Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Margaret Harrigan Kent, 1858 -?
By Claudia Tesoro, undergraduate student, Binghamton University
Officer in State Association of Delaware and member of Delaware Equal Suffrage Association in the 1890s.
Margaret Harrigan was born September 1858 in the state of Delaware. She was born to two immigrants from Scotland whose names are unknown. She married Benjamin Lundy Kent in 1888. Benjamin was married previously, but was widowed by the time he was 38. Benjamin worked in the coal and lumber industry, while Margaret was a stay-at-home mother. He had a daughter from his previous marriage, and together they had Marguerite Kent, born in December 1888, and Jay Preston Kent, born on January 6, 1892. She was widowed at 42 when her husband died in 1901 of pneumonia. She was recorded as living on a pension as the head of the household in the federal manuscript census of Wilmington in 1910. Her daughter went on to become a public-school teacher while her son was recorded working at a button mill. After 1910, Margaret Kent disappeared from the public record, making her death date unknown. She was last documented in 1913 addressing the Charter Commission, calling for the municipal suffrage for women, which was denied.
Margaret H. Kent was mainly involved with the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association of Wilmington (DESA). She was appointed to the credential committee for the organization at the second annual meeting on December 3, 1897. She was listed as the second president of the DESA of Wilmington in The Newark Post on August 18, 1920, although there is no further evidence to support this claim. The DESA was committed to the issues of laws regarding women, property rights, inheritance, divorce, guardianship of children, age of consent, women in industry, minimum wage, child labor laws, mothers' pension, and of course, women's right to vote. It was also committed to being the first women's union in Delaware, meaning that previously there was no strictly woman union organization during a time when over 12,000 women were working in the public sphere without equal pay. Kent was also a representative for women in the Union for Public Good, which was a nondenominational cause focused on studying sociology and bringing together moral forces to improve society. She also served as the Recording Secretary for the “Delaware Industrial School for Girls,” in 1895. The school was responsible for taking care, housing, and educating about 11 girls, while giving them work sewing for the public at a reasonable cost. She also served as a delegate and manager for the Associated Charities, which was a group of philanthropic organizations united to increase the morals and health of society. Through their “Country Week Committee” program, they placed 525 applicants, including 97 women and children, in homes away from the “discomforts” of the city. Due to this program, they were associated with “saving” the lives of children by the Wilmington Daily Republican.
On June 21, 1894, an article by Kent was published in the Delaware Gazette and State Journal, “Why Women Should Vote.” She argued that all civilized governments had depressed and degraded women, and she used the words of famous political figures to argue in favor of democracy for all, including women. Kent used these sources to argue that all those who had laws apply to them needed a say in those laws, especially since she believed men were not pure enough to run government alone. Challenging the ideas of separate spheres and differences between men and women, she argued that despite gender, all human beings live the same life, and therefore deserve to have the right to the same experiences. The right to vote was identical to the right to a weapon because the ballot is a form of self-defense against tyranny, Kent argued. She stated, “The right of suffrage is simply the right to govern one's self, to protect one's person and property by the law” (Kent, “Why Women Should Vote”). Suggesting that women's presence in government would improve the community and decrease crime, Kent requested that her message be forwarded to the governor of every state.
Kent was documented speaking at an Associated Charities meeting in 1894, a Woman's Christian Temperance Union meeting on April 29, 1896, the second annual DESA meeting in 1897, and a DESA state convention in 1901. At the latter, Kent read a paper on equal suffrage. While she supported the education of women and its benefits, Kent met some opposition for her belief that education was not essential for women's right to suffrage, as reported by The Wilmington Daily Republican on November 7, 1901. However, she also argued that women were capable of enjoying suffrage because in areas where women have the ballot, there are higher moral standards. She felt that since women had moral standing at home, their moral influence should also be important in the community.
Margaret H. Kent was influential in the Delaware suffrage community through her constant effort to educate the public through speeches and lectures. She maintained her involvement in the Wilmington community through the DESA, but also the Associated Charities, the “Union for Public Good,” and the Delaware Industrial School for Girls. Due to the moral value of women, Kent argued that women would contribute positively to government, as they already did so in the private sphere and increasingly in the public sphere. While Kent stayed committed to the suffrage movement throughout her lifetime, she was most likely deceased by the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Wilmington, Ward 7, New Castle, DE Census 1900. www.Familysearch.org.
Wilmington, Ward 7, New Castle, DE Census 1910. www.Familysearch.org.
Kent, Margaret H. “Why Women Should Vote.” Delaware Gazette and State Journal. June 21, 1894, page 7.
“Chronicling America.” Library of Congress, chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. Accessed 9/23/17.
de Vou, Mary. Delaware, A History of the First State. Vol. 1, New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1947, pp. 89, 354-59.
“For Equal Suffrage,” The Wilmington Daily Republic, December 3, 1897, p. 2.
“History of Delaware Equal Suffrage Association Compiled,” The Newark Post, August 18, 1920, p. 6.
Ida Husted Harper, ed., The History of Woman Suffrage. Volume 6, [LINK] http://chswg.binghamton.edu/docs/historyofwomansuffrage_vol6.pdf.
“Lives of Children Saved.” The Sun (Wilmington, DE), October 20, 1898, p. 1.
Margaret H. Kent, “Why Women Should Vote,” Delaware Gazette and State Journal, June 21, 1894, p. 7.
“Woman Suffrage.” The Wilmington Daily Republic, November 7, 1901, p. 1.