Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Margaret Hill McCarter, 1860-1938
By Sarah Boyle, Professor, Johnson County Community College
Founder and president, Western Sorosis; member, Kansas Federation of Women's Clubs; member, Women's Republican National Committee; novelist.
Margaret Hill McCarter, Find A Grave
Margaret Hill McCarter
Margaret Hill was born in Indiana to Quaker parents on May 2, 1860. In 1884, she earned an AB degree at the State Normal School of Terre Haute and embarked on a career in education. While still in Indiana, she served as a high school principal in Rensselaer and as the head of a high school English department in Goshen.
In 1888, she moved to Topeka, Kansas to assume the position of head of the English department at Topeka High School. Two years later, she married Dr. William Arthur McCarter. The couple went on to have three children. In 1894, she founded Western Sorosis and served as its president for seven years. She was also a prominent member of the Kansas Federation of Women's Clubs and the Women's Republican National Committee and a popular lecturer on the Chautauqua circuit.
But it was as a popular and well-respected novelist of historical fiction that McCarter built her reputation. Between 1903 and 1918, she published books and articles that celebrated the prairie and Kansas's history as a free state. One of her biographers wrote that, as a novelist, McCarter “dignifies and makes holy the tilling of the soil while not glossing over the hardships of life,” although a more recent writer has noted the “intensely anti-Indian” slant in her work. In 1909, McCarter wrote a series of articles on influential women in the state's history collectively entitled One Hundred Kansas Women that were published both as a newspaper series and as a book.
McCarter was elected second vice-president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association in 1908 and 1909. Because of her fame as a writer, McCarter was a sought after speaker during the successful 1912 amendment campaign for women's suffrage. She was often the featured speaker at suffrage events and served as a judge in a statewide essay contest for schoolchildren on how woman suffrage would benefit the state.
In 1920, she would again attract national attention, but for reasons other than her writing. In that year, she became the first woman to address the Republican National Convention and she began a campaign, dubbed the “21 Plus Club,” to allow Kansas women to register to vote without disclosing their exact age. McCarter herself had tried to register to vote that year without revealing her age, just assuring the clerk that she was “over 21,” and had been denied. She argued that compelling women to reveal their actual ages would dissuade many of them from registering. She was prepared to bring her case to the state Supreme Court, but before she could, the Attorney General ruled that Kansas women could simply swear an oath that they were over twenty one. After the Attorney General's decision, other states adopted similar rules to their registration procedures.
Margaret Hill McCarter died on August 31, 1938 in Topeka, Kansas. Today, McCarter Elementary School in Topeka bears her name in honor of her contributions to Kansas education, culture, and politics.
William E. Connolly, A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, vol. 5 Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1918.
Nicolas S. Witschi, A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West Wiley-Blackwell: Sussex, UK, 2011.
“Mrs. M. H. M'Carter, Novelist, 78, Dead,” New York Times, 10 September 1938, p. 23.
Ida Husted Harper et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK]