Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Dunbar Michener, 1841-1927
By Kevin Klemm, teacher, Rochester High School, Rochester, Illinois, and MA in History, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois
Mary Dunbar was born January 12, 1841, in Stark County, Ohio, to Allen and Janet Dunbar. She married James B. Michener of Ohio in 1859. The young couple moved to Howard County, Indiana, where James Michener ran a saw mill until enlisting with the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he established several companies, including the Michener Machine Works. By 1900, the couple had four of ten surviving children, including Mary (1865), Florence (1869), and Hollis (1884). Mary Michener took an active role in her community, supporting local and statewide woman suffrage, club, and temperance efforts.
In November 1887, Kokomo, Indiana, hosted the convention for the Ninth District Woman Suffrage Association with Susan B. Anthony attending to speak. An article in the Indianapolis Journal reported on the event, stating that Kokomo was "decidedly a woman suffrage city, thanks to the efficient work of a local club." By 1892, Mary Michener was president of the Kokomo Equal Suffrage Club. The state convention was held in Logansport in 1909, and Michener continued her suffrage leadership: she served as the state's second vice president.
Besides suffrage, Mary Michener was involved in other activities in Indiana. An August 1890 newspaper from Kokomo published an announcement regarding the Mariah Rebekah Degree Lodge, for which Michener was listed as president. This organization was named after the Biblical figure Rebekah, "whose kindness and hospitality to a humble and unknown stranger was thought to best portray the nobility and character of women." This club was connected to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), of which her husband was a member.
Mary Michener also supported the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Local newspaper accounts from Kokomo indicate that she was a speaker on the topic of law and statistics at the Howard County WCTU annual convention in September 1908. By December, she served as the organization's recording secretary A local article noted that Michener would be speaking on "true patriotism" at a July 1909 WCTU meeting. She also attended the 30th National Convention of the Woman's Relief Corps in California in 1912, serving the organization as a recruiting aide, according to a write up from the convention.
James Michener died on February 20, 1902, in Kokomo, Indiana, leaving Mary Michener a widow. She remained in Kokomo for some time, but by the 1920 census, she had moved to Champaign, Illinois, to live with her daughter, Mary Childs. She returned to Indiana in 1921, where she lived in the State Soldiers' Home in Lafayette. She died on November 30, 1927, and she was buried in Kokomo.
Blanchard, Charles, ed. "Michener, J.B." In Counties of Howard and Tipton, Indiana: Historical and Biographical, 352-53. Chicago: F.A. Battey and Co., 1883. Google Books.
Community History in the Making: 50 Years Ago. Kokomo (IN) Tribune, February 14, 1942. 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]
Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011. "Mary Michner, Lafayette, Tippecanoe, IN." Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis. Ancestry Library.
Journal of the Thirtieth National Convention of the Woman's Relief Corps, Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, Los Angeles, Cal., September 11, 12, and 13, 1912. Boston: Griffith-Stillings Press, 1912), 450. Google Books.
Kokomo Daily Tribune, August 25, 1890, p.3; September 18, 1908, p.4; December 12, 1908, p.6. Newspaper Archive.
"Rebekahs." Independent Order of Odd Fellows (website). Accessed September 5, 2019. https://odd-fellows.org/about/rebekahs/.
"Two Women Expire at State Soldiers' Home." Lafayette (IN)Journal and Courier, November 30, 1927. Newspapers.com.
United States Census, 1870, s.v. "Mary Michener, Anderson, Madison, IN." Ancestry Library.
United States Census, 1900, s.v. "Mary Michner, Center, Howard, IN." Ancestry Library.
United States Census, 1910, s.v. "Mary Michener, Kokomo Ward 2, Howard, IN." Ancestry Library.
United States Census, 1920, s.v. "Mary Michener, Champaign, IL." Ancestry Library.
"Woman Suffrage." Indianapolis Journal, November 17, 1887. Newspapers.com.