Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Estella Courtright Davis Stimson, 1862-?
By Cindy Ingold, Gender Studies and Multicultural Services Librarian, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois
Mary Estella Courtright Davis Stimson was born on September 15, 1862 in Oxford, Ohio to Calvin W. and Sarah E. Albach Courtright. She graduated from McConnellsville High School in 1873 and attended Wellesley College from 1882-1884. In 1886, she married Charles M. Davis who died in 1892. Mary Estella. or Stella as she was commonly known, moved to Terre Haute, Indiana to teach at Coates College. In Terre Haute, she met and married Judge Samuel Clay Stimson on September 27, 1896. The couple had two children, Stuart Courtright and Margaret Elizabeth.
Several organizations in the state supported various permutations of women's suffrage. Among these were the Indiana Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) which became a statewide organization (the Equal Suffrage Society) in 1878. Beginning in 1909, IESA supported a constitutional amendment for women's right to vote. The Woman's School League (WSL) sprang up in 1909 and supported women's partial suffrage. However, because of the defeat of a suffrage bill at the state general assembly in 1911, the Woman's School League changed its name the same year to the Woman's Franchise League (WFL) of Indiana, became affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and from then on fought for full women's suffrage. Finally, in 1914, the Legislative Council of Indiana Women was founded to work with the legislature of the state. It represented the voices of between 50,000 to 80,000 women from several state organizations including the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), other reform groups, and suffrage associations.
Stella was active in many of these organizations. She was a member of the WCTU, on the board of directors of the WFL, and within the Legislative Council of Indian Women, she sat on the Board of Trustees, was vice-chair, and for a time chair of the organization. In 1915, Stella became involved in a controversy that caused dissension among the various women's organizations. Mrs. Stimson maligned the reputation of the Vice President of the Indiana State Federation of Women's Clubs, Lenore Cox, which cost Cox the Presidency. This caused a rift among members of the various women's organizations within the state as well as bringing negative publicity on these groups as the story made it to the newspapers. The controversy continued into 1917, spurred on as well by the differing goals of the groups that supported woman's suffrage in the state. Mrs. Stimson at one point was asked to resign from the WLF but she refused. She remained active in the Women's Franchise League which continued the fight for a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. In January 1920 during a special legislative session, the Indiana legislature ratified the Federal Suffrage Amendment.
Bowman, Sarah. “Are You With Us?": A Study of the Hoosier Suffrage Movement, 1844-1920.” Undergraduate honors thesis, Butler University, 2016. Accessed from Digital Commons @ Butler University https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/
Dunn, Jacob Piatt. Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood. Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, 1919, vol. 5, pp. 2272-2274.
Leonard, John William. “Stimson, Mary Estella Courtright Davis” in Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women in the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. New York: American Commonwealth Company, 1914, p. 785. [LINK]
Springer, Barbara Anne. “Ladylike Reformers: Indiana Women and Progressive Reform, 1900-1920.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 1985. ProQuest (AAT 8602417).
Terre Haute Daily Tribune, October and November, 1915. Accessed from Hoosier State https://newspapers.library.in.gov/
The Terre Haute Tribune, July 28, 1964. Accessed from Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/