Biographical Sketch of Mary Louise Wilson Schwarz

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Louise Wilson (Mrs. Howard S.T.) Schwarz, 1880-1956

By Sharon Thomas, independent historian and Anne Pratt Slatin, genealogist

The refined historic homes of Baltimore's Roland Park neighborhood belie the activist current running through the neighborhood during the fight for equal suffrage. Elegantly attired wives and mothers with no access to careers or to a destiny untethered to a husband became key agents in spreading the word about equality and other civic issues in the early 1900s. One of these women is known to the public only by her husband's name, Mrs. Howard T. Schwarz. Her surname often was misspelled as “Schwartz.”

Research has revealed that she was, in fact, born Mary Louise Wilson, ca. 1880, in Philadelphia, PA. She married prominent banker, Howard Theodor Sheeler Schwarz, before 1906, and was mother to two children, William and Mary Ewing Schwarz.

Mrs. Howard T. Schwarz was a well-to-do Baltimore lady, and as such, TheBaltimoreSun is the most thorough chronicle of her activities. Its society pages alerted the city that Mrs. Howard T. Schwarz “is spending a few days in New York” (April 16, 1911) and that “Mrs. Howard T. Schwarz of Roland Park and her son Billy are visiting Mrs. Marion T. Hargis” (September 29, 1912). In most of the historical documents available, her name, her past, her end--are attached mostly to a Mrs. Howard T. Schwarz of Roland Park. However, a story in TheSun, on August 20, 1921, reports that she filed as a candidate for the Maryland State House of Delegates. There also is a letter to the editor she wrote to The Sun, defending a Mrs. Havemeyer, on October 12, 1917; it was signed Louise Wilson Schwartz

Women like Mrs. Schwarz were vital to Maryland's role in the struggle for suffrage. Baltimore was the epicenter of Maryland's suffrage movement, and the Just Government League of Maryland (JGL) was a critical element of the fight. Founded by Edith Houghton Hooker (creator also of the Maryland Suffrage News), the JGL used both open-air and indoor parlor meetings to spread the word about suffrage with men and women throughout the city. Mrs. Schwarz accompanied Edith Houghton Hooker (often referred to as “Mrs. Donald Hooker” in the Sun) on many suffrage excursions. She spoke in Baltimore (“What Women Voters Do,” January 15, 1910; “Hailed as Next Mayor,” July 20, 1910), and in another part of the state (“Suffragists in Howard,” October 20, 1910), and served as the marshal of a suffrage parade (May 25, 1913). She visited polling places to show men that women could engage intellectually at the polls (“Woman Suffragists Preparing for Action,” August 30, 1911), and traveled to assist Virginia's growing suffrage movement (“On to Richmond, They Cry,” March 23, 1910).

In January 1910, the early days of the JGL, the organization hosted a week of “parlor talks” in homes around the city to support an equal suffrage amendment that had been proposed to the state legislature. The amendment failed, but the parlor talks netted the JGL 75 new members and “several hundred signatures” on petitions for the amendment (“What Women Voters Do,” January 15, 1910). The final parlor talk of that week was held at the home of Mrs. Howard T. Schwarz of Roland Park.

During that meeting, Mrs. Schwarz spoke to the crowd and addressed one of the key arguments against women voters at the time: that engaging women in the dirty business of politics would “soil” them and take them down from the metaphorical pedestal upon which virtuous ladies should sit. Mrs. Schwarz, in an impassioned commentary in her own home, countered that “I think I voice the sentiments of the majority of women when I say that I do not want to be on a ‘pedestal,' and I consider it an insult to my intelligence to be told by a man that he places me there.” Furthermore, she added, “To me it is a mockery to have a man doff his hat to me and then deliberately deny me the right of citizenship. So until women are citizens, do not mention ‘pedestal,' and afterward, maybe, some of us will deserve to be placed on one” (“Why Women Want Votes,” Baltimore Sun, January 16, 1910). (Mrs. Schwarz's full comment on this subject is captured in the screenshots below.)

Mrs. Schwarz's suffrage activism shows that she was unafraid of taking a leadership role in the movement and that she was willing to use her wealth and social status to further the rights of women. The fact that she rarely used her own first name or her maiden name as part of her name (as Edith Houghton Hooker and others often did) also demonstrates compliance with many of the social norms for a woman of her social status of the time (and The BaltimoreSun's compliance as well).

Turn-of-the-century Roland Park was a new kind of upper-class neighborhood in Baltimore. It boasted of having the first shopping center in the nation and provided more modern commuter accommodations such as rail service to the neighborhood. At the same time, old Baltimore segregation traditions continued with the planned community from the start, including a scheme to keep African-Americans out of the neighborhood. This tension between progress and traditional oppressive societal practices surrounded Mrs. Schwarz and fellow suffragists in her neighborhood, crystallized in her unusual combination of society doyenne and social activist, and even in the treatment of her own name.

Louise Wilson Schwarz died June 14, 1956, in Baltimore.

Sources:

1. Baltimore Sun, April 16, 1911

2. Baltimore Sun, September 29, 1912

3. “What Women Voters Do,” Baltimore Sun, January 15, 1910

4. “Hailed as Next Mayor,” Baltimore Sun, July 20, 1910

5. “Suffragists in Howard,” Baltimore Sun, October 20, 1910

6. Baltimore Sun, May 25, 1913

7. “Woman Suffragists Preparing for Action,” Baltimore Sun, August 30, 1911

8. “On to Richmond, They Cry,” Baltimore Sun, March 23, 1910

9. “What Women Voters Do,” Baltimore Sun, January 15, 1910

10 .“Why Women Want Votes,” Baltimore Sun, January 16, 1910

 

 

 

A murky photo of Mrs. Howard T. Schwarz and other Baltimore suffragists from the August 30, 1911 Baltimore Sun. Mrs. Schwarz and other members of the Just Government League used this automobile to travel to polling places on election day to demonstrate that women could engage intellectually with men at the polls.

back to top