Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Matilda Backus Maloy, 1881-1964

By Jasmine Melak, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park

Matilda F. Backus was born around 1881 in East Baltimore, Maryland. She was the youngest daughter of Justus and Fredericka Urst Backus, who were German immigrants. For her primary and secondary school education, she attended city schools including Eastern High School for Girls, where she graduated in 1899.

On September 17, 1913, Matilda Backus married William Milnes Maloy in Baltimore. William Maloy was a State Senator of the eleventh ward of Baltimore City and, at one time, chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission. Matilda Maloy and her husband never had children.

Matilda Maloy was actively involved in public life, including suffrage efforts in Maryland. She served as the resolutions chair of the Baltimore District of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1920, she was the second vice-president and publicity chair of the Woman Suffrage League of Maryland. That same year, she chaired the Suffrage Campaign Committee, which comprised prominent suffragists who worked closely with Maryland legislators to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Indeed, she was responsible for the campaign in Maryland to ratify the federal suffrage amendment, which ultimately failed.

Once the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, Maloy was involved in the Maryland League of Women Voters. She chaired the Efficiency in Government Committee and was director for the Fourth District of Baltimore. As chair of the Efficiency in Government Committee, she advocated for the abolition of the Baltimore Board of Police Examiners. She believed the Police Board should be managed by the State Employment Commission and the City Civil Service Commission.

In 1921, Maloy served as acting legislative chair of the Maryland League of Women Voters. Her leadership of this work involved framing a platform for Maryland legislators to improve the lives of women. She made sure the organization's platform was not seen as “radical” and focused on helping women and children. Additionally, Maloy was chair of the state's Legislative Clearing House, which was a coalition of about sixteen women's groups interested in public policy. Later in the 1920s, Maloy championed the installation of voting machines in Baltimore. She believed the dirty, dark voting booths scared women away from voting. She once said, “I know many women who registered and voted when the nineteenth amendment came into effect and today refuse to go back to those ‘filthy holes' as they call booths.”

Besides suffrage and policy work, Maloy was involved in many other initiatives that focused on helping women in other aspects of life. During World War I, Maloy was appointed by Governor Emerson Harrington to be secretary of the Women's Section for the Maryland Council of Defense. The Council of Defense coordinated war efforts throughout the state, combining the work of members from industry, labor, business, education, and the military. As part of the Women's Section, Maloy coordinated local women's units, including those in Baltimore. The council chair noted Maloy for her “untiring, faithful and efficient services.” During this period, she also served as publicity chair for the council. In this position, she publicized the organization throughout Maryland and coordinated with the woman's committee of the Council of National Defense in Washington to spread awareness of the work that Maryland women were doing.

Matilda Maloy advocated for couples to receive health examinations before marriage in an effort to reduce maternal and infant deaths. Along with these efforts, she also promoted state and federal funding for studying the prevention of maternal and infant mortality. Furthering her advocacy for children, in 1920, Maloy was secretary of the Municipal Pier Dance Committee of the Children's Playground Association. The organization supervised public dances at the Baltimore pier, twice weekly, that brought hundreds of boys and girls from across the city.

Shortly after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Maloy refused a plea by women from the third district of Baltimore to run for the Maryland legislature. In 1925, she served as her husband's secretary for his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.

After the campaign, Maloy and her husband traveled on the liner Martha Washington from New York to Europe. They toured Europe and the Middle East for three months, visiting the Azores, Lisbon, Naples, Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Vienna, London, and Paris. In 1926 and 1927, Maloy was elected president for the alumnae association at Eastern High School. During this time, she attended Johns Hopkins University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in political science on June 10, 1930.

In October 1930, the publishers of the Baltimore Sun gave Maloy an award for her public service. They thought of her as an “inspiration and a great influence.” Shortly thereafter, Maloy temporarily left the public scene. In 1942, she began her public work again. To aid in the Second World War effort, she tried to volunteer with the Red Cross Motor Corps, which provided transportation for the U.S. military, especially moving wounded soldiers and sailors from ships to hospitals. She was rejected because of her age. Instead, she became a Red Cross volunteer, transcribing textbooks and educational materials into Braille for blind students. Doing so, she accumulated over 10,000 hours of Red Cross volunteer work. She worked closely with one student named Mr. Sierzega, with whom she worked every day for two years. She helped him complete his undergraduate degree from Loyola University Night School and begin a master's program.

On July 12, 1964, Matilda Maloy died at her home at 83. She was survived by two nieces, Ethel Schorr and Mildred Hubbard. She was buried at Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore with her husband. Emma Maddox Funk, a leading suffragist in Maryland, described Maloy as a “pugnacious fighter” with “a heart as soft as a child's.”


CAPTION: Matilda Maloy, ca. 1920.
CREDIT: “Some Baltimore Delegates to the Chicago Convention.” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD). January 25, 1920, Part 3, p.13. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.


Conferring of Degrees at the Close of the Fifty-Fourth Academic Year, June 10, 1930, in the Lyric Theater at 4 PM. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1930. Johns Hopkins University Commencement programs collection, Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

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]

Kennard, Florence Elizabeth. “Maryland Branch Holds Legislative Dinner.” Equal Rights 16, no. 50, December 20, 1930, pp.366-68. [LINK]

Luckett, H. Margie, ed. “Mrs. William Milnes Maloy.” In Maryland Women: Baltimore, Maryland 1931-1942. Vol. 1. Baltimore: King Brothers, 1931, pp. 282-84. Google Books.

“Maryland Suffragists Will Be at Victory Rally.” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD). January 25, 1920, Part 3, p.13. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

“Mrs. Maloy's Funeral Set.” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD). July 14, 1964, p.12. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Mrs. William Milnes Maloy envelope. Clippings file. Baltimore News-American Archive. Special Collections, Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park.

“Senator Maloy a Benedict.” Baltimore Sun (Balitmore, MD). September 18, 1913, p.4. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

United States Census 1900, s.v. “Tillie Backus, Baltimore, MD.” HeritageQuest.

United States Census 1910, s.v. “Matilda Backus, Baltimore, MD.” HeritageQuest.

United States Census 1920, 1930, 1940, s.v. “Matilda Maloy, Baltimore, MD.” HeritageQuest.

“A Woman Suffrage View of Women in Politics.” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD). January 20, 1920, p.8. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

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