Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Thorn Lewis Gannett, 1854-1952
By Donna Greene, independent historian
Mary Thorn Lewis Gannett was a friend of Susan B. Anthony; the two worked side-by-side in the Rochester, N.Y. area on women's suffrage and on other important social causes of the time, including the admission of women to the University of Rochester.
Her importance is evident in the inclusion of her home, The Gannett House, on the New York Cultural Heritage Tourism Network, a website created “to recognize and promote women's heritage in New York State and in particular, to help celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Women's Right to Vote that came to fruition in 1917.”
Born on Feb. 27, 1854 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Mary Thorn Lewis was the daughter of Quakers Enoch Lewis, a Philadelphia railroad executive, and Charlotte S. Thorn. She attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied chemistry for three years.
In 1887, she married the Rev. William C. Gannett; he was, 47 and she 33. The couple, who eventually had two children, moved to Rochester in 1889, when he became the pastor of the First Unitarian Church. She soon thereafter became the leader of the Women's Alliance of the Unitarian Church, a launching pad for her social activism.
She was also a force in the Unity Club, the Women's Ethical Club and the Rochester Women's Political Club. And working with Anthony, she helped open the University of Rochester to women and formed the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, which provided women legal aid and a place to rest on work breaks.
Beyond women's suffrage, the Gannetts worked for public school reform, and he helped her raise funds required by the University of Rochester to institute co-educational.
While the two have been described as a formidable team, she is credited with being the driving force. Indeed, Gannett encouraged his wife's activities on behalf of women's suffrage. As described in Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State, by Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello:
“In 1894, Mary Thorn Lewis Gannett attended the New York State Woman Suffrage Association Convention in Ithaca. Jean Brooks Greenleaf, the president of the state association, introduced Mary Gannett, by now an enthusiastic suffragist who had ‘left her two babies at the request of her husband to come and tell you why she wants the ballot.' Gannett made a compelling speech to the convention, imploring women to ‘share the duties and responsibilities of the larger home – the city, the state, the nation' with male citizens.”
Her suffrage activities, included the following, as detailed by the Rochester Regional Library Council on its website dedicated to Western New York Women's Suffragists:
- In 1894, she addressed the Suffrage Committee of the Constitutional Convention in Albany's Assembly Chamber on behalf of women's right to vote.
- In 1896, she was the toastmistress at a banquet to honor Susan B. Anthony shortly after the New York State Suffrage Association's convention
- She was a leader in the effort to erect a memorial to Susan B. Anthony at the University of Rochester.
As quoted on that website, she spoke at the National American Woman Suffrage Association's convention in 1908 “against the assertion that women did not want the vote. Although she agreed that there were some women who claimed they did not want suffrage, she stated: ‘Try to persuade any man that he will have more weight, more influence, if he gives up his vote, allies himself with no party and relies on influence to achieve his ends!....By all means let us use to its utmost whatever influence we have, but in all justice do not ask us to be content with this.' ”
The adoption of the19th Amendment did not mean an end to her activism. A pacifist, she supported several anti-war organizations. She was active with the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, among other work. She won numerous awards. In 1941, the University of Rochester awarded her a doctorate in human letters.
Here is how the Rochester Democrat Chronicle described her 85th birthday celebration in its edition of Feb. 28, 1938:
“To the white haired lady who has made an enviable record as a champion of the underprivileged, the beginning of another year means an opportunity to continue her study of social and racial problems and to try to teach others her secret of a happy life.
“ ‘If you want to make life worth-while. Join some cause not your own,' is Mrs. Gannett's advice to young people and the principle that has led her to strive tirelessly for women's rights, equality for colored people, child labor legislation and numerous other progressive causes.
“ ‘My parents always were concerned with many causes that were considered radically dangerous and forward. I have tried to do the same thine and have found that It | brought me contact with the greatest souls in the world.' “
She died Oct 26, 1952 at the age of 98 and was cremated at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester.
An extensive biography of Mary Thorn Lewis Gannett may be found at:
The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, as posted at: https://books.google.com/books?id=iooEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1224#v=onepage&q&f=false
Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State, By Susan Goodier, and Karen Pastorello, as posted at:
For newspaper articles, see: http://www.fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html