Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Frances Wellington Homer, 1842-1913
By Elisa Miller, Associate Professor, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI and Amanda Brown, Andrew Jerzylo, Pranav Ramakrishnan, Grace Stickel, Shefali Tamaskar, High School Students, Westford Academy, Westford, MA
President, Belmont Suffrage League; Member, Massachusetts Woman Suffrage League; Corresponding Secretary, Chair of the Executive Committee, and Vice President, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association; Rhode Island Vice President, New England Woman Suffrage Association.
Mary F.W. Homer was born Mary Frances Wellington on November 29, 1842 in West Cambridge, Massachusetts to Sarah Weld Hill and Joseph Oliver Wellington. She was the oldest of six children. Joseph Wellington was from a prominent local family with members who first arrived in Massachusetts in 1630 and who served in the American Revolution. Sarah Wellington, his wife, was also his second cousin once removed. Joseph Wellington owned a large farm, first in West Cambridge and then in Belmont, a new town that was created in 1859, partially out of what had been West Cambridge. Mary Wellington spent most of her childhood and adulthood in Belmont. On December 31, 1863, at the age of twenty-one, she married Orlando Mead Homer, a clerk from Belmont. Mary and Orlando Homer were first cousins once removed, as his grandfather was her great-grandfather. They established a home in Belmont and had two sons, Eleazer Bartlett Homer, born in 1864, and Loring Wellington Homer, born in 1867. In 1868, one month after the couple celebrated their four-year anniversary, Orlando Homer died at age thirty-one of peritonitis, an infection caused by a gallstone. Following his death, Mary Homer and her two young sons lived with her parents and siblings. She helped provide for her family by working for many years as a music teacher. Her son, Loring Homer, died from a railroad injury in 1879 at eleven years old.
By the 1880s, Mary F. W. Homer was active in woman suffrage and community service in Belmont. Her first reported activism in the suffrage movement was in 1883 when she served secretary of the Belmont Suffrage League, which was affiliated with the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) and the National Woman Suffrage Association (later National American Woman Suffrage Association). By the 1890s, Homer had become president of the Belmont Suffrage League. She was active in the MWSA as the head of the Belmont branch and served on the MWSA "plan of work" committee and signed petitions in support of woman suffrage to the Massachusetts House of Representative and Senate in 1898. In 1900, she supervised the "Lucy Stone table" for the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association at the National Suffrage Bazar in New York City. The event raised money and awareness for the suffrage cause. Alice Blackwell was the daughter of suffragist pioneer Lucy Stone and a leader herself in the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association. In Blackwell described Homer's service at the booth, writing, "Mrs. Homer especially delighted to call the attention of buyers to the quantity of useful things, telling them Mrs. Stone was so practical and sensible that we had thought useful articles the most appropriate to a booth named for her." In 1902, Homer attended a Massachusetts legislative committee hearing on a bill that proposed to give local voting rights for tax-paying women and spoke at the hearing in favor of the bill.
In the late nineteenth century, women in Massachusetts gained the right to vote for and serve on school boards. Homer exercised these rights and registered to vote for Belmont School Committee in 1885 and "voted every year after." In 1889, she ran for and won election to that committee and served on it until 1902 when she moved out of Massachusetts. Homer lived in Belmont with her son, Eleazer Homer, and his family. He worked as an architect and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the end of 1901, he was hired to be the first director of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Mary F.W. Homer resigned her school committee position and moved to Providence with her family. In 1902, The Boston Globe reported on Homer's move and resignation, writing "Mrs. Homer has been a member of the board for many years and has given the work much time and careful attention."
In Rhode Island, she continued her extensive community service and activism. She belonged to the American Peace Society, the National Council of Women, the Rhode Island Women's Club, the National Unitarian Temperance Society, the Union for Christian Work, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Chaminade Club (a musical and philanthropic organization), and the Sprague House Association (a community center for working-class women and children). She had been a member of the Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women in Massachusetts and continued with that organization in Rhode Island. She joined the First Congregational Church in Providence and chaired their Cheerful Letter committee. The Cheerful Letter was a Unitarian publication that reported on church activities and issues.
Homer also continued her leadership in the woman suffrage movement. In 1905, she was listed as a member of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA), and was likely a member prior to that report. The following year she became an officer of the organization and from 1906 to 1912 she served as corresponding secretary for RIWSA. In this position, she was responsible for the organization's correspondence and keeping in contact with local, regional, and national suffrage organizations. The History of Woman Suffrage noted that Homer made an important contribution to the RIWSA in this period, explaining, "her wide experience in suffrage work was a valued contribution at a time when re-enforcements were greatly needed." She also served as chair of the RIWSA executive committee and as a member of the resolutions committee. On a regional level, Homer served as a Rhode Island vice president for the New England Woman Suffrage Association and occasionally gave addresses at their annual conventions. She represented RIWSA at the NAWSA national convention in Seattle, Washington in 1909.
At the annual RIWSA meeting in the fall of 1912, Homer declined to run for reelection as corresponding secretary due to health problems. At the meeting, RIWSA President Elizabeth Upham Yates "referred with feeling to the enforced absence of the Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. Mary F. W. Homer, and paid tribute to her long and faithful service." Although she stepped away from the secretary position, Homer was elected as RIWSA vice president for the year 1912-1913.
Mary F. W. Homer died in her sleep at her home in Providence, Rhode Island on April 15, 1913. Her death certificate reports that the cause was probably a heart attack. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She had attended her last RIWSA meeting the month before her death. The Woman Citizen, a RIWSA publication, ran an obituary for "Madame Homer," noting "her work [as secretary] was very carefully and satisfactorily done [and] Mrs. Homer was a woman of cheerful disposition and pleasing personality and will long be remembered by her many friends." Sara Algeo, a leading Rhode Island suffragist, included Homer in her memoir, writing that "Mrs. Mary F.W. Homer, who became secretary in 1906, had a most interesting personality. To me she always seemed a woman of fine parts, practical and idealistic; shrewd and free-hearted." The RIWSA leaders and members paid tribute to Homer at a meeting the month after her death. Homer's family members attended the meeting and several women spoke about her contributions to the suffrage movement. The Providence Journal reported that:
Miss Yates paid an earnest tribute to the unusual intellectual capacity and poise of character with which she was endowed and discoursed at some length on her varied gifts, her genius for friendship, noble personality and her 'untiring devotion to the cause of woman's enfranchisement.' Mrs. James W. Algeo, President of the College Equal Suffrage League, spoke gratefully of her inspiring influence upon the young women who were privileged to be associated with her in suffrage work.
The organization presented Homer's family with a framed copy of a resolution that read "Resolved, That in the passing of our beloved friend and co-worker to the higher activities of the immortal life we are greatly bereft by the loss of her gifted and loving service. We shall ever be inspired by the memory of her sweet spirit and her devotion to all the highest interests of womanhood. By this tribute we record our affection and esteem."
Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]
Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925).
John William Leonard, Woman's Who's Who in America 1914-1915 (New York, The American Commonwealth Co., 1914), 400. [LINK]
Thirty-Seventh Annual Report of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, Year Ending October, 1905 (Providence, RI: The Franklin Press Co., 1906). Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, RI.
"Madame Homer," The Woman Citizen (Rhode Island) 9, No. 4 (April 1913): 2. Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, Rhode Island.
Ellen Dudley Clarke, ed. Lineage Book: National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Volume 49: 1904 (Washington, DC: Press of Judd and Detweiler, Inc, 1919).
"Mary Frances Wellington Homer," Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/147060241.
"Orlando Mead Homer," Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/120525057/orlando-mead-homer.
D. Hamilton Hurd, ed. History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Volume 3 (Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis &Co., 1890).
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, The Journal of the Senate for the Year 1898 (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1898), 210.
National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women, Manual, 1910 (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1910).
Sharon Vanderslice, "Eleazer Homer, Architect, Grew Up in Belmont," Belmont Citizens Forum Newsletter (July 2001), http://www.belmontcitizensforum.org/newsletters/2001/jul/Eleazer%20Homer,%20Architect,%20Grew%20Up%20in%20Belmont.doc.
Report of the Tuskegee Normal School, July 4, 1881 to Aug. 30, 1883 (Hampton, VA: Normal School Steam Press, 1883), 26.
"Good Balance on Hand," The Boston Daily Globe, January 13, 1897.
"Unitarian Temperance Society Distributed 11,000 Publications," The Boston Globe, May 24, 1898.
"Suffrage Bazar," The Boston Globe, December 2, 1899.
"Purge the Constitution," The Boston Globe, January 10, 1900.
"Belmont," The Boston Globe, October 24, 1902.
"Julia Ward How Chosen," The Boston Globe, May 19, 1910.
"Succeeds Julia Ward Howe; Miss Blackwell Elected President of N.E. Woman Suffrage Assn.," The Boston Globe, May 27, 1911.
A.S.B., "The Pioneers' Booth," The Woman's Column 8, No. 25 (December 15, 1900): 2-3.
"Taxpayers' Suffrage Hearing," The Woman's Journal 32, No. 12 (February 8, 1902), 44.
"New England Annual Meeting," The Woman's Journal 40, No. 22 (May 29, 1909), 86.
"Rhode Island," The Woman's Journal 41, No. 11 (March 12, 1910), 43.
"N.E. Suffragists Hold Annual Meeting," The Woman's Journal 43, No. 22 (June 1, 1912), 174.
"Rhode Island Women Greet Mary E. Woolley," The Woman's Journal 43, No. 43 (October 26, 1912), 339.
"Rhode Island Women Attend," The Providence Sunday Journal, May 10, 1908.
"Woman Suffragists in Annual Session," The Providence Sunday Journal, October 24, 1909.
"Suffragists Elect Miss Yates Again," The Providence Journal, October 9, 1912.
"Personal and Social," The Providence Journal, April 18, 1913.
"Women Suffragists Meet; Members of Association Pay Tribute to Late Madame Homer," The Providence Journal, May 30, 1913.