Biographical Sketch of Mary Ann Shinn Kenney

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Ann Shinn Kenney, 1844-1928

By George & Christina Legg, Rolling Hills Estates, California

Member of the Votes for Women Club, the Los Angeles Equality Club, the Los Angeles Equal Suffrage Association, and the Suffrage Division of the Los Angeles County Woman's Democratic League

Mary Ann Shinn was born in Pike County, Illinois, in June 1844 to Clement L. and Catherine H. Shinn. Clement Shinn was a farmer and a Civil War veteran, having served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 73rd Illinois Infantry. Mary Shinn married Robert M. Kenney in 1867, and they had two daughters: Helen M. Kenney (Mayer), born 1867, and Elizabeth L. Kenney, born 1869. Both daughters lived into old age. Interestingly, Elizabeth Kenney was a prominent suffragist and feminist in her own right; she was one of the few women attorneys practicing in Los Angeles in the early 1900s, and she was a sought-after speaker on women's issues. Mary Ann Kenney was widowed in 1900 and never remarried.

Mary Kenney spent her married life managing her household; in the 1880 census, she listed her occupation as “keeping house.” In widowhood, she was a substantial property owner in Los Angeles; the distribution of her husband's estate included conveyance of a number of lots and tracts in central and northeast Los Angeles, properties that are valued in the millions of dollars in today's real estate market. Anecdotal evidence suggests that she sold or rented some of these properties. For example, she was the plaintiff in a foreclosure suit against the Union Sheet Metal Works in 1902, and her daughter, Elizabeth, represented her in the suit.

After widowhood in 1900, Mary Kenney began engaging in civic activities, including temperance, the legal well-being of women and children, and equal suffrage. She was a long-time member and officer of the California Chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), including stints as state president and vice-president. She spoke often in front of many different groups in support of prohibition.

Mary Kenney was knowledgeable in legislative affairs as they concerned the rights of women and children in California, serving as the district chair for legislation and civics of the California Federation of Women's Clubs. Under the auspices of this organization, as well as the WCTU, she spoke frequently on how state laws affected women and children. In an address to the Reciprocity Club (an offshoot of the Los Angeles Parent-Teacher Association) in 1910, she discussed the injustices to women and children inherent in many state laws that favored men and husbands over women, wives, and children in areas such as guardianship, community property, and divorce.

Mary Kenney's activities in support of equal suffrage included participation, as a member, officer, and speaker in the prominent organizations established in the early 1900s to support equal suffrage in California and the United States. These organizations included the Political Equality League of Los Angeles, the Votes for Women Club, the Los Angeles Equality Club, the Los Angeles Equal Suffrage Association, and the Suffrage Division of the Los Angeles County Woman's Democratic League. She was a prolific speaker to a variety of organizations in the push for a yes vote in the 1911 campaign to pass equal suffrage in California. She participated, primarily as a member of the Democratic League, to support passage of the federal Nineteenth Amendment.

Mary Kenney was also a member and officer of a number of prominent women's clubs that served to provide a civic voice for Los Angeles and California women in the early twentieth century. The clubs included the California Federation of Women's Clubs, Los Angeles Philomath Club, Woman's Council of California, Wednesday Morning Club.

Mary Ann Shinn Kenney passed away on September 27, 1928, and she was interred next to her husband in the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.

 

CAPTION: Mary Ann Kenney, vice president of the California WCTU, ca. 1905.
CREDIT: Cropped from image. “W.C.T.U. Leaders Gather for Institute at Long Beach.” Los Angeles Herald. August 23, 1905, p.6.

SOURCES:

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