Biographical Sketch of Martha "Mattie" Meriwether Betts

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Martha "Mattie" Meriwether Betts, 1860-1938

By Glenda K. Ward, Graduate Student and Senior Archives/Library Clerk, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, Michigan.

Member National American Woman's Suffrage Association, Recording Secretary of Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, State Treasurer of Tennessee Equal Suffrage League, President Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, Represented Memphis as 10th Congressional District Committee Chairman of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association.

Mrs. M. M. Betts was born Martha "Mattie" Meriwether on August 9, 1860 in Memphis, Tennessee, one of three daughters born to Niles Meriwether (1830-1900), a civil engineer, and, Lide Parker Smith (1829-1913), an early suffrage leader. Mattie's sisters were May Meriwether (1856-1866) and Dr. Lucy Virginia Meriwether Davis (1862-1949). They spent their girlhood in Huntsville, Alabama. In February 1882, Mattie and her sister Lucy traveled from Huntsville to Chattanooga, Tennessee accompanied by Lowe Davis and educator and lawyer Rostan Betts (1860-1887) where the two couples married. Mattie and Rostan had three daughters. Rostan served as Madison County Superintendent of Schools and was editor of the Huntsville Independent newspaper. In 1886, Rostan served as the chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee and was appointed Solicitor of Madison County prior to his death from consumption in 1887. After the death of her husband, Mattie and her children returned to Memphis.

Mattie Betts was one of Memphis's first social workers and her role as feminist social reformer came naturally. Her mother Lide Smith Meriwether and her aunt Elizabeth Avery Meriwether were pioneers in the woman's social welfare and suffrage movements in Tennessee. Betts joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1893. In February 1895, the Commercial Appeal newspaper offered complete control of its Valentine edition to a group of local female reformers. Women were in complete charge of the paper from reporting to managing. Betts served as one of the two business managers for the edition. All proceeds went to the United Charities of Memphis.

At the 1896 annual meeting of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) held in Nashville, Betts, as the State Superintendent of Juvenile Work and Kindergarten Work, presented annual reports of both departments. Appointed to the Board of Commissioners of the Woman's Department for Shelby County, Tennessee, in 1906, Betts also attended the conference of Southern Women Suffragists held in Memphis in December 1906. During this conference, Tennessee's State Equal Suffrage Association re-organized and Betts was appointed recording secretary.

The Civic Progress League of Memphis, organized in 1908, described its mission to provide "the improvement and betterment of Memphis in respect to rendering more beautiful her streets, homes and environment, to improve sanitary conditions, to render home life and conditions more comfortable and in providing outdoor recreation and sports for the better development of young children." The Civic League had four departments – Civic Improvement, Sanitary Science, Domestic Science, and Children. In addition to serving on the League's Governing Board, Betts was the chairman of the Department of Children that included Fresh Air Parks, Playgrounds, and Physical Culture.

Five years later, in 1911, Betts was made treasurer of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage League. The following year, 1912, she served as president of the association. Betts and her youngest daughter, Rostan, traveled to London, England, in August 1914, to join approximately 8000 other Americans as the American Citizen's Committee. In 1915, Betts served as a member of the woman's committee representing Memphis at the Southern Conference for Education and Industry and was on the executive board of the Tennessee Committee for Equal Suffrage representing Memphis' 10th District. She would also serve as congressional district chair for Memphis on the campaign committee formed at the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association conference held in May 1915 in Tullahoma.

Mattie Meriwether Betts died at her home in Memphis at the age of 77 and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, alongside her husband and children.


Sources: Alabama, Surname Files Expanded, 1702–1981 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc. Original data: Alabama Department of Archives and History. Public Information Subject Files—Surname files, 1901-1984 available via microfilm in reference, SG002624-2652 and 13361-13362, containing the materials added from 1984-2005. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama. M M Betts Obit Tennessee, Death Records, 1908-1958, Roll Number: 2 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Tennessee Death Records, 1908-1958. Nashville, Tennessee: Tennessee State Library and Archives. Tennessee City Death Records Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis 1848-1907. Nashville, Tennessee: Tennessee State Library and Archives. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957; Year: 1914; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 2373; Line: 4; Page Number: 19 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

"Betts-Meriwether; Davis-Meriwether." Chattanooga Daily Times, Web, 5 Feb. 1882, p. 2,

"Betts-Merriwether and Davis-Merriwether Marriage Announcement." Lauderdale News, Web, 15 Feb. 1982, p. 3,

Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 08 August 2019), memorial page for Martha "Mattie" Meriwether Betts (9 Aug 1860–10 Feb 1938), Find A Grave Memorial no. 58929835, citing Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA; Maintained by The Meriwether Society, Inc. (contributor 46827721).

"Former Local Citizen Dies." The Huntsville Times, Web, 10 Feb. 1938, p. 1,

Harper, Ida Husted, editor. The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. VI, J. J. Little & Ives Company, 1922, [LINK]

"Mrs. M. M. Betts." The Montgomery Advertiser, Web, 11 Feb. 1938, p. 2,

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"Program of Conference Is Complete." The Tennessean, Web, 26 Mar. 1916,

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"State Executive Committee to Meet Here." The Tennessean, Web, 5 June 1915, p. 4,

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"Temperance People: W.C.T.U. Meet at Union City Next Week." The Tennessean, Web, 19 Sept. 1896, p. 2,

"Tennesseans in London." The Tennessean, Web, 17 Aug. 1914, p. 5,

"W.C.T.U. in Session: Annual Meeting in Session at Union City." The Tennessean, Web, 26 Sept. 1896, p. 3,

Yellin, Carol Lynn, and Janann Sherman. The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage. Edited by Ilene Jones-Cornwell, Kindle, Vote 70 Press, 1998.

Young, John Preston, and A. R. James. Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee, from a Study of Original Sources. Digitized, H. W. Crew, 1912,

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