Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Marion Harriet Stone Pelley (Mrs. William Dudley Pelley), 1886-1973
By Paul Heller, author
Vermont Equal Suffrage Association: Publicity Chairman
On March 11, 1973, Marion S. Pelley died in Noblesville, Indiana at age 86. She had suffered the consequences of a stroke shortly before her demise, but had lived for many years after being diagnosed with arteriosclerosis and breast cancer. Noblesville was the home of her daughter, Adelaide, as well as the former residence of her late, estranged husband, William Dudley Pelley, a notorious Christian-extremist and pro-Nazi sympathizer during World War II. Mr. Pelley and Marion had separated in the 1920s, before his anti-Semitic activities attracted national attention, criminal prosecution, and eventual imprisonment.
Born in Millers Falls, Massachusetts in 1886, Marion Harriet Stone was the daughter of Fremont Stone, a Vermont-born school teacher who eventually gave up the classroom for the life of a farmer and lived a rusticated existence until the age of 91. Her mother was Harriet Waste Stone, a Mayflower descendant, who also lived to an advanced age and resided with her daughter after the death of her second husband, Frederick Holbrook.
A high school graduate, Marion by 1910 worked as a proofreader for the publisher Houghton Mifflin in Cambridge, Massachusetts and there met a young newspaperman, William Dudley Pelley. They soon married and moved to Vermont where Pelley found success as a writer of short stories.
A daughter, Harriet Drake Pelley, was born in 1912 and, in little more than a year's time succumbed to cerebral meningitis. Two years a later a second daughter, Adelaide, was born and, in 1920, there followed a son, William.
They lived for several years in southern Vermont, until Pelley bought TheCaledonian, a newspaper based in St. Johnsbury. During her Vermont years, Marion embraced the movement to ratify the 19th amendment and labored to secure equal voting rights for women. She wrote an editorial for the Apr. 16, 1919 Caledonian urging women to register to vote on a Vermont tax referendum. “If the women of Vermont do not register, it will be said of us that we do not want to vote, and an issue will most certainly be made of that.” According to her husband, “She got interested in the woman's movement because she had the ability and brains to run more than a house.” Marion was named Publicity Chairman of the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association and became a wordsmith in her own right, writing letters to Senators and Congressmen as well as drafting brochures and publicity materials promoting the cause of female suffrage. After a lengthy world tour, the Pelleys separated, but would not formally divorce until 1934.
After separating from her husband, Marion and her children lived primarily in New York City where she worked as a proofreader. They were joined by Marion's widowed mother Harriet, until her death in 1958. After William Dudley Pelley died in Noblesville, Indiana in 1965, Marion felt free to move there to be near her daughter, Adelaide.
Pelley, William Dudley. The Door to Revelation. Pelley 1939
Pelley, William Dudley “Why I am glad I married a suffragist,” American Magazine, April 1920, p. 48
Beekman, Scott. William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-wing Extremism. Syracuse University Press, 2005
Caledonian, 16 April 1919, p. 1
Noblesville Daily Ledger, 12 Mar 1973
North Adams Transcript, 28 Oct 1952
Vermont Equal Suffrage Association Papers, 1883-1927, MSC 144-146, Leahy Library, Vermont History Center, Barre, Vermont