Biographical Sketch of Mary Bentley Thomas

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Bentley Thomas, 1846-1923

By Lizzie Mafrici, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park

Mary Henrietta Bentley was a white suffragist born about 1846 to Richard T. and Edith D. Bentley. In 1850, the family lived in Berrys, Montgomery County, Maryland, as of 1850, at the age of 4. She was the second youngest of five siblings. She married Edward Porter Thomas in 1865, who was a farmer and dairyman, and the two lived in Montgomery County, Maryland. Edward Thomas established the first milk delivery system in Sandy Springs and also founded the Belmont Dairy in Washington, D.C. They had six children: Edith B. (1867), Mary E. (1869), Richard B. (1874), Edward C. (1876) Augusta N. (1877), and Samuel P. (1886), As of 1900, the family had two servants living with them, Isabell Mitchell (19 years old) and Mary Hough (12 years old), suggesting that the Thomases were part of the comfortable class. According to the last census before her death in 1923, Mary Bentley Thomas lived in Olney, Maryland, with her husband, Edward, and their daughter, Mary. The Thomas family were Quakers.

From 1894 to 1904, Mary Bentley Thomas served as the first president of the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association, the Maryland branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). As the Maryland president, Thomas spoke at the NAWSA convention in Washington D.C. in 1900, as well as the subsequent conference in Minneapolis. At the 42nd NAWSA conference in April 1910, she spoke as the president of the Friends Equal Rights Association. This organization was created in 1900 with the task of getting “a clear utterance on suffrage from the different Yearly meetings.” This organization oversaw twenty thousand members, and Mary Bentley Thomas was the third president. In 1910, Thomas stated, “The Friends' Equal Rights Association, though small in numbers, is rightly considered as representing a cradle of political equality for women.” For NAWSA's 38th convention, held in Baltimore in 1906, Thomas served as chair of the press committee, putting advertisements in newspapers such as the Baltimore County Union. In one advertisement she wrote, “If you are indifferent, come and be convinced. What we ask is not revolutionary or untried, but the reasonable and just demand of every living being under a democratic form of government.”

Mary Bentley Thomas also contributed to the Maryland section of the fourth volume of the History of Woman Suffrage, written by Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper. Thomas was a prominent influence in the fight for women's right to vote, both in Maryland and in the United States as a whole. On the national level, in February 1906, Mary Bentley Thomas spoke before both the United States Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage and the United States House Judiciary Committee in favor of enfranchising American women through the sixteenth amendment.

Mary Bentley Thomas died on February 11, 1923, at the age of 77. She was buried in the Sandy Spring Friends Meeting House Cemetery in Montgomery County, Maryland. Her husband died only a month before her, on January 3, 1923, and was also buried at the Sandy Spring Friends Meeting House Cemetery.

SOURCES:

“The Congressional Hearings.” Newspaper Clipping. Washington, D.C. February 15, 1906. Miller National American Woman Suffrage Association Scrapbooks. Scrapbook 4. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Manuscripts/Mixed Material (digital). Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller002842/.

Find a Grave. Mary Bentley Thomas. April 30, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/89364011/mary-bentley-thomas.

Gordon, Ann D., ed. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: An Awful Hush, 1895 to 1906. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012.

Harper, Ida Husted, ed. “Maryland,” chapter XIX in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, pp. 258-76. [LINK]

Harper, Ida Husted and Susan B. Anthony, eds. “Maryland,” chapter XLIV in History of Woman Suffrage, vol.4: 1883-1900. Rochester, NY: Privately published, 1902, pp. 869-74. [LINK]

National American Woman Suffrage Association. Programme of the Forty-Second Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D.C.,April 14 to 19, 1910. Miller National American Woman Suffrage Association Scrapbooks. Scrapbook 8. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Manuscripts/Mixed Material (digital). Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller003738/.

National American Woman Suffrage Association. The Thirty-Second Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association at Church of Our Father, Washington, D.C. Program. February 8-14, 1900. Miller National American Woman Suffrage Association Scrapbooks. Scrapbook 3. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Manuscripts/Mixed Material (digital). Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller001364/.

National American Woman Suffrage Association. The Thirty-Third Annual Convention, of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Program. May 30-June 5, 1901. Miller National American Woman Suffrage Association Scrapbooks. Scrapbook 3. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Manuscripts/Mixed Material (digital). Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller001391/.

Thomas, Mary Bentley. “Equal Rights for Women.” Friends' Intelligencer 67, no. 35, Supplement (August 27, 1910): 96. HathiTrust.

Thomas, Mary Bentley. “Woman's Suffrage Convention.” Baltimore County Union (Towsontown, MD). January 27, 1906, p.2. Chronicling America. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016368/1906-01-27/ed-1/seq-2/.

“Timeline for the Brookeville/Olney/Sandy Spring Area.” Brookeville Farms Homeowners Association, Brookeville, MD. May 30, 2004. Accessed June 20, 2019. http://www.bfmdhoa.info/Documents/Timeline.pdf.

United States Census 1850, 1860, s.v. “Mary H. Bentley, Montgomery County, MD.” HeritageQuest.

United States Census 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, s.v. “Mary Bentley Thomas, Montgomery County, MD.” HeritageQuest.

Waite, Clara T. “Woman Suffrage in Maryland.” Evening Sun (Baltimore, MD.) February 26, 1917, p.6. Newspapers.com.

The Work of Death. “Mrs. Mary B. Thomas.” DailyNews (Frederick, MD). February 15, 1923, p.5. Newspapers.com.

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