Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Margaret Brydon Laird, 1871-1968
By Phoebe Ann Pollitt, Associate Professor of Nursing, Appalachian State University
Suffragist, one of the first two females elected to the New Jersey State Assembly
Margaret Brydon Laird was born in March 28, 1871 in Newark, New Jersey and died on November 29, 1968 in Monmouth, New Jersey at age 97. She was the daughter of James Brydon and Frances McDonald Brydon. Laird's mother was active in the suffrage movement, as was her maternal grandfather, an Anglican minister in Scotland. After attending Newark public schools, Laird graduated from the Newark City Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1895. No available documents reveal if or where she practiced nursing. A year after graduation she married pharmacist Reginald Brydon and soon became a mother to their two children Margaret and Robert. In addition to being a wife and mother, Laird volunteered with many civic organizations including the YWCA, the Red Cross, the Order of the Eastern Star and the New Jersey Nurses Association.
By 1915 Laird was a leader in the women's suffrage movement in New Jersey. Her activities as treasurer of the New Jersey branch of the National Woman's Party, vice president of the Women's Political Union, chair of the Newark Equal Suffrage League, organizer and speaker at suffrage rallies and involvement in electing pro-suffrage candidates to various public offices are well documented in The Suffragist, the National Woman's Party newspaper and other news outlets. In 1919 Laird participated in the Silent Sentinel demonstrations in front of the White House and was disappointed she was not arrested for the cause. She recalled in a 1968 interview that “rowdies beating on pans would try to shout her down during demonstrations ... shouting ‘Go home and wash dishes.'”
Shortly after the 19th Amendment passed giving women the right to vote and hold political office, Laird won a seat in the State Assembly in New Jersey in 1921. She and Jennie C. Van Ness, who also won a race for the State Assembly in 1921 were both Republican veterans of the suffrage movement and were the first two women elected to New Jersey State Assembly. Laird remembered working well with both Democratic and Republican male legislators. In fact, the New Jersey Democratic governor Edward I. Edwards promised to vote in favor of any bill Laird introduced.
In the spring of 1922 Laird introduced two bills affecting families. The first gave mothers and fathers equal rights to the money earned by their children and the second gave women the right to control money they earned while working in the home. Laird was re-elected in 1922. She voted for causes to improve women's lives. Laird worked on behalf of equal pay for state employees regardless of gender, for a juvenile court system and for the prohibition of alcohol.
After her retirement from the State Assembly in 1924, Laird remained active in local political causes. She served as president of the Newark Women's Republican Club from 1926 to 1932. Laird died in 1968 at the age of 97.
A photograph of Margaret Brydon Laird is available from the Library of Congress:
Bullough, Vern L. & Sentz, Lilli. (2004). American nursing: A biographical dictionary. New York: Garland
Gordon, F, D. (1986) After Winning: The Legacy of the New Jersey Suffragists, 1920-1947
"Mrs. Laird, 97, First Woman in Jersey Legislature, Dead", New York Times, December 1, 1968.
"Women Candidates," New York Times, November 21, 1920.
“Suffragists' tour started yesterday,” Courier-News (Bridgewater, NJ), September 9, 1915, p.11.
Feldman, H. R., & Lewenson, S. (2000). Nurses in the political arena: The public face of nursing. New York, NY: Springer Publishers.
Fitzgerald's Legislative Manual, State of New Jersey, Volume 146, p. 319.
Morgan, M., “First Assembly woman recalls past,” Asbury Park Press, August 10, 1968, p.10.
The Suffragist newspaper, various issues from 1916-1921