Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Emma Alderman Garbutt, 1844-1924

By Sherry J. Katz, Department of History, San Francisco State University

Officer, Los Angeles Woman Suffrage Association, late 1880s/1890s
Executive Board Member, Woman Suffrage League of Los Angeles County, late 1890s/early 1900s
President, United Woman Suffragists' Central Council of California, 1894
Executive Board Member, Woman-Suffrage Campaign Committee of Los Angeles County, 1896
Founder, Political Equality League, Los Angeles, 1907
Founder, Socialist Suffrage Club, Los Angeles, 1911
Delegate and board member, Los Angeles County Equal Suffrage Central Committee, 1911 (representing the Socialist Suffrage Club)
(Partial list of associations with organizations that worked for woman suffrage)

Mary Emma Alderman was born in Salem, New Jersey in September 1844 to James Harris Alderman and Adella Wolcott Bucknum Alderman. She grew up in Jacksonville, Illinois where she graduated from the Presbyterian Academy for Young Women at age 17 (valedictorian). At age 18, she began to teach in the primary grades, embarking on a lifelong career as a teacher and principal. In 1867, she married Francis Clarkson Garbutt, a Canadian-born graduate of Harvard, who would become a mining engineer and real estate developer. Their son, Frank Alderman Garbutt, was born in 1869. Garbutt and her family settled in Los Angeles, California in 1882 and she lived there until her death on August 13, 1924.

In her youth, Garbutt became an "extreme abolitionist," but it was after her 1882 move to Los Angeles that she began a long political career in the temperance, socialist, and women's rights movements. In 1883, she attended the statewide convention of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and at age 39 launched her career in the women's movement, holding numerous positions in the Southern California WCTU from 1884-1924 and running as a temperance candidate for the Los Angeles school board in 1887 (she ran for the same post as a socialist-feminist in 1902, 1906, and 1909). Garbutt became an ardent suffragist by the mid-1880s and converted to socialism in the late-1880s after reading the utopian socialist (and feminist) novel, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. By 1890, Garbutt was a key member of an influential network of left-feminists in California that sought to bring activist women together across lines of difference and facilitate feminist coalition building. Garbutt, and her socialist-feminist colleagues, formulated a multilateral program for women's emancipation that included women's suffrage, female unionization, protective labor legislation, mothers' pensions, legal contraception, and the gender integration of political parties and the state. They also championed women's economic independence as central to the feminist project.

For over two decades, Garbutt worked for the enfranchisement of women. Garbutt was instrumental in establishing independent socialist women's groups that sought to build support for woman suffrage in a series of left formations: Bellamy nationalism, populism, and the Socialist Party. A leading voice for suffrage in the left press, Garbutt sought to persuade socialist men that women's enfranchisement was vital to both women's emancipation and the construction of a socialist society. Socialist-feminists also established a collective presence in the state's suffrage movement, attempting to broaden the movement's base to include working-class women and bringing their commitments to women's economic independence, women's labor issues, and democratic socialism to the attention of more mainstream suffragists. "That army of women who labor with their hands," Garbutt argued in 1903, are the ones "whose hard experiences in life, long hours, poor pay and unsanitary conditions... really demand... the ballot for their protection against such untoward conditions." During California's suffrage amendment campaigns in 1896 and 1911, Garbutt and her left-feminist colleagues played major roles in creating diverse suffrage coalitions and securing working-class support for suffrage in Southern California. In 1911, Garbutt served as a delegate to, and board member of, the Los Angeles County Equal Suffrage Central Committee, representing the Socialist Suffrage Club (SSC). Garbutt's SSC organized an extensive house-to-house canvass of working-class precincts in Los Angeles County, in coordination with the county coalition. Garbutt also spoke at some of the 40 meetings organized by the SSC in working-class neighborhoods. Socialist-feminist organizing appears to have been critical to the 1911 suffrage victory – in Los Angeles' working-class precincts, and by extension, in the state as a whole.


California Department of Health and Welfare. California Death Index, 1905-1939. Accessed July 12, 2019.

Downing, Agnes Halpen. "Mary Alderman Garbutt." Socialist Woman 2 (June 1908), 2.

Garbutt, Mary Alderman. Victories of Four Decades: A History of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Southern California, 1883-1924. Los Angeles: Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Southern California, 1924.

"Garbutt, Mary Alderman." In Woman's Who's Who of America, a Biographical Dictionary of Women the United States and Canada, 1914-1915, ed. By John William Leonard, 285. [LINK]

Gullett, Gayle Ann. "Feminism, Politics, and Voluntary Groups: Organized Womanhood in California, 1886-1869." Ph.D. diss., University of California, Riverside, 1983.

Katz, Sherry J. "A Politics of Coalition: Socialist Women and the California Suffrage Movement, 1900-1911." In One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, 245-262. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995.

Katz, Sherry Jeanne. "Dual Commitments: Feminism, Socialism, and Women's Political Activism in California, 1890-1920." PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1991.

Katz, Sherry J. "Excavating Radical Women in Progressive Era California." In Contesting Archives: Finding Women in the Sources, edited by Nupur Chaudhuri, Sherry J. Katz, and Mary Elizabeth Perry, 89-106. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Los Angeles Socialist, Feb. 28, 1903 (Garbutt quote).

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. Los Angeles, Ward 4, Los Angeles, California; Page: 12; Enumeration District: 0042; FHL microfilm: 1240089. Accessed July 12, 2019.

For more information and primary sources on/by Garbutt consult my dissertation and articles.

back to top