Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Cecelia Wheeler, 1859-1934

By Joseph Valley, student researcher, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana

Artist, educator

Mary Cecelia Wheeler was born to William F. Wheeler and Charlotte Jersey Wheeler in Columbus, Ohio on January 6, 1859. She was the second of four children; the family remained in Columbus until Wheeler was ten years old, when they moved to Helena, Montana. Wheeler went to Helena High School and was a member of the first graduating class in 1879. Upon graduating, she taught briefly at several local schools before traveling to the New England Conservatory in Boston, as well as to Julienne Academy in Paris, France in order to pursue higher education in art. She returned to Helena in 1892 and opened the Helena School of Art. She taught there and at other art schools in Helena for forty years, working as both an art supervisor and a part-time instructor. She also taught crafts, dealing in pottery, metal, wood and leather. She sold her work from her studio on the top floor of the Power Block in Helena.

In addition to her work as an educator, Wheeler was a participant in several women's organizations. In November of 1915, she was one of several women who came to speak at a vocational workshop put together by a progressive women's club; the purpose for the workshop was to discuss women's career options. Wheeler discussed her own career and explained how aspiring young women with an interest in the arts also had the opportunity to become involved. Wheeler also was a member of the Helena chapter of the Young Women's Christian Association, serving on the building committee and as the chair of committees; she also donated to the same association.

When the Montana equal suffrage organization's State Central Committee was formed by Jeannette Rankin and Ida Auerbach in 1912, the first meeting was held Wheeler's art studio in Helena. It is possible that Wheeler's introduction to the suffrage movement came as a result of her close relationship with Dr. Maria M. Dean, a physician and suffragist. Dean was a fellow member of the Helena Young Women's Christian Association. The two women also had their offices in the same office building, known as the Power Block. Dean was quite involved in the suffrage movement; in September 1915, along with her sister, she represented Montana at a convention of women's voters held by the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage. Dean was elected as a member of the finance committee and helped raise funds for the campaign. Working closely with Jeanette Rankin, Dean was a successful fundraiser.

Wheeler died during a trip to La Jolla, California, in February 1934.


“Creator Record: Wheeler, Mary. C.” Montana Historical Society: Online Collections,

“Dillon Social Affairs,” Dillon Tribune, June 19, 1914, Page 9, - date1=1883&city=&rows=20&words=Dean+M&searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=13&date2=2015&proxtext="M.+M.+Dean"&page=1

“Girls Meeting at Bozeman,” Flathead Courier (Polson, Mont.), 14 Oct. 1915, page 1,,

Harper, Ida Husted, History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6 (New York: J. J. Little & Ives Co., 1922), p. 363, Google Books. [LINK].

Wheeler Papers, 1859-1957, 1896-1934, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Helena, Montana, ArchiveGrid,

“Montana and General News,” Big Timber Pioneer, September 09, 1915, Page 4,

Montanian (Choteau, Montana), October 28, 1892, Page 2,,

U.S. Census. Year: 1930; Census Place: Helena, Lewis and Clark, Montana; Roll: 1258; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0009; FHL microfilm: 2340993.

“Weekly Bulletin, Montana Equal Suffrage State Committee, June 12th,” Flathead Courier (Polson, Mont.), June 25, 1914, Page 6,

“Weekly Bulletin of the Equal Suffrage State Central Committee,” Dillon Examiner, August 19, 1914, Page 8,

Young Women's Christian Association (Independent) of Helena, Montana, First Announcement, January 1, 1911-June 1, 1913. Publications and Ephemera from the Montana Historical Society. Montana Memory Project,


Graduating Class from Helena High – 1879. Mary Wheeler on right


Mary Wheeler and Dr. Dean at Wheeler's art studio in the Power Block Helena, circa 1893. MHS Photo Archives Pac 95-11.2

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