Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Martha Helene Block, 1885-1950
By Marsha Kirby, teacher at Sullivan High School, Sullivan, Illinois, and MA student, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois
Martha Helene Block was born on March 23, 1885, in Oldenburg, Germany, to Carl and Sophia Block. The Block family immigrated to the United States, likely in July 1889, and made their way to the Midwest. By 1910, they had settled in Harrison, Indiana. Martha Block attended the Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University) and the University of Chicago before becoming a school teacher in Terre Haute at Wiley and Garfield high schools. She never married and did not have children. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Martha Block was a member of the Woman's Franchise League of Indiana, in which she worked to prepare women for the responsibilities of suffrage. In 1919, she wrote An Aid to the Citizen of Indiana, an educational work aimed to assist female voters in acquiring knowledge and information about government and politics. It included chapters on political parties and platforms, national government, state and local government, elections, woman suffrage, and laws concerning women and children. This book had four editions printed and was used as a model for other states, such as Wisconsin. Block also used her skills as a school teacher to create booklets to achieve the Woman's Franchise League of Indiana's motto: "Every Woman An Intelligent Voter by 1920." These booklets came with charts and questionnaires to be used in courses to teach women about their role as voters, various phases of government, the study of political parties, and the laws affecting women and children.
In the early 1920s, Martha Block moved from Indiana to Wisconsin, where she worked on voting rights and election laws. She earned a degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1923. By 1930, she was living in Madison, where she was an examiner for the State Securities Division. By 1940, her sister-in-law Ethel Block was living with her, and Martha Block was working for the state as a social security analyst. According to her social security application, she likely retired around January 1945.
Martha Block died in Madison, Wisconsin, on November 2, 1950.
Block, Martha. An Aid to the Citizen in Indiana. Terre Haute, IN: Woman's Franchise League of Indiana, 1920.
"By 1920." Woman's Journal 4, no. 1 (June 7, 1919), 6. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
"Franchise League Prints Pamphlet to Help Women." Indianapolis Star, August 29, 1919. Newspapers.com.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "Indiana." Chapter XIII in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
"Home-Made Guide to Civics." Woman's Journal 4, no. 22, (December 20, 1919): 620. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
"Martha Block Dies at Age of 65." Madison (WI) Capital Times, November 3, 1950. Newspapers.com.
"Miss Martha Block, Former Teacher, Dies." Terre Haute Star, November 3, 1950. Newspapers.com.
Oldenburg, Germany, Birth Records, 1876-1900. Marta Helene Friederike Block, 21 Mrz 1885, Osternburg, Niedersachsen, Deutschland. Ancestry Library.
United States Census 1910, 1920, s.v. "Martha Block, Vigo, IN." Ancestry Library.
United States Census 1930, 1940, s.v. "Martha Block, Madison, Dane, WI." Ancestry Library.
United States, Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, s.v. "Martha Helene Block, # 393-24-1992." Ancestry Library.
"With the Classes." Wisconsin Alumnus 52, no. 4 (January 1951): 26. UW Collection. Digital Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries. https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu.
"Women Leaders Prepare Drive for Education." Muncie (IN) Evening Press, May 30, 1919. Newspapers.com.
"Women Urged to Study Nations' League Text." Indianapolis News, June 4, 1919. Newspapers.com.