Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Clark Sturtevant, 1843-1931
By Kristen Costa, Curator, Newport Restoration Foundation, Newport, RI; MA, Brown University, Rhode Island
Vice President of Newport, RI Suffrage League, author, historian, philanthropist
Mary Clark Sturtevant was born on July 17, 1843 to Reverend Thomas March Clark (1812-1903) and Caroline (Howard) Clark (1822-1884) in Boston, Massachusetts. She was born into a family with a prominent history in the United States. The Boston Globe reported that both her grandfathers crossed the Delaware River with General George Washington during the American Revolution. Mary's upbringing in the Episcopal Church likely had an impact on her ideas about contributing to her community and social justice. Her father was an Episcopal minister; he served as fifth Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island from 1854 to 1903 and Episcopal Bishop of the United States from 1899 to 1903. Because of Rev. Clark's status as a religious leader, the family was well-known and respected within the community. Portrait artist M.J. Heade painted both Mary and her father in 1857. Both portraits are part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Mary Clark Sturtevant's social standing within the community from both her upbringing and her marriage to Eugene Sturtevant (1838-1899) in 1870 gave her the ability to contribute to causes in meaningful ways, both through financial and active support. Eugene Sturtevant was a proprietor, being one of the real estate developers who promoted Middletown, Rhode Island as an alternative summer colony to Newport. In 1872, after purchasing their own Middletown property, Mary Sturtevant identified the need for an Episcopal chapel within the burgeoning town. In fact, in many accounts, including her April 1931 Newport Mercury obituary, Mary Clark Sturtevant is listed as the founder of Berkeley Memorial Church. In fact, Mary spearheaded the fundraising campaign. In 1882, her husband donated the land for the chapel to be built; the first service was on June 23, 1885, with Mary's father Bishop Clark consecrating the chapel on August 31, 1886. Mary's contribution is honored at the church, with a memorial tablet featuring her silhouette behind the organ bench.
While her philanthropic activities while her husband and father were alive are more closely aligned with her religion and child welfare causes, her social standing allowed her more freedom to campaign for women's suffrage after both of their deaths. By 1908, Mary Clark Sturtevant is listed as a member of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League, an effort she shared with her daughters. In February 1914, Mary Sturtevant actively petitioned state and federal representatives to take action on legalizing the women's vote. In November 1914, Mary Sturtevant was named Vice President of the Newport County Equal Suffrage League (later the Newport Suffrage League). Her daughter Mary was named treasurer. In February 1915, Mary Clark Sturtevant is the Newport representative on the Rhode Island State Committee of Woman Suffrage. She also was a member of the Congressional Union, the offset of NAWSA, in Rhode Island in 1915. With other Rhode Island suffragists, Sturtevant participated in a “buttonhole” campaign at the State House where they confronted legislators “in the corridors, on the stairs, and anywhere else they happened to be, and expounded woman suffrage to them fluently.” The overview of Rhode Island's woman suffrage history in The History of Woman Suffrage states that “In Middletown the [Newport County Woman Suffrage] league's work was ably carried on by Mrs. Eugene Sturtevant and her daughters.” After the ratification of the woman suffrage amendment, Sturtevant joined the Rhode Island branch of the National Woman's Party in 1923.
Mary Clark Sturtevant served for thirty-seven years on the board of managers at St. Mary's Home for Children in Providence, RI. She was president of the board for thirty-three years. In addition, Mary was an early advocate for historic preservation, including the saving of Whitehall, the 18th century Middletown home of philosopher George Berkley. As an amateur historian she wrote: “The East Shore of Middletown, RI” in The Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society in 1925; Thomas March Clark: Fifth Bishop of RI: A Memoir, a tribute and biography of her father in 1927, and in 1928, Records & Memories of St. Columba: The Berkeley Memorial Chapel, which was the first recorded history of the chapel she helped found and create.
Mary and Eugene Sturtevant had five children together: Louisa (1870-1958), Helena (1872- 1946), Mary (1874- 1956), Edward (1876- 1939), and Alice (1878- 1945). Daughters Helena and Louisa were well-known Rhode Island artists and part of the eight founding artists/members of the Art Association of Newport in 1912, now the Newport Art Museum. Helena Sturtevant is the longest serving director of the Association's art school. Daughter Alice married Henry Howard of Boston, the famous scientist.
Mary Clark Sturtevant died on April 9, 1931 in Middletown, Rhode Island. She is buried in Berkeley Memorial Graveyard at Berkeley Memorial Church.
Mary Clark Sturtevant, Thomas March Clark: Fifth Bishop of Rhode Island, A Memoir (Milwaukee, WI: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1927), p. 178.
Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham, 1925), pp. 180, 235, 259
Sara Butler, “A Web of Commemoration: Mark Clark Sturtevant and the Berkley Memorial Chapel, 1881-1934,” Newport History, Journal of the Newport Historical Society, Vol. 88, no. 277, Winter/Spring, 2018
“St. Columba's Chapel,” http://www.stcolumbaschapel.org/buildings.htm [Accessed May 2018]
Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922), p. 578. [LINK]
Mary Sturtevant [daughter of Mary C. and Eugene Sturtevant], “Early Records of St. Columba's, the Berkeley Memorial Chapel,” in Helena Sturtevant, Mary Sturtevant, et al, “Memorial Services at 50th Anniversary of Laying of the Cornerstone of St. Columba's, the Berkeley Memorial Chapel,” Redwood Library, Newport, RI.
Journal of the House of Representatives of United States, Vol. 63, Iss.3, January 4, 1915
“Election of Officers,” Newport Daily News, November 2, 1914
“Middletown,” Newport Mercury, October 7, 1916
“Funeral of Mrs. Mary Clark Sturtevant,” Newport Mercury, April 17, 1931
“Mary C. Sturtevant,” The Boston Globe, April 10, 1931.
“Woman Suffrage Convention Here,” The Providence Daily Journal, May 28, 1915.
“‘Votes for Women' Plea in Assembly,” The Providence Journal, February 11, 1915.
“Ten Woman Launch New R.I. Woman's Party on Its Course,” The Providence Journal, March 7, 1923.
John William Leonard, ed. Women's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915 (New York: The American Commonwealth Co., 1914), [LINK] p. 794.
Mary Clark Sturtevant, Thomas March Clark: Fifth Bishop of Rhode Island, A Memoir (Milwaukee, WI: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1927).