Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Mary Ferrand Henderson, 1887–1965
By Emily Kader, Rare Rook Research Librarian, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Mary Ferrand Henderson was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, on October 13, 1887 to John Steele Henderson and Elizabeth Cain Henderson. She was one of seven children. Her father served as a state legislator and a United States congressman. Many members of her family, both women and men, were supporters of the movement for women's suffrage. Mary grew up in Salisbury was educated at St. Mary's School in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Stuart School in Washington, D.C. between 1902 to 1904. From 1915 to 1916 she was enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and studied law. She would enroll again from 1933 to 1934. Throughout her life, she lived in Salisbury and Chapel Hill, both places which provided close proximity to members of her extended family. She was an active member of the Episcopal Church. In 1933 she finally settled in Chapel Hill and lived there until her death on July 4, 1965.
Mary Henderson's activity with the North Carolina suffragist movement began in 1914, shortly after she returned from a year living abroad in Japan followed by a tour of India and Europe. She served as chair of the legislative committee for the Equal Suffrage Convention and attended the meeting of the American National Equal Suffrage Association. In 1915 Mary also moved from Salisbury to Chapel Hill to study law at the University of North Carolina. During her studies, she lived with her brother, Archibald Henderson, a mathematics professor and literary critic at the university, and his wife, Barbara Bynum Henderson, who at the time was president of the Equal Suffrage League of North Carolina. As a state officer for the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League, Mary joined Anna Howard Shaw and leading state suffragists in arguing their case before the United States House and Senate Joint committee on Election Laws. She also began the work of lobbying state senators for the introduction of an Equal Suffrage bill to the North Carolina state legislature. Under her leadership, the legislative committee of the Equal Suffrage Convention drafted three bills that were introduced to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1915: a bill making women eligible for the position of Notary Public; a bill raising the age of consent from fourteen to twenty-one years; and an Equal Suffrage Bill. While none of these bills was successful that year, Mary Henderson argued to her fellow members of the League that their work had been positive in its effect: “As a method of arousing public interest in the question of Equal Suffrage, the Equal Suffrage Bill was triumphantly successful. Equal Suffrage was, by all odds, the most widely discussed subject before the General Assembly of 1915, and the State is now fully alive to the fact that the Equal Suffrage movement is to be seriously reckoned with” (Henderson, “Report,” 9). During the war, Mary organized the Navy league section of the Salisbury Red Cross and was an advocate in the campaign to support the work of that organization. Once the war ended, she turned her efforts back to the suffrage cause. On June 29, 1920, The Stanly News-Herald notes that she was one of two “prominent speakers” at a suffrage rally to be held in Albemarle ahead of a special session in the North Carolina General Assembly to ratify the 19th amendment. (The General Assembly tabled the bill that year, and North Carolina did not officially ratify the legislation until 1971.) After the ratification of the 19th Amendment by Tennessee in August of 1920, Mary Henderson turned her focus to North Carolina's Democratic party. She was vice chairman of the first Rally of Democratic Women, which was held in Rowan County in September of 1920. In 1922 she was appointed to serve as the first vice-chairman of the North Carolina Democratic party executive committee. Both as a suffragist and a Democratic politician, she was interested in data and women's rights, as is exemplified by her 1924 study The Woman Voter of North Carolina: Where She Votes and Where She Does Not!
Mary was appointed the first legislative chairman of the Equal Suffrage League of North Carolina in 1915. In 1922, she was appointed the first woman to serve as the first vice-chairman of the North Carolina Democratic party executive committee. In 1934 she made an unsuccessful bid for the position of national committeewoman from North Carolina to the Democratic party. She settled in Chapel Hill in 1933 and became the first woman to serve on the Alumni Council of the University of North Carolina.
“Asheville Woman a Vice President.” Asheville Gazette-News. November 11, 1914.
“Big Suff. Meeting Here Next Saturday.” The Stanly News-Herald, June 29, 1920
“Equal Suffrage First Convention.” The Charlotte News. November 6, 1914.
Henderson, Mary, compiler. The Woman Voter of North Carolina: Where She Votes and Where She Does Not! [Raleigh]: North Carolina Democratic Executive Committee, [1924?]. North Carolina Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Henderson, Mary. “Report of the Legislative Committee.” Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention of the Equal Suffrage Association of North Carolina Held at Battery Park Hotel Asheville, N. C. October, 29th, 1915. Henderson, N.C.: Jones-Stone Print. Co., 1916. 7-10. North Carolina Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Mary F. Henderson papers, 1930-1938. Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Miss Mary Henderson of Salisbury...” The Concord Times, March 12, 1914.
“Mrs. Henderson's Address Monday Night.” Salisbury Evening Post. January 16, 1915.
“Mrs. Henderson to Make Address.” Salisbury Evening Post, January 8, 1915.
“Our Suffragettes Very Different.” News and Observer, February 1, 1915.
“Prominent State Women Here Next Week.” The Charlotte News, July 29, 1920.
“Red Cross Workers.” The Charlotte Observer, Aug 19, 1917.
“Salisbury Social.” The Evening Chronicle, November 16, 1912.
“Suffragists to Give Congressmen Parties.” Asheville Gazette-News, September 18, 1915.
“The Suffrage Cause Brilliantly Represented.” The Charlotte News, January 11, 1915.
“To Attend Suffrage Meeting in Raleigh.” Salisbury Evening Post. January 30, 1915.