Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Mary N. Chase, 1864-post 1939
By Malcolm Gent, Ph.D. student, University of New Hampshire
One of New Hampshire's leading suffragists, Mary Nettie Chase was a vital force in the women's suffrage and international peace movements. Born in Madison, NH on January 19, 1864, Chase was the daughter of Uriah Chase, an evangelical preacher, and his second wife, Lizzy Guilford. Uriah Chase traveled throughout New Hampshire and Maine and was highly regarded for his passionate sermons and poetry. Mary, like her father, became renowned for her speaking and writing skills, noted for her dedication to her work and beliefs. Mary was educated in Maine where her family eventually settled, attending North Parsonsfield Academy, Edward Little High School in Auburn, and earning a Bachelor and Master of Arts from Bates College. She received a full scholarship to Bates by winning the first prize awarded to a woman in declamation and oratory.
Upon earning her Masters, Chase focused on a career in education—teaching at Green Mountain Seminary in Waterbury, VT and working as teacher and principal at Gilmanton Academy in NH (her father's alma mater), and later Proctor Academy in Andover, NH. After a brief marriage to Roscoe Gilbert Watson in the early 1890s, Chase became a suffragist, forming local suffrage committees, making speeches around the state and country, and in 1902 becoming President of the New Hampshire chapter of the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Chase's first act as President was to urge New Hampshire citizens to remove the word “male” in the voting rights section of the NH state constitution. Chase visited nearly 250 New Hampshire granges, speaking and gathering petitions in support of women's voting rights.
Thanks to her efforts, Chase garnered roughly 2,600 signatures supporting the amendment and she would continue to visit granges to rally support for the suffrage cause. Chase was also one of the first women to attend a state constitutional convention when the amendment came up for discussion. While the amendment ultimately failed, it passed through constitutional conference, having support from 2/5ths of the New Hampshire congress—a feat Chase described as “the largest proportional vote ever secured in a New England state.”
Over the next decade Chase helped develop the NH Auxiliary of NAWSA at both the state and local levels. As President she organized annual state meetings, activities, and events, maintaining relationships with other town clubs and organizations. While her main work for the Association was delivering speeches to local meetings, Chase used her skills as a teacher to engage public interest in the suffrage movement, establishing a contest for the best suffragist writing. Chase's efforts often convinced women's clubs, initially opposed to the suffrage movement, to support NAWSA. Her skills as an organizer and orator were in high demand, her resume including several month's work for NAWSA in Oregon in 1905. Chase also worked at the national level, presenting speeches at several of NAWSA's national conventions and working directly with NAWSA leaders including Anna Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt. After serving as President of the New Hampshire Women's Suffrage Association for ten years Chase stepped down in 1912, handing over the reins to a younger generation.
Mary Chase remained an activist after retiring as an officer of NAWSA. While at Proctor Academy she became Secretary for the New Hampshire Peace Society in 1916. As Secretary Chase was responsible for maintaining international correspondence between Proctor students (as well as students in over twenty states) with countries around the world. Chase established and maintained contacts with foreign leaders and ambassadors in India, Argentina, Japan, and Mexico. Two of Chase's greatest accomplishments working with the Peace Society were aiding French refugees during WWI and repairing U.S. relations with a recently defeated Germany by gathering food donations and establishing correspondences with New Hampshire students. For Chase, these efforts “more than repaid for the anxious hours and the hard labor I have put into this endeavor to help heal the wounds of war through the blessed ‘ministry of reconciliation.'” By the time Chase left the Peace Society in 1939, she had cemented her reputation as a stirring orator whose skills in speaking, writing, and organizing were matched only by her complete devotion to whichever cause she committed herself to.
Details on Chase's birth, parents, and early life can be found in Ezra S. Stearns, Genealogical And Family History of the State of New Hampshire: a Record of the Achievements of Her People In the Making of a Commonwealth And the Founding of a Nation. New York, Chicago: The Lewis Pub. Co., 1908, accessed through Hathi Trust https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044011909892;view=1up;seq=102 (Accessed July 20, 2018), and General Catalogue of Officers and Graduates of Bates College Including Cobb Divinity School, 1863-1891 (Bates College 1893) available on Google Books.
Information regarding Ms. Chase's activities as a suffragette can be found in A Brief History of the New Hampshire Women Suffrage Association: A Report on the Annual Meeting Held in Manchester October 25, 1907,Proceedings of the Thirty-Fourth Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and First International Woman Suffrage Conference, Held in the First Presbyterian Church ... Washington, D.C., February 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18, 1902 (The Association, 1902), Proceedings of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Held at New Orleans, La., March 19th to 25th, Inclusive, 1903 (The Association, 1903), Journal of Proceedings of the New Hampshire State Grange, Order Patrons of Husbandry at Its ... Annual Session (The Grange, 1907 Proceedings of the ... Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (The Association, 1912), The History of Women Vol. 6 (Edited by Ida Husted Harper, National American Women Suffrage Association, 1920), Bates Students Vol. 33 (Bates College 1905) all available on Google Books as well as the coverage of the annual meetings in The Concord Monitor, The Portsmouth Herald, and The Manchester Union Leader available both on Newspapers.com and at the New Hampshire State Library in Concord NH.
Facts covering Ms. Chase's time working with the Peace Society can be found in The Advocate of Peace (American Peace Society, 1919) (Accessed July 20, 2018), MARY N. CHASE, “NEW HAMPSHIRE PEACE SOCIETY'S REPORT,” Advocate of Peace through Justice 83, no. 3 (1921): 115–16. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20659656?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=mary&searchText=n&searchText=chase&searchText=new&searchText=hampshire&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dmary%2Bn%2Bchase%2Bnew%2Bhampshire%26amp%3Bfilter%3D&refreqid=search%3Ade212e0e5c0a8842be448f38b3a74f0c&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents (Accessed July 20, 2018), and her papers are available in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.