Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Margaret (Peggy) J.L. Bethune, 1899-ca.1970s

By Kathryn M. Whitehill, graduate student, University of Toledo, Toledo, OH

Stenographer, Ohio Woman Suffrage Association

Margaret (Peggy) J. L. Bethune was born in 1899 in Lochgelly, Fife, Scotland. Her parents were Janet Clark Bethune, a housewife, and William Walker Bethune, a laborer, both of Scotland. She was the second child of four, all of whom were girls. In August 1911, the family left Glasgow for Quebec, Canada, arriving in September 1911. The family resided in Brockville, Ontario, for two years before moving to the United States. In August 1913, the family entered the port of Morristown, New York. Their destination was Newton Falls, Ohio, a small town outside the city of Warren, Trumbull County. Margaret Bethune was fifteen years old and worked as a stenographer. By 1916, she was employed by the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association (OWSA). In 1919, she became a naturalized United States citizen.

During her time as stenographer, Margaret Bethune worked at the OWSA's headquarters in Warren. The OWSA's president, Harriet Taylor Upton, described her as "the stenographer, and sometimes a stenographer for extra work or a girl for filing and clerical work." Bethune worked in an office with the state president and bookkeeper. The state headquarters printed, proofed, and mailed all the OWSA's materials including the Yearbook, the Bulletin, and the banks (slips for women to declare their support for suffrage). Bethune would have partaken in the distribution of this material. She was the group's stenographer until 1920, when the group disbanded and became the Ohio League of Women Voters.

The OWSA took immense pride in the organization, so much so they had an organizational committee whose goal was to organize suffrage groups across Ohio. The organizational committee not only organized suffrage groups, but they organized a hierarchical tree of command throughout the state. Each county in Ohio had a president who reported to a district chairman. The OWSA split Ohio up into twenty-two districts. The district chairman reported directly to the organizational committee. Bethune was not only the stenographer for the state headquarters from 1916 to 1920, but in 1916, at sixteen years old, she was a co-president for Trumbull County with three other women.

Along with her everyday work on the Bulletin and Yearbook, Bethune took on other projects. In 1917, Bethune made a large cloth map of the state of Ohio. This map included all the counties in the state. When a woman or organization sent in a bank, Bethune put a star on the map for that county. Each county had its own color star. When a county reached its majority goal, they received a completely different colored star. Kathleen Simonds, chairman of the enrollment committee said the map was, "interesting and pleasing to see."

After the ratification of the nineteenth amendment on August 18, 1920, the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association disbanded to form the Ohio League of Women Voters to empower female voters. Bethune's involvement in the League is unclear. In 1925 the Warren, Niels, Girard, and Newton Falls, Ohio Official City Directory listed Bethune as a stenographer, but her employer was not listed. By 1927, the Warren City Directory no longer listed Bethune as having an occupation. In 1928, Bethune and her parents moved to London, Middlesex County, Ontario, Canada, leaving her sisters in Warren, Ohio. Bethune's parents lived out the rest of their lives in London, Ontario. Bethune seemed to have lived with her parents until their deaths. All the while, she continued her profession as a stenographer and eventually as a typist. Bethune retired in 1968. After 1968, Margaret J.L. Bethune, or any variation of her name, was no longer listed in any census or voting records in either Canada or the United States.

Bethune's time in the OWSA lacks details. One can only assume what she did for the OWSA based on the brief mentions of her in the Yearbook. From the Yearbook one can gather that Bethune was a hard worker. Those who mentioned Bethune wrote fondly of her, mentioning only her hardworking nature. Whomever Margaret Bethune was, the women of the OWSA seem indebted to her arduous work and eagerness for her job.

SOURCES: 1901 Scotland Census. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. 1920 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Border Crossings: From U.S. to Canada, 1908-1935. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008. Canada, Voters List, 1935-1980. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. Headquarters News Bulletin, 1916-1920. Reel 2, Proceedings, Minutes, and Reports of the Annual Convention of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association, 1892-1910, Ohio State University Libraries.

Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. Yearbooks, 1912-1920. Reel 1, Proceedings, Minutes, and Reports of the Annual Convention of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association, 1892-1910, Ohio State University Libraries.

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