Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Harris Armor, 1863-1950
By Sarah Carrier, North Carolina Research and Instruction Librarian, UNC-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
President, Georgia branch of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union
Mary Harris was born on March 9, 1863, and grew up in Greene County, Georgia. Her father, William Harris, was a physician. She married her husband, a dry goods merchant, Walter Florence Armor, in August 1883. Mary Harris Armor also earned a law degree.
As the nineteenth century came to a close, the temperance movement was the cause that politicized Mary Armor. Armor joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). After serving as vice president for the Georgia branch, she became the state's third president in 1905, a position she held for four years. Afterwards, she became a WCTU lecturer at the national level and field secretary for Georgia. Within the WCTU and throughout the temperance movement, the efficacy of Armor's perseverance was credited with the success of Georgia statewide prohibition in 1908, and one of her lectures on her circuit was “How Georgia Went Dry.” Starting with success in Georgia, Armor lectured across the country on the issue, predicting full prohibition in numerous states in the U.S. and around the world. Some of her renowned speeches included ones such as, “A Saloonless Nation in 1920, and Why.” Despite success in her home state and relentless lobbying, achieving prohibition on the national level proved a long-term challenge, but one Armor was dedicated to. She made a significant impression across the country. Descriptions from her contemporaries reveal great admiration for her “fiery eloquence.” Newspapers across the country called her the “The Greatest Woman Orator in America,” the “Champion Conscience Disturber,” “The Georgia Cyclone,” and “The Southern Joan of Arc.” The Rapid City Journal said in 1911 that Armor was “as intense as LaFollette, and as eloquent as William Jennings Bryan.” Not only a lecturer, Armor also published articles and pamphlets on temperance.
As the WCTU worked towards prohibition during the early 1900s, the temperance women began to see woman suffrage as a means to promote their agenda. Armor joined the suffrage efforts in 1909 after the question of women taxpayers' voting rights became a divisive issue in Georgia. She used her platform with the WCTU to advocate for woman suffrage and its usefulness to the temperance efforts. After the Nineteenth Amendment, she joined the League of Women Voters.
Armor died November 5, 1950, in Fulton County, GA, and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Ansley, Lula Barnes. History of the Georgia Woman's Christian Temperance Union from Its Organization, 1883-1907. Columbus, GA: Gilbert Printing Co., 1914.
Gatti, Stacey Horstmann. “‘To Do Her Duty Nobly and Well': White Women's Organizations Debate Woman Suffrage, 1910-1920.” In Entering the Fray: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the New South, edited by Sheila R. Phipps and Jonathan Daniel Wells, 42-67. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2010.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. “Georgia.” Chapter X in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920, 121-143. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
Logan, Mary Simmerson Cunningham. “Mary Harris Armor.” In The Part Taken by Women in American History, 668-669. Wilmington, DE: The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, 1912.