Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Bulkley, 1867-1953
By Ève Bourbeau-Allard, MA, MSI
Mary Bulkley was born in New York state in 1867. By the turn of the century, she was living on Asylum Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut, with her mother Mary S. Bulkley, her brothers Henry and George, and boarders. While little is known of Bulkley's childhood and early adulthood, her later involvement in the women's suffrage movement, civic life, and charitable causes has been well documented by the press of the time.
By 1911, Bulkley was active with the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA), an organization for which she would fulfill many roles. She served as an auditor in 1911-1912, she became Chairman of Hartford County in 1915, and by 1917 she was in charge of the Housekeeping Committee, managing rents and facilities issues at the CWSA Hartford building. Bulkley also served as a member of the CWSA Legislative Committee, Bulletin Committee (responsible for issuing the monthly Suffrage News Bulletin), and Citizenship Committee.
Through these roles, Bulkley deeply contributed to the suffrage cause in Connecticut. She gave speeches and planned educational programs to prepare women to become active citizens, a mission she later continued through the Connecticut League of Women Voters (CLWV). Over the years, she represented the state capital's suffragists at National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) annual conventions. During board meetings, she could influence CWSA policies and directions on issues such as supporting alliances with local labor unions. The responsibility to open the last meeting of the CWSA, held at Unity Hall in Hartford in 1920, before it disbanded, fell to Bulkley.
All the while, in the 1910s, Bulkley was also in the leadership of the Hartford Equal Franchise League, and was secretary and treasurer of the Hartford branch of the Women's Peace Party. For years after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Bulkley, indefatigable, remained active with the League of Women Voters (LWV) at multiple levels. Building up on her earlier initiatives, she helped organize multi-day citizenship schools for the CLWV, like the one held at Trinity College in April 1922. The schools offered courses on local, state, federal, and international politics, which Bulkley hoped would instill in their attendees “a sense of the nearness of political questions to their own homes and lives.” She served on the board of directors of the Hartford League of Women Voters, she presided the CLWV in the years 1926-1931, and was regional director for the national LWV in 1930-1934.
Bulkley's civic work extended beyond suffrage. In the 1920s, she was chairman of the Connecticut First Congressional District division of the League of Nations Non-partisan Association, which sought to increase awareness among Americans of the League of Nations' purposes and achievements. She served on the Connecticut College Board of Trustees from 1924 to 1948 and on the Hartford City Plan Commission from 1942 to 1944.
Bulkley never married. During a fundraiser at the fifth annual convention of the CLWV, Katharine Houghton Hepburn enjoined everyone to pledge $1 in honor of each of their children, to which Bulkley retorted, with humor, “I haven't any children but I'll pledge $1 for an awfully nice dog of mine!” She spent her later years in California with a nephew and passed in August 1953 at 84 years of age.
N.B. Mary Bulkley of Hartford is not to be confused with her contemporary Mary Ezit Bulkley (1856-1947) of Missouri, an activist in the Women's Trade Union League and the Saint Louis Equal Suffrage League, and author of the book An Aid to the Woman Voter of Missouri (1918).
Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association. The Suffrage News Bulletin, vol 5, no. 2. Hartford, Connecticut, 1918.
Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association Records (RG 101), Connecticut State Library, Hartford.
“Hartford Women in Charge of Big Citizenship School”, The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, March 30, 1922. Retrieved from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92051227/1922-03-30/ed-1/seq-5/
“League of Nations Association to Meet in Stamford Monday,” The Hartford Courant, June 8, 1924. Retrieved from ProQuest News & Newspapers.
“League of Women Voters of State for Disarmament”, The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer. June 2, 1921. Retrieved from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92051227/1921-06-02/ed-1/seq-12/
“Miss Mary Bulkley Dies, Was Civic Affairs Leader,” The Hartford Courant, August 10, 1953. Retrieved from ProQuest News & Newspapers.
Nichols, Carole. Votes and More for Women: Suffrage and After in Connecticut. New York: The Haworth Press, 1983, p. 28-29, 71.
“Pledge Campaign Sure of Success in Connecticut”, Connecticut Western News. November 1, 1917. Retrieved from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84027718/1917-11-01/ed-1/seq-2/
“Suffs of State Hold Their Last Annual Meeting”, The Hartford Courant, November 9, 1920. Retrieved from ProQuest News & Newspapers.
United States Federal Census for 1900, 1910, 1920. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.
Waal, Carla and Barbara Oliver Korner, editors. “Mary Ezit Bulkley (1856-1947)”, in Hardship and Hope: Missouri Women Writing about Their Lives, 1820-1920. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997, p. 289-291.
“Women Voters Name Honor Roll”, Evening Star, May 1, 1930. Retrieved from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1930-05-01/ed-1/seq-24/
“Women's School of Citizenship Opens at Yale Monday”, The Connecticut Labor News, October 21, 1921. Retrieved from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92051283/1921-10-21/ed-1/seq-2/