Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of May Philips Simister, 1869-1941

By Beth Zak-Cohen, Librarian, Newark Public Library

Secretary of the New Jersey Woman's Suffrage Association Ratification Committee

May Philips was born Oct 7, 1869 in New York to Helen M. (née Thompson) and Frederick M. Philips. She was their only surviving child. May graduated from Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn.

In 1891, she married James Simister, an English immigrant, who by 1930 ran his own insurance business. By 1900, James and May had moved to Cooper Ave. in Montclair NJ, along with his brother Thomas, and her mother Helen. May and James had four children: James (c. 1892), Helen (c. 1893), Janet (c. 1896) and Frederick (c. 1899). By 1920, they had one more child -- May or Mary (c.1906). May was active in church and club affairs in Montclair from this point including the Woman's Auxiliary of the YMCA.

In July 1918 the Ratification Committee of the New Jersey Woman's Suffrage Association was organized and Simister was appointed secretary. Ten women's clubs were present while the committee was organized, including the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs, the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. May was also Chairman of the Industrial and Social Conditions department for the Federation of Women's Clubs in 1919. In her role as part of the ratification committee Mrs. Simister attended a rally in Asbury Park in August 1919 and helped the committee work towards NJ's ratification of the Amendment, which occurred on Feb 10, 1920.

In the 1920s May was a member of the Consumers League of New Jersey and national commission of Women in Industry. She was also active in the Montclair Federation of Women's Organizations and the Upper Montclair Women's Club. After the passage of the 19th amendment, May was a member of the Essex County Republican Committee for over twenty years, her roles there including vice-chair and district leader (first district).

Her husband James died in 1937 and May died on June 29, 1941. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Her obituary in the New York Times said she was a “strong believer in women's suffrage”.


“Mary Thomson Simister”, Montclair, New Jersey -- Accessed March 29, 2019.

United States Census, Brooklyn, New York, 1880 -- Accessed March 29, 2019.

New York State Census, Brooklyn, New York, 1892-- Accessed March 29, 2019.

United States Census, Montclair, New Jersey, 1900 -- Accessed March 29, 2019.

United States Census, Montclair, New Jersey, 1920 -- Accessed March 29, 2019.

United States Census, Montclair, New Jersey, 1930 -- Accessed March 29, 2019.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. History of Women's Suffrage, vol. 6 (New York, NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), pg. 428. [LINK]

Register of women's clubs, ( n.p??? , 1919), pg. 55. Accessed March 29, 2019.

“Mrs. James Simister”, New York Times, June 30, 1941, pg. 17

“Annual Meeting”, Montclair Times, Oct 14, 1911, pg. 1.

“Attending Conference”, Montclair Times, May 19, 1923, pg. 16.

“Federation Board Meeting”, Montclair Times, Sept 17, 1921, pg. 9.

“Voter's Canvas”, Montclair Times, June 11, 1927, pg. 1.

“Committee Election Results”, Montclair Times, June 20, 1935, pg.13.

“Officers Elected by Suffragists”, Montclair Times, Jul 17, 1919, pg. 1.

“Montclair Women At Rally”, Montclair Times, Aug 16, 1919, pg. 1.

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