross had left quickly. According to an anecdote in Inez Haynes Gillmore's Story of the Woman's Party, Ross had come to D.C. to spend the winter with a cousin. She was “young and pretty” and was enjoying herself. However, she was a suffragist. “One day, out of a clear sky, Alice Paul said 'Miss Ross, will you go to Wyoming on Saturday, and organize a State Convention there within three weeks?' 'Why, Miss Paul,' the girl faltered, 'I can't. My plans are all made for the winter. I've only just got here.' Nevertheless, in a few days, Miss Ross started for Wyoming. There were only eight members of the CU in that State and yet three weeks later she had achieved a State Convention with one hundred and twenty delegates.” This was very much in keeping with Alice Paul's policy of recruiting younger women as organizers aged or left, so that by 1919 it was said by Gillmore that there were three generations of organizers, Margery Ross being in the second generation.
According to The Suffragist in a 1916 issue, Miss Ross, national organizer, had urged a hundred prominent men and women as well as all women's organizations in the state to send messages to President Woodrow Wilson and Congress to pass the SBA amendment. In addition, it was expected that “through the efforts of the suffragists of Park County [Wyoming], a resolution will be passed by the state legislature now in session putting the legislature on record as standing behind the amendment.” By the end of spring 1916, it was predicted that the twelve selected voting states would be thoroughly organized. In June of 1916, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns founded the National Woman's Party with headquarters in Chicago. The CU continued in Washington, D.C. to concentrate on the remaining unenfranchised states.
In July 1916, Ross declared her intention of becoming a citizen of Wyoming so that she could vote in upcoming elections. She took up residence in Cody, Park County. As a result of her efficient work in organizing every county for suffrage, Governor Kendrick asked her to campaign for the Republican ticket in Wyoming but she declined because the CU/Woman's Party had not yet determined which party it would support in the fall. That determination would be made at the three-day convention in Colorado in August when Congress would be at the point of adjourning and the fate of the SBA amendment would be known. The fact that the suffrage or “free” states controlled 91 electoral votes gave women voters (about 4,000,000 in all) in those states the power to potentially determine the election of the next president. The decision of the convention was to oppose the reelection of all Democrats for failure to pass the SBA amendment, although support was not officially given the nominees of other parties.
Margery Ross and Dr. Frances Lane of Wyoming, who were at the Colorado conference, returned immediately to continue the work of organizing each township as the counties had already been done. Ross was probably living with Dr. Lane, the first woman doctor in Wyoming, at West Sheridan Ave. in Cody (see 1920 census). Ross was appointed Wyoming campaign manager and one of six national organizers in addition to be referred to as “field secretary for the Rocky Mountain States.” Ross was also sent to help organizing efforts in Idaho. Dr. Frances Lane is also listed in TheSuffragist as a member of the National Committee of State Chairmen and a Congressional District Chairman. In April 1917, Ross and Margaret Whittemore of Detroit inaugurated an automobile campaign, which they would conduct as representatives of the NWP, in an effort to organize women for the 1918 suffrage campaign. Ross explained, “It is going to be a case of the enfranchised women getting the vote for the unenfranchised . . . . We shall impress upon these women the necessity of united action . . . in this fight for their sisters who have not yet won the privilege of equal suffrage.” They drove through California, Oregon and Washington State without managing to hold a single conference, let alone secure the first state chairman or come through with money according to Mary Walton in A Woman'sCrusade. Alice Paul's misgivings about the “Suffrage Ford” publicity campaign was seconded by Ross who privately begged to be transferred to Boise or Salt Lake City. Margaret Whittemore was told to stay in one place until she accomplished something.
While picketing and “watchfires” (President Wilson's speeches were often burned) in front of the White House continued, Ross was back in Wyoming and neighboring states organizing throughout the rest of 1917 and 1918, although newspaper articles about her work are less frequent. The last article about Ross's suffrage activities is in early January 1919 when she seems to have returned to Washington, D.C. to participate in demonstrations at the White House. According to Gillmore, the women were attacked by a mob that damaged their banners and flags and their “watchfire” was doused by the police. However, that night the women relit it and “Mary Logue and Miss Ross guarded it until two in the morning . . . .” Ross then seems to have returned to Cody probably after Congress passed the suffrage amendment in May/June of 1919 (Wyoming ratified the 19th amendment on Jan. 27, 1920).
She became active in local Republican politics. In 1921, the Billings [Montana] Gazette noted that she was elected as a delegate to attend the Republican state convention in Casper, Wyoming. In Feb. 1922, a newspaper article reported that she headed a committee of the American Legion Auxiliary to write a constitution for this woman's veteran organization. In 1928, she traveled to D.C. to see cousins and to visit her mother at her old home in Pittsburgh. She is described as a noted feminist and associate of the National Woman's Party. “Miss Ross is also president of the Coolidge Club of Cody, and had the pleasant duty last summer of introducing several hundred women to the first lady . . . when the President and Mrs. Coolidge made their trip through the Yellowstone. Naturally she expects to attend the Republican national convention at Kansas City.”
In 1938, Dr. Lane died and was buried in Denver. Ross is still listed at the Sheridan Ave. address in the 1940 census and is still active in local politics. The Jackson Hole Courier noted that she and the president of the Cody Club were involved in a dispute with the Park Service over the winter uses of Yellowstone. In 1951, a local paper reported that she visited Washington, D.C. and in 1963 a Montana newspaper described Ross as the “enfant terrible” of Wyoming Republican politics in an article about proposed changes to the Wyoming state flag (she was opposed). The article indicates that Ross was 85 at the time, which confirms the 1877 birth date (see 1920 and 1940 census for alternate birth dates of 1883/84). Unfortunately, an obituary or death notice was not found for Margery Ross at this time.
Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana). March 15, 1916, p.1; Sept. 10, 1916, p.25. (newspapers.com)
Baltimore Sun (The). August 13, 1916, p.2. (newspapers.com)
Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana). August 13, 1916, p.1; April 23, 1932, p.12. (newspapers.com). Jan. 27, 1952, p.11; Sept. 15, 1963, p.7; newspaperarchive.com)
Cahill, Bernadette. Alice Paul, the National Woman's Party and the vote: the first civil rights struggle of the 20th century. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2015.
Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming). Oct. 9, 1917, p.1; Oct. 12, 1917, p.1; Feb. 25, 1922, p.2; May 27, 1928, p.20. (newspapers.com)
Des Moines Tribune, April 17, 1917, p. 7. (newspapers.com)
El Paso Herald. August 12, 1916, p.1. (newspapers.com)
Evening Star (Washington, D.C.). Feb. 19, 1916, p.1; Feb. 23, 1916, p.20; March 1, 1916, p.1. (newspapers.com)
Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current. https://www.ancestry.com/search/categories/bmd_death/?name=Margery+Gibson_Ross&death=_pittsburgh-allegheny-pennsylvania-usa_12524&name_x=s_s;
See also for image of gravestone: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/91047519
Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (Fort Wayne Indiana). July 31, 1916, p.6. (newspapers.com)
Gillmore, Inez Haynes (aka Inez Haynes Irwin). The story of Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party. Fairfax, Va.: Denlinger's Pub., c1977. First ed. published in 1921 under title: The Story of theWoman's Party; second ed. published in 1964 under the title Uphill with banners flying. Also available online from Cornell University, WASM and HathiTrust.
History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. VI (1900-1920). Edited by Ida Husted Harper in 6 vols.
National American Woman Suffrage Assn., c1922.
Irwin, Inez Haynes. See Gillmore.
Jackson's Hole Courier (Jackson, Wyoming). Feb. 22, 1940, p. 1. (newspapers.com)
Kendrick Gazette (Kendrick, Idaho). August 11, 1916, p.2. (newspapers.com)
Library of Congress. Women of Protest:Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party, Pennsylvania. Miss Margery Ross.... https://www.loc.gov/resource.mnwp.156011/
(Abbreviated version of same image appears in issue of The Suffragist, Vol. 5 (1917), p. 8.
Los Angles Times (The). April 22, 1917, p. 26. (with photo of auto and Margery Ross) (newspapers.com)
Montana Standard (Butte). Dec. 18, 1931, p.13. newspaperarchive.com)
Natrona County Tribune (Casper, Wyoming). June 15, 1916, p.7; August 10, 1916, p.8. (newspapers.com)
Nevada State Journal (Reno). Oct. 17, 1918, p. 4. (newspapers.com)
Park County Archives, Cody, Wyoming. Thanks to Archivist, Brian Beauvais for photograph of Margery Ross (with group) laying a wreath at the Buffalo Bill Monument annual ceremony on Buffalo Bill's birthday, ca. 1945.
Pittsburgh Daily Post. June 28, 1915, p. 2; June 28, 1915, p.2; August 13, 1915, p.8; Sept. 5, 1915, p. 21; March 3, 1916, p.9; March 5, 1916, p.1; July 26, 1916, p.9. (newspapers.com)
Pittsburgh Press (The). June 22, 1915, p.17; June 27, 1915, p.48; August 13, 1915, p.19; August 13, 2015, p.19. (newspapers.com)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 27, 1915, p.12; Sept. 5. 1915, p. 12; Sept. 17, 1915, p.16; July 26, 1916, p.14; August 13, 1916, p.7; August 11, 1916, p.7. (newspapers.com)
Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pa). August 1902, p.13. (newspapers.com)
Richmond Item (Richmond, Indiana). May 9, 1917, p.6. (with photo of auto and Margery Ross). (newspapers.com)
Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City). August 3, 1916, p.11. (newspapers.com)
San Bernardino [Calif.] County Sun. April 24, 1917, p.3. (newspapers.com)
Star Valley Independent (Afton, Wyoming). July 26, 1951, n.p. (newspapers.com)
Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon). August 27, 1916, p.3; May 19, 1917, p.1 (with photo of Margery Ross); May 20, 1917, p.10. (newspapers.com)
Suffragist (The): Official Organ of the National Women's Party; Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, 1913-March 3, 1917. Vol. 4, no. 11 (1916), p.5 and 9; Vol. 4, no. 14 (1916), p.9; Vol. 4, no. 26 (1916), p.10.; Vol. 5, no issue no. (1917), p.8-9; Vol. 5, no. 61 (1917), p.2-3; Vol. 5, no. 67 (1917), p.10; Vol. 5, no. 71 (1917), p.9. http://gerritsen.chadwyck.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/browsePeriodicals/toc.do?id=GP178.1&divLevel=1&action=new&fromPage=browsePeriodicals
U.S. Census, 1910. Note that first name is spelled incorrectly. https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1910uscenindex/?name=Francis_Lane&name_x=s_s&residence=_wyoming-usa_53
U.S. Census, 1920. Note that first name is spelled incorrectly. https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1920usfedcen/?name=Francis_Lane&name_x=s_s&residence=_wyoming-usa_53
U.S. Census. Fourteenth census of the United States: 1920 (Population). Birth date incorrectly reported as about 1884. https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1920usfedcen/?name=Margery_Ross&name_x=s_s&residence=_wyoming-usa_53
U.S. Census. 1940 federal census. Birth date incorrectly reported as about 1883. https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1940usfedcen/?name=Margery_Ross&name_x=s_s&residence=_wyoming-usa_53
Walton, Mary. A woman's crusade: Alice Paul and the battle for the ballot. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, c2010.
Washington Post (The). March 6, 1916, p. 4; March 8, 1916, p.14. (newspapers.com)
Wisconsin State Journal (Madison). March 31, 1916, p.1. (newspapers.com)
Additional thanks to the Park County Library, Wilkinsburg Public Library and the Heinz History Center (Pittsburgh) for searching for MR in their collections (no information found). See reference above to Park County Archives.